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Food Riots in Zamalek

Looting for sashimi and champagne, the inhabitants of the exclusive Zamalek island are rebelling against the government-imposed 40% tax hike on imported luxury goods. David Blanks reports.

 Violence erupted in one of Cairo’s upscale neighbourhoods yesterday as hundreds of protestors stormed boutique food outlets, putting pressure on the government to roll back a 40% increase in customs duties on imported luxury items. Mobs of well-heeled looters threw rocks at police cars and smashed store windows as security personnel rushed to the scene.

“I’m having a lunch on Friday,” shrieked an elderly, blue-haired lady in a Pashmina scarf, as she dashed out of a gourmet shop near 26 July Street clutching packages of wagyu beef and camembert cheese. Running street battles raged through the afternoon and plumes of tear gas wafted upwards as members of the Chaîne des Rôtisseurs called for people to come out of their villas and join the mob.

In a deeply unpopular move in March, the president signed into law a bill announcing stiff new tariffs on a wide range of goods from pineapples and avocadoes to shrimp and caviar, igniting fears that demonstrations could spread as far as Maadi and Heliopolis.

On Monday in Zamalek, it was a scene straight out of Les Miserables. Frightened garbage sweepers and scores of homeless children ran for cover as a marauding band of angry residents armed with golf clubs and croquet mallets stormed the streets in search of dwindling supplies of smoked salmon and Philadelphia cream cheese.

“It was a normal afternoon,” said Mustafa Said, a waiter at Mori Sushi. “All you could hear were trucks, sirens, car horns, and teenagers on motorcycles. Everything was quiet. Then suddenly this Range Rover backed across the pavement and three masked gunmen jumped out. They told us to drop the fish and emptied out the entire sushi counter.” Added one astonished eyewitness who wished to remain anonymous, “They even took the tamago!”

Government spokesmen downplayed the incident, saying it was the work of a rogue band of unemployed ne‘er-do-wells and foreign agents, but analysts at the Al-Ahram Center for Political and Strategic Studies suggest otherwise. According to Senior Luxuries Analyst Ayman Radwan, there have already been runs on stocks of Ritz crackers and pickled onions at area supermarkets; local Italian restaurants are said to be hoarding parmigiano reggiano, which is no longer available at the retail level; and macaroons are reportedly being sold for upwards of 300LE per box on the black market.

The phenomenon is not unique to Egypt. Deadly riots, thought to be the work of members of the former regime, broke out last week in Tripoli when rumors spread that the government was planning a moratorium on the sale of Cristal and Patrón.

What the future holds is anyone’s guess, but as there have been numerous reports published in recent months warning of a deteriorating security situation should price rises begin to affect shisha cafes and gourmet burger chains, it looks like it will be a long hot summer on the island.