CAIRO, EGYPT — The Egyptian government on June 1 raised the price of subsidized bread for the first time in decades, quadrupling the cost of the staple food.

Previous administrations had resisted increasing the price, fearing civil unrest. But because of the combination of a collapsing currency and rising wheat import prices, government officials recently made the unpopular decision to increase the cost of a loaf of bread from 4 piasters to 20, an increase of about one-quarter of a cent in US currency.

The cost of the subsidized loaves, which are available to more than 70 million of the country’s 111 million citizens, had held steady since the 1980s.

Supply Minister Ali Moselhy told Reuters the ministry has yet to receive complaints about the price increase, which represents only 16% of the cost of making bread.

However, Timothy Kaldas, deputy director of the Tahrir Institute for Middle East Policy, told Reuters the price increase will be “a significant hit for poor households.”

It’s almost impossible to overstate the importance of bread in the lives of Egyptians. The most popular bread in Egypt is a flatbread called “aish baladi.” Aish means “life,” which is how Egyptians have perceived bread since ancient times.

Historically, when the ability to obtain bread was threatened, either due to shortages or affordability issues, civil unrest soon followed. In the early 2010s, a protest called the Arab Spring took place in Egypt and other Middle East countries as the price of unsubsidized bread rose by 37% during a time when unemployment also was soaring. An attempt to change the subsidy system in 1977 led to riots.

Perennially a top wheat importer, Egypt’s intake in the 2024-25 marketing year is expected to be a world-leading 12 million tonnes, according to the Foreign Agricultural Services of the US Department of Agriculture. To increase domestic wheat production, the government in November 2023 increased the local wheat procurement price by 25% for the upcoming harvest season.