When dozens of Egyptian families protested the shortage of subsidized infant formula in Cairo on Thursday, the country's health minister announced a solution: the army would supply 30 million packages of infant milk.
But instead of relief, Egyptians responded with anger, accusing the army of trying to take control of everyday needs that affected people's lives.
The controversy escalated after a copy of an open letter sent by the Egyptian Pharmaceutical Trading Company, a government entity that is responsible for importing and distributing infant milk, to President Abdel Fatah el-Sisi was posted on Facebook. In the letter, the company asked Sisi to help repeal the new rule that said a “sovereign entity” (which is often a term used for the country’s intelligence agency) was taking over the importing of infant formula — and distributing it through a private company.
Many Egyptians said the letter was an indicator that the army is trying to profit from yet another business — it has already purchased gas stations, bottled water plants, food factories, and even sports clubs.
“Yes, there is corruption at our company, and because of that corruption a lot of the infant formula went to the candy factories,” a manager at the Egyptian Pharmaceutical Trading Company who asked to remain anonymous because he feared he would lose his job, told BuzzFeed News. “The army said it would solve the problem by taking over importing and distributing of the milk.”
Online, Egyptians used two hashtags — #لبن_الاطفال (kid’s milk) and #لبن_العسكور (the soldier's milk) — to express their anger and mock the army.
BuzzFeed News made several attempts to contact the Ministry of Health for comments, but it did not respond. The spokesperson for the Egyptian army also didn’t return calls for comments.
Maged Atef is a journalist based in Cairo.
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