Weary of price hikes, restaurants take part in 24-hour meat boycott

Following a decision last week by the Egyptian Chamber of Tourist Establishments, all restaurants and food outlets have been ordered to boycott red meat today in an attempt to combat rapidly increasing retail meat prices.

While the cause of the sudden inflation remains unclear, a number of officials and analysts have attributed it to supply shortages. Subsequently, the chamber’s decision–which came as a response to several requests echoed in the local press and media for government intervention–is expected to put an end to the ongoing crisis by balancing out supply and demand through a 24-hour boycott.

Whether or not the measure will prove effective, though, has yet to be seen, and largely depends on how many establishments are actually willing to participate in the boycott.

“We are participating in the boycott,” Mohamed Sayed says proudly. The 37-year-old manager of popular Zamalek restaurant and bar La Bodega explains that, not only has his establishment “accepted” the situation, but is also playing a role in improving it.

“A place like this attracts a certain clientele,” Sayed says. “Many of them are people with a great deal of influence. If, for example, they were to take notice of the boycott here, it might show them how far-reaching this crisis is; it might encourage them to use their power to do something about it.”

Sayed’s staff is equally supportive of the boycott. “They use the best ingredients to cook the finest meals, but they don’t eat them,” he explains. “They are the most hurt by the increase in prices. It’s a serious problem, and they need to be supported.”

“The main reason to participate in this boycott is solidarity,” says Ibrahim Arsalan, a manager at City Stars’ Chili’s, where the Chamber of Tourist Establishment’s decree hangs on the wall of the main entrance. “This is an important initiative,” the 34-year-old frowns. “Prices keep going up and nobody can control them.”

In Arsalan’s opinion, the root of the problem lies in the lack of regulation. “It’s not just meat,” he says. “It’s fruits, vegetables, everything. There’s nothing to control prices. There’s no law to ensure that they’re stable and fair and that prices won’t vary according to the seller.” In the absence of reliable laws, Arsalan believes the solution lies with those who want change.

“We all need to stick together, and if the people responsible don’t respond to a one-day boycott, we shouldn’t give up,” he says. “We should try a longer boycott for a stronger effect.”

Ahmed Zaki Ali and Bassem el-Tohamy agree. As managers at Romano’s Macaroni Grill, they are “gladly participating” in the boycott by refusing to sell steaks (although meat-intensive sauces on some of their dishes are, according to Ali, “harder to avoid”), claiming that recent price hikes have been steadily hurting business. “The cost of preparing a dish keeps rising, but its price is fixed on my menu,” says Ali, 34. “I can’t keep raising prices on my menu everyday–I have to think of my customers.”

For the most part, customers seem to understand–a fact that the duo agrees makes their jobs much easier. “Our customers are educated,” says Ali. “All day we’ve been explaining to them, and they’ve been very understanding, which is nice considering that, on average, a great deal of them might be well off enough to not really have to worry about the increase in meat prices.”

However, like Arsalan, both Ali and el-Tohamy think one day might not be enough to coax prices back down–“we need at least one week,” el-Tohamy nods–especially when a significant number of restaurants seem to be refraining from participating. 

“I haven’t heard of this decision or anything similar to it,” says one McDonald’s manager, who declined to be named. “We get our meat from Faragalla, and of course we’re selling meat today. This is McDonald’s.”

Similarly, a bewildered cast of managers at local food establishments–such as Mo’men, Cook Door and Amo Hosny–all denied having any knowledge of the boycott, although they appeared up to date on every other aspect of the meat crisis.

“I heard some mention of a boycott in the newspapers and on this morning’s news show,” says 40-year-old Ahmed Gamal, a manager at Amo Honsy. “But I didn’t receive any kind of notification or letter.”

But whether or not he received notification is irrelevant. “I don’t think I would have participated either way,” Gamal shrugs. “Maybe if there was a severe punishment for those not participating in the boycott, then I’d boycott too. But that doesn’t seem to be the case,” he says, before listing several nearby establishments, none of which he says are taking part in the red meat boycott. “Why should I hurt my business when nobody else around me is hurting theirs?”

His refusal to participate aside, Gamal is vehement about the fact that “something must be done.” He proposes another boycott–one he insists will not be as “sloppy” or “ambitious” as the “political games” played the Chamber of Tourist Establishments.

“We should organize a smaller boycott,” he explains. “But only in certain areas of the city chosen according to a series of surveys. Then, with a petition signed by everyone, the chosen areas could stage their boycotts at different times. The results of these boycotts would then be gathered and studied and they’ll tell us what to do.”

“And when we know,” Gamal nods confidently, “we will act. Otherwise, if things keep going the way they are, our children’s children will never know the taste of meat.”

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