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Poverty, inflation, fear: Egypt’s economy pushed to brink

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Poverty, inflation, fear: Egypt’s economy pushed to brink

DUBAI, United Arab Emirates (AP) — Stores are selling winter clothes from last season in the middle of summer. Repair shops lack spare parts for appliances. There’s a waiting list to buy a new car.

Egypt, a country of more than 103 million people, is running low on foreign currency needed to buy essentials like grain and fuel. To keep U.S. dollars in the country, the government has tightened imports, meaning fewer new cars and summer dresses.

For the nearly third of Egyptians living in poverty, and the millions more in poor conditions, the country’s economic woes mean life is much harder than off-season shopping — they’re finding it harder to put food on the table. A decade after deadly protests and political upheaval rocked the Middle East’s most populous nation, the economy is still staggering and has taken new hits.

Fatima, a 32-year-old cleaner in Cairo, says her family stopped buying red meat five months ago. Chicken also has become a luxury. She’s borrowing from relatives to make ends meet.

She’s worried about the impact of high prices on Egypt’s social fabric. Asking to be identified only by her first name for fear of reprisal, she worries that crime and theft will increase “because people won’t have enough money to feed themselves.”

For decades, most Egyptians have depended on the government to keep basic goods affordable, but that social contract is under pressure due to the impact from Russia’s war in Ukraine. Egypt has sought loans to pay for grain imports for state-subsidized bread. It’s also grappling with surging consumer prices as the currency drops in value. The threat of food insecurity in the world’s largest importer of wheat, 80% of which comes from the war-torn Black Sea region, has raised concerns.

“In terms of, like, bread in exchange for freedom, that contract got violated a long time ago,” said Timothy Kaldas, an economic expert at the Tahrir Institute for Middle East Policy.

Annual inflation climbed to 15.3% in August, compared with just over 6% in the same month last year. The Egyptian pound recently hit a record low against a strengthening U.S. dollar, selling at 19.5 pounds to $1. That has widened trade and budget deficits as foreign reserves needed to buy grain and fuel plunged by nearly 10% in March, shortly after Russia’s invasion sent commodity prices soaring and investors pulled billions of dollars from Egypt.

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Egypt has few options to deal with the hole in its finances. As with previous crises, it’s turned to Gulf Arab allies and the International Monetary Fund for a bailout.

A new IMF loan would buoy Egypt’s dwindling foreign reserves, which have fallen to $33 billion from $41 billion in February. A new loan, however, will add to Egypt’s ballooning foreign debt, which climbed from $37 billion in 2010 — before the Arab Spring uprisings — to $158 billion as of March, according to Egyptian central bank figures.

Leaders blame the challenges on the coronavirus pandemic, which hurt the vital tourism industry, and price shocks sparked by the war in Ukraine. They’ve also faulted revolutionaries and those who may have backed the Muslim Brotherhood.

“Why don’t you want to pay the cost of what you did in 2011 and 2013?” President Abdel Fattah el-Sissi said in televised remarks this month. “What you did — didn’t that negatively impact the economy?”

He was referring to protests, which toppled Egypt’s longtime president, ushered in a divisive Muslim Brotherhood presidency, and resulted in a populist-backed power grab by the military and el-Sissi’s ascension to the presidency.

The former military general said the fallout from those years cost Egypt $450 billion — a price, he said, everyone must bear.

“We solve the matter together. I am saying this to all Egyptians … we are going to finish this matter together and pay its price together,” he said.

Critics, however, argue the government has squandered chances to make real reforms and is overspending on superfluous mega-projects as it builds a new administrative capital. The government has touted the construction boom as a job producer and economic engine.

The state’s hold over the economy and the “outsized role of military-related enterprises” have historically crowded out foreign investors and the private sector, said Hasnain Malik, who heads equity research at Tellimer, an emerging-markets investment analysis firm. The government’s plans to sell off minority stakes in some state-owned enterprises “does not necessarily fix this problem,” he said.

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Egypt’s elite can withstand rising costs, living comfortably in Nile-view apartments and gated communities beyond the hustle of Cairo. Life for middle-class Egyptians is deteriorating, said Maha, a 38-year-old tech company employee and mother of two who asked to only be identified by her first name to speak freely.

“I think we will eventually move down the social ladder and end up below the poverty line,” she said.

The government took out a $500 million loan from the World Bank this summer and $221 million from the African Development Bank to help buy wheat. That covers around six weeks of a bread subsidy program supporting 70 million low-income Egyptians.

China assisted with a $2.8 billion currency swap. Saudi Arabia, the United Arab Emirates and Qatar stepped in with pledges of $22 billion in short-term deposits and investments.

“Having what they define as stability in Egypt is in their strategic interests. They really don’t want to go through a repeat of 2011 and its aftermath,” said David Butter, an associate fellow at international affairs think tank Chatham House. Gulf Arab states are also making strategic investments in Egypt for the short and long-term, he said.

The government announced an “extraordinary” social protection program to roll out this month, targeting 9 million families with extended cash transfers and food coupons. This is on top of other assistance programs, including pop-up stands selling subsidized food staples. Officials point to how they managed the supply crunch brought on by the pandemic and the war in Ukraine, saying there is enough wheat and other basic food items for six months.

For some, leaving has promised more hope. Egyptians rank behind only Afghans as the top nationality of “irregular arrivals” to Europe so far this year, according to the International Organization for Migration’s flow chart. Most arrive by sea.

As pressure mounts on the Egyptian pound, the government could devalue the currency again.

“It’s going to hurt. It’s going to increase inflation,” said Kaldas, the Tahrir Institute economic expert. “Subsidies on bread is only one line-item in a family’s budget. So, for a lot of families, this is still going to be a lot of pain.”

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Follow Aya Batrawy on Twitter at www.twitter.com/ayaelb.

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Remember last year’s Memorial Day travel jams? Chances are they will be much worse this year

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Remember last year’s Memorial Day travel jams? Chances are they will be much worse this year

The patience of Memorial Day weekend travelers was tested Thursday by widespread delays across the country, but there were relatively few canceled flights, raising hopes that airlines can handle bigger crowds expected Friday.

By early evening on the East Coast, more than 6,000 flights had been delayed Thursday, with the biggest backups at the three major airports in the New York City area and Dallas-Fort Worth International.

 

 

 

 

 

 

Pasha Pidlubniak waits for a domestic flight at Miami International Airport, Thursday, May 23, 2024, in Miami. A record number of Americans are expected to travel over the 2024 Memorial Day holiday. (AP Photo/Lynne Sladky)

 

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Pasha Pidlubniak waits for a domestic flight at Miami International Airport, Thursday, May 23, 2024, in Miami. A record number of Americans are expected to travel over the 2024 Memorial Day holiday. (AP Photo/Lynne Sladky)

 

The Transportation Security Administration predicted that Friday will be the busiest day for air travel over the holiday weekend, with nearly 3 million people expected to pass through airport checkpoints. It could rival the record of 2.9 million, set on the Sunday after Thanksgiving last year.

“Airports are going to be more packed than we have seen in 20 years,” said Aixa Diaz, a spokesperson for AAA.

When they aren’t waiting out flight delays, travelers are reporting sticker shock at the prices.

At Chicago’s O’Hare Airport, Larisa Latimer of New Lenox, Illinois, said her airfare was reasonable but other expenses for a getaway to New Orleans were not.

 

 

 

 

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Motorists travel along Interstate 24 near the Interstate 40 interchange Thursday, May 23, 2024, in Nashville, Tenn. A record number of Americans are expected to hit the pavement over the 2024 Memorial Day holiday. (AP Photo/George Walker IV)

 

Motorists travel along Interstate 24 near the Interstate 40 interchange Thursday, May 23, 2024, in Nashville, Tenn. A record number of Americans are expected to hit the pavement over the 2024 Memorial Day holiday. (AP Photo/George Walker IV)

 

“I just have to make the accommodation,” she said. “The rental car is up … this year, the hotel accommodations were very unusually expensive.”

Kathy Larko of Fort Meyers, Florida, used frequent-flyer miles — and some flexible scheduling — to pay for her trip to Chicago.

“I’m really conscious of looking at the cost of the entire trip. We’re staying a little farther out than we normally would” to get a lower hotel rate, she said. “We’re also flying back a day later, because we could get cheaper miles.”

More travelers will be on the road. AAA estimates that 43.8 million people will venture at least 50 miles (80 kilometers) from home between Thursday and Monday, with 38 million of them taking vehicles.

 
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Travelers wait at a TSA checkpoint at the Los Angeles International Airport, Thursday, May 23, 2024, in Los Angeles. A record number of Americans are expected to travel over the 2024 Memorial Day holiday. (AP Photo/Ryan Sun)

 

Travelers wait at a TSA checkpoint at the Los Angeles International Airport, Thursday, May 23, 2024, in Los Angeles. A record number of Americans are expected to travel over the 2024 Memorial Day holiday. (AP Photo/Ryan Sun)

 

Airport unions are using the holiday weekend to highlight their demands.

About 100 workers who clean airplane cabins and drive trash trucks at the airport in Charlotte, North Carolina, started a 24-hour strike Thursday, demanding better pay and healthcare, according to the Service Employees International Union. About 15% of flights were delayed, but it was unclear whether the strike played any role.

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A planned strike at John F. Kennedy Airport in New York was averted, however. Teamsters Local 553, which represents about 300 workers who refuel passenger and cargo jets at JFK, said that it reached a settlement with Allied Aviation Services and called off a walkout planned for Friday.

 

 

 

 

 

 

George Ridley, 4, left, rides on a suitcase as he and his father Chris Ridley make their way through the Nashville international Airport, Thursday, May 23, 2024, in Nashville, Tenn. A record number of Americans are expected to travel over the 2024 Memorial Day holiday. (AP Photo/George Walker IV)

 

George Ridley, 4, left, rides on a suitcase as he and his father Chris Ridley make their way through the Nashville international Airport, Thursday, May 23, 2024, in Nashville, Tenn. A record number of Americans are expected to travel over the 2024 Memorial Day holiday. (AP Photo/George Walker IV)

 

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“We are happy an agreement has been reached, a need for a strike averted, and we are hopeful that the deal will be ratified by our members,” said Demos Demopoulos, the secretary-treasurer of the local.

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Associated Press video journalist Melissa Perez Winder in Chicago and Associated Press radio reporter Shelley Adler in Washington contributed to this report.

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Texas health department appoints anti-abortion OB-GYN to maternal mortality committee

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Texas health department appoints anti-abortion OB-GYN to maternal mortality committee

AUSTIN, Texas (AP) — Texas’ health department has appointed an outspoken anti-abortion OB-GYN to a committee that reviews pregnancy-related deaths as doctors have been warning that the state’s restrictive abortion ban puts women’s lives at risk.

Dr. Ingrid Skop was among the new appointees to the Texas Maternal Morality and Morbidity Review Committee announced last week by the Texas Department of State Health Services. Her term starts June 1.

The committee, which compiles data on pregnancy-related deaths, makes recommendations to the Legislature on best practices and policy changes and is expected to assess the impact of abortion laws on maternal mortality.

Skop, who has worked as an OB-GYN for over three decades, is vice president and director of medical affairs for the Charlotte Lozier Institute, an anti-abortion research group. Skop will be the committee’s rural representative.

Skop, who has worked in San Antonio for most of her career, told the Houston Chronicle that she has “often cared for women traveling long distances from rural Texas maternity deserts, including women suffering complications from abortions.”

Texas has one of the most restrictive abortion bans in the U.S., and doctors have sought clarity on the state’s medical exemption, which allows an abortion to save a woman’s life or prevent the impairment of a major bodily function. Doctors have said the exemption is too vague, making it difficult to offer life-saving care for fear of repercussions. A doctor convicted of providing an illegal abortion in Texas can face up to 99 years in prison and a $100,000 fine and lose their medical license.

Skop has said medical associations are not giving doctors the proper guidance on the matter. She has also shared more controversial views, saying during a congressional hearing in 2021 that rape or incest victims as young as 9 or 10 could carry pregnancies to term.

Texas’ abortion ban has no exemption for cases of rape or incest.

The American College of Obstetricians and Gynecologists, which says abortion is “inherently tied to maternal health,” said in a statement that members of the Texas committee should be “unbiased, free of conflicts of interest and focused on the appropriate standards of care.” The organization noted that bias against abortion has already led to “compromised” analyses, citing a research articles co-authored by Skop and others affiliated with the Charlotte Lozier Institute.

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Earlier this year a medical journal retracted studies supported by the Charlotte Lozier Institute claiming to show harms of the abortion pill mifepristone, citing conflicts of interests by the authors and flaws in their research. Two of the studies were cited in a pivotal Texas court ruling that has threatened access to the drug.

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Michigan farmworker diagnosed with bird flu, becoming 2nd US case tied to dairy cows

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Michigan farmworker diagnosed with bird flu, becoming 2nd US case tied to dairy cows

A Michigan dairy worker has been diagnosed with bird flu — the second human case associated with an outbreak in U.S. dairy cows.

The male worker had been in contact with cows at a farm with infected animals. He experienced mild eye symptoms and has recovered, U.S. and Michigan health officials said in announcing the case Wednesday.

A nasal swab from the person tested negative for the virus, but an eye swab tested Tuesday was positive for bird flu, “indicating an eye infection,” U.S. Centers for Disease Control and Prevention officials said.

The worker developed a “gritty feeling” in his eye earlier this month but it was a “very mild case,” said Dr. Natasha Bagdasarian, Michigan’s chief medical executive. He was not treated with oseltamivir, a medication advised for treating bird flu, she said.

The risk to the public remains low, but farmworkers exposed to infected animals are at higher risk, health officials said. They said those workers should be offered protective equipment, especially for their eyes.

Health officials say they do not know if the Michigan farmworker was wearing protective eyewear, but an investigation is continuing.

In late March, a farmworker in Texas was diagnosed in what officials called the first known instance globally of a person catching this version of bird flu from a mammal. That patient reported only eye inflammation and recovered.

Since 2020, a bird flu virus has been spreading among more animal species — including dogs, cats, skunks, bears and even seals and porpoises — in scores of countries.

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The detection in U.S. livestock earlier this year was an unexpected twist that sparked questions about food safety and whether it would start spreading among humans.

That hasn’t happened, although there’s been a steady increase of reported infections in cows. As of Wednesday, the virus had been confirmed in 51 dairy herds in nine states, according to the U.S. Agriculture Department. Fifteen of the herds were in Michigan.

The CDC’s Dr. Nirav Shah said the case was “not unexpected” and it’s possible more infections could be diagnosed in people who work around infected cows.

U.S. officials said they had tested 40 people since the first cow cases were discovered in late March. Michigan has tested 35 of them, Bagdasarian told The Associated Press in an interview.

Shah praised Michigan officials for actively monitoring farmworkers. He said health officials there have been sending daily text messages to workers exposed to infected cows asking about possible symptoms, and that the effort helped officials catch this infection. He said no other workers had reported symptoms.

That’s encouraging news, said Michael Osterholm, a University of Minnesota epidemiologist who has studied bird flu for decades. There’s no sign to date that the virus is causing flu-like illness or that it is spreading among people.

“If we had four or five people seriously ill with respiratory illness, we would be picking that up,” he said.

The virus has been found in high levels in the raw milk of infected cows, but government officials say pasteurized products sold in grocery stores are safe because heat treatment has been confirmed to kill the virus.

The new case marks the third time a person in the United States has been diagnosed with what’s known as Type A H5N1 virus. In 2022, a prison inmate in a work program picked it up while killing infected birds at a poultry farm in Montrose County, Colorado. His only symptom was fatigue, and he recovered. That predated the virus’s appearance in cows.

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The Associated Press Health and Science Department receives support from the Howard Hughes Medical Institute’s Science and Educational Media Group. The AP is solely responsible for all content.

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