The government’s original plan was to end the subsidies over a period of three to five years.

However, Egyptian Prime Minister Ahmed Nazif said food subsidies would remain in place due to their social importance and may be increased if necessary.

Nazif was speaking during a consultation with members of the country’s political parties, prominent writers and others to discuss ways to increase the efficiency of subsidies. In November, he called on the cabinet to develop a schedule to improve the distribution of subsidies.

He said more meetings between the government and representatives of various segments of society would be held in the near future.

The state budget for food subsidies for 2007/08 is £E9.5bn ($1.7bn), up from £E9.4bn in the previous year.