Really, that’s what the headline says. It sounds like something out of Exodus but right now Egypt's fragile economy faces another crisis with a gathering plague of locusts.
Several reports this week say Egypt's winter wheat crop is under threat from locusts. The nation is already under stress from the a shortage of grain that is causing hardship among the many poor who rely on bread as a staple part of their diet. Stratfor reports that without these harvests, the price of wheat will go up as the government is forced to increase imports to meet demand. Higher prices for grain are passed onto the people and this adds further strain to an already fragile economy managed by the struggling Muslim Brotherhood-led government.
Ironically, Egypt imports wheat from Russia, America and others—up to 60 percent of the wheat it consumes. In the time of the Roman Empire, Egypt exported grain to Rome. Add to this the subsidized prices people pay for grain and a real problem could erupt if the supply chain is severely interrupted.
An adult locust eats it body weight in grain each day. A swarm of locusts can contain up to a metric ton of these pests. That's a lot of chomping by one of nature's most ravenous insects. Locusts are a biblically clean food but I can't see them replacing the daily bread of an Egyptian!
The coming weeks will determine the breadth of this infestation. April is the critical month for harvesting the winter wheat crop. Several factors such as wind patterns, rain and food supply will determine how far the locusts will spread.
This is just one more problem impacting Egypt's fragile political and economic condition. Nearly three out of four Egyptians under age 30 are out of work or severely underemployed. The tourism industry, a major source of income, has not recovered from the unrest created by the overthrow of the Mubarak regime more than two years ago. The Muslim Brotherhood's control of the government has further eroded the delicate balance of power between the military and the civilian segment of the government. Egypt by any observer's evaluation is a ticking time bomb waiting to blow into another major crisis.
Egypt is the largest nation in the Arab world with the largest standing army. What happens there matters to the overall stability of the Middle East. With Iran nearing completion of a nuclear weapon and Syria still waiting to collapse into another broken state the region is a cauldron of unrest. The future of the region is still waiting to emerge from the fog of unrest that settled during the so-called Arab Spring.