Tunis, Tunis – Ilyes, the local master looks to the right, then to the left and whispers: “Do you want milk? I can give you milk,” in a slightly shady way, someone might be trying to sell a more unsavory product.

Getting butter, however, is much more difficult. Ilyes sucks air through his teeth. “It’s hard,” he says, shaking his head. “The milk is finished today, but I can get it to you tomorrow,” and the deal is sealed.

Butter cartons are barely visible on supermarket shelves, and the once butter-laden croissants Tunisians love are now labeled as made with margarine. For the wealthy artisan, butter is available for 13 Tunisian dinars ($4.1) per 200g, about three times the normal price.

Semi-skimmed milk is subsidized for the consumer, but farmers are not supported, and the national cattle herd has been declining in recent years.

President Qais Said has previously blamed speculators for food shortages, but his opponents say he is to blame for failing to revive the country’s economy ahead of Saturday’s parliamentary elections. Most of the opposition will boycott, saying the vote is illegal.

Disadvantages “recurring theme of life”

Coffee is the blood of Tunisians, but without milk, cafes often serve only black coffee.

Radhuan, who works for a leading coffee merchant chain, says: “We have problems with the classic mixture because of the trade office, they imported only 60 percent of what the country needs, and it should be shared. every cafe and shop in the country.”

Regular coffee used in coffee shops is subsidized, and all coffee is bought by the state. However, due to the lack of foreign exchange reserves of the state, it affects imports.

Coffee traders rely on the state’s Office of Commerce to facilitate most imports, while paying separately for specialty items such as new blends from Peru and Bolivia.

“Now we have problems importing these new varieties because of the Office du Commerce,” Radhuan says as he rolls his eyes and paws.

Shortages of food, medicine and fuel have been a recurring theme in Tunisian life throughout 2022. Many are angry that after so much promise, Sayeed has focused on political changes, such as a new constitution, rather than economic solutions. urgent needs.

The toxic combination of skyrocketing inflation and the global financial crisis is hitting Tunisians across the class divide.

Bab Souika, usually a lively popular neighborhood with a traditional market bordering the old medina of Tunis, seems less crowded these days.

Butchers can only sell cheap cuts of meat, while spice shops decorated with dried red peppers are still filled with canned and dried goods that few buy.

Fishmongers no longer sell staple fish like bass, instead turning to smaller fish that people can afford. Where the market opens onto Halfawin Square, at the foot of the Saheb Ettabaa Mosque, there are fruit stalls selling rotten apples instead of the fresher fruit that used to be available.

It is a similar story in supermarkets. The shelves of the local branch of Aziza, the home supermarket chain, are perpetually looking bleak. Supermarkets up and down the country have gaping holes on their shelves where products used to be. In this aisle, it’s the sodas that are no longer available.

Mohamed, Aziza’s shelf manager, looks at the labels to remind himself what’s there.

“I’m not sure why there’s no soda, I don’t know, there’s a lot of stuff like rice, tea and coffee,” Mohammed says, pointing to another gap in the shelves. “But it’s not only the lack of products, but also the prices, look at that bottle of oil, 1.8 liters is now 18 dinars ($15.7), before it was seven ($2.2) or eight dinars ($2.5 ), it has doubled.”

Growing inequality

Food shortages and rising prices have highlighted the ever-growing disparity between Tunisia’s rich and poor.

In La Marsa, one of the city’s wealthiest suburbs, luxury cars can still be seen tearing up the highway in piles advertising luxury developments in which the well-heeled can invest.

For those with the money to spend, there’s no shortage of fancy imported foie gras and trendy new health foods that sell for many times European retail prices.

Before the rich experience of black quinoa and tofu, a plate of pasta with tomato sauce has become a rare treat for the poor. The gap between the rich and the poor is stark, and it’s clear that some people are well off while others are hungry.

“Mesquin (poor) Tunisia,” laughs Fatma, a shelf-stacker at the city’s branch of Monoprix, a French supermarket. “We don’t have scheduled milk supplies, I can’t remember the last time we had butter, and now we’re even running out of canned tomatoes, so what?”

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