Millions of Egyptians — some of the world’s most enthusiastic consumers of hashish — are suffering withdrawal pangs after an unprecedented shortage of their favourite narcotic.
A sudden fall in supply of the concentrated form of marijuana has sent prices spiralling, and left smokers searching for alternative highs.
“This is very weird for Egypt. I’ve never seen it like this,” said Yasser, a former police officer-turned-hash dealer.
“My supplier told me he doesn’t know what’s going on. Everybody is going crazy. My friends are telling me they can’t focus at work.”
The crisis began about three months ago, and prices have rocketed. A 150g block, about the size of a large chocolate bar, normally sells for about 1,500 Egyptian pounds (£180). Now the price has doubled.
For a nation where smoking hash is ingrained in the culture, the shortage has come as a shock.
In Children of Gebelawi, a 1959 novel by Naguib Mahfouz, a Nobel laureate, both the heroes and villains openly smoke hash without any moral implications.
The price rise is especially lamented by older users, who grew up under the rule of President Sadat — widely said to have been an enthusiast. His 11-year rule from 1970 to 1981 is fondly recalled as a golden age for hashish and its connoisseurs.
In modern times, usage is pervasive and classless. Cheap rolling papers are for sale at almost every kiosk and supermarket, even though rolling tobacco is expensive and available only at a handful of stores.
Most hash in Egypt comes from Morocco, with some from Lebanon. Moroccan shipments tend to come through Sudan, where the border is more porous than the western frontier with Libya. Lebanese shipments tend to arrive through the Sinai.
The shortage follows triumphant police announcements of a sweeping crackdown. In late March General Mostafa Amer, director of the Interior Ministry’s anti-narcotics bureau, announced that 7.5 tonnes of hashish and 25kg of heroin had been seized in raids over three months.
More than 300 distributors were detained, he said. Few are convinced that the raids could have caused the shortage, however. Many see a darker explanation.
“This proves the Government completely controls the hash trade,” said one smoker. “It’s not the result of a few strategic drug busts. They just turned off the tap.”
That belief has spawned a host of theories as to just why the authorities would tighten supplies. Among them: a desire to shift drug smokers to alcohol, heroin or illicit pharmaceuticals, or some internal struggle between large distributors and their “partners” in the police. Yasser’s favourite theory is to blame politicians jockeying for money, power and influence.
by Ashraf Khalil in Cairo
May 5, 2010