The Egyptian authorities have seized 9,000 tonnes (9,920 tons) of sugar in raids on factories and warehouses, amid a nationwide shortage of the commodity.
Prime Minister Sherif Ismail said the raids had had a “positive impact” on supplies, meaning there would now be enough to cover the next three months.
The sugar will be resold at subsidized prices through state-run outlets.
Sugar has all but disappeared from supermarket shelves in recent weeks, prompting widespread anger.
This crisis comes as President Abdul Fattah al-Sisi’s government makes unpopular cuts to a costly subsidies programme and attempts to finalise a $12bn (£10bn) International Monetary Fund loan it sees as key to reviving the struggling economy.
A dearth of foreign currency and a sudden suspension of oil aid from Saudi Arabia have also led to the value of the Egyptian pound plummeting on the black market.
Arrested for ‘possession’
Edita Food Industries, one of Egypt’s largest confectionary makers, told the Reuters news agency on Monday that its factory in Beni Suef province had been shut for three days after officials seized about 2,000 tonnes of sugar.
The company stressed that it had not been overstocking sugar, and that the sugar had been obtained legally from the private sector and not the black market.
In an interview with Egypt’s CBC TV, Mr Ismail said: “There are some negative points that we are dealing with but they were a limited number of cases.”
“We can’t leave the market without supervision,” he added. “Monitoring is necessary.”
However, the Federation of Egyptian Chambers of Commerce warned that the seizure of commodities from the private sector would result in more shortages, as companies would be “forced to exit the market instead of expanding and investing”.
“If the government has a problem, they should come and negotiate, but this way of seizing stocks and treating us as smugglers is shameful,” Edita Chairman Hani Berzi told CBC.
Egypt imports almost a third of the 3m tonnes of sugar it consumes annually.
The sugar shortage had led to prices almost doubling to 10 Egyptian pounds ($1.13) per kilogram in the past few weeks, according to supermarkets surveyed by Bloomberg.
Earlier this month, the state-run al-Ahram newspaper reported that a government hotline had been set up to report hoarders, and that a man who works as a waiter at a cafe had been arrested for possession of 10kg (22lb) of sugar, deemed to be in excess of the amount reasonable for personal use.