A consumer boycott in Kuwait has forced down the retail price of fish in a sign of the difficulties which Gulf governments may face as they try to save money by cutting food subsidies.
After the price of pomfret, known to Gulf Arabs as zubaidi or the “king of fish”, rose to 15 dinars ($49.60) a kilogramme, outraged consumers launched a campaign on Twitter last week to boycott fish sellers.
The campaign, named “Let It Rot”, left markets such as Souq Sharq, Kuwait’s main fish centre, almost deserted and has succeeded so well that the price of pomfret has fallen back to about 9 dinars, Kuwaiti shopkeepers and consumers said.
“It began with five guys on Twitter,” Abdullah al-Anzi, a 33-year-old Kuwaiti with two children, said on Tuesday.
“Kuwaiti zubaidi had never risen to this price before. We used to say we would rely on the government and parliament to ensure fairness in food prices, but now the Kuwaiti people have taken control – you can see it from the size of the reaction on the street.”
The price of pomfret is not subsidised, but Kuwait and other Gulf Arab governments subsidise basic foods such as sugar, rice, cooking oil and meat to keep prices low for consumers.
With low global oil prices slashing state revenues, governments are now considering cutting those subsidies.
Bahrain, for example, plans to remove meat subsidies next month. Kuwait, which has projected a state budget deficit of $27 billion this year, has said it is reviewing its subsidy system.
But the reaction of Kuwaiti consumers to rising fish prices suggests subsidy cuts might trigger a public backlash, making it difficult to push them through parliament.
In a sign of its concern about the boycott, the cabinet asked the commerce minister to coordinate with the agriculture and fisheries authority to control fish prices and problems related to fishing, state news agency KUNA reported.