There’s a new crisis keeping Egyptians busy these days. The country is experiencing its worst electricity shortage in decades. The problem has hit almost every province around the country. The lucky ones have one or two cuts a day lasting an hour or so. The unlucky ones can go days without power. There’s also a fuel and water shortage to add to what is becoming a desperate situation.
The result is rising frustration and anger. Forget the recent firings of the military’s top brass by the president. Nothing gets people talking these days as much as when you ask them about the power cuts. When we went to the Cairo neighbourhood of Imbaba people were leaning out of their balconies shouting at us to come and film the rotten food in their fridge and the rest of the problems caused by the lack of power and water.
In a country suffering from rising prices and high unemployment, this is a crisis few can afford.
The metro has stopped working in some areas. New legislation suggests forcing shops and businesses to close down earlier to skimp on electricity. Meanwhile the new prime minister, Hesham Qandil, went on state television advising people to wear cotton shirts and use one room of the house to stay cool and save energy.
Poor infrastructure or something more sinister?
The government’s response, according to many we spoke to, has been too slow. Akhtem Abu El Ela, the deputy health minister, told me a number of factors have contributed to the current situation. “Firstly, the lack of security has led to theft of electric cables. Also, high temperatures naturally lead to an increase in consumption. And we were set to launch two new power plants this year, but the projects have been delayed,” he said.
The new plants in Domyaat and Abo Eeer were meant to be finished last May. The ministry blames the delay on locals who are asking for high compensation and other sweeteners in order for building to continue.
But on the street, there is a very different opinion as to what the reasons are. The cuts started around the same time as Mohammed Morsi, the new president, took office and have been noticeably worse during the Muslim holy month of Ramadan.
When we asked a group of men in a shop why they thought the cuts were happening, an argument broke out. One man blamed the new Muslim Brotherhood president Morsi, putting it down to his inexperience running the country. All the others told him that was a naïve view, suggesting that it was no coincidence that the power cuts happen during Ramadan.
“It’s as if someone is trying to upset us. The government is good but some are trying to turn the people against the president,” one man told me.
Another man remarked this was the worst power cuts he has seen in over 40 years. “As soon as the new President took office the trouble started. The ministry officials are trying to embarrass him and ruin the country,” he remarked angrily.
Egyptians in some provinces have stopped paying their electricity bills others have resorted to street protests in reaction to what they see as the government’s inaction.