08/24/2010 22:12

Recurring power shortages cause demonstrations.

The Egyptian government has announced its intention to continue decreasing electric output pending the end of a heat-wave which saw temperatures climb to 40 degrees Celsius.

Government spokesman Magdi Radi announced that an “emergency plan” prepared by the government would ensure the addition of 550 megawatts to the national grid within two weeks, as well as 700 megawatts before the end of this year.

On Monday the Egyptian High Energy Commission, headed by Prime Minister Ahmad Nazif, discussed long term solutions for the energy crisis, including the use of solar energy to produce electricity and improving the capacity of lighting in government buildings.

Meanwhile, Egyptian citizens have appealed to President Mubarak to dismiss Electricity Minister Hassan Younis from his position for his failure to provide power to citizens during the month of Ramadan.

“The government failures are political, economic and social, and they all stem from lack of planning,” Ahmad, a 29 year-old activist in the protest ‘April 6 Youth Movement’ told The Media Line. “Today we will hold a silent vigil across the government buildings in Cairo and Alexandria.”

Osama Hussein, spokesman for “the Free Popular Front”, another protest group, said demonstrations were scheduled to take place in other governorates of Egypt including Alminya, Luxor, Al-Mansoura and Al-Beheira.

“We are protesting the failed government policy, and the deterioration of the economic situation,” Hussein told The Media Line. “We demand the government stop exporting gas to Israel, and cut all ties with it.”

Hussein said his group also demanded the dismissal of Petrolium Minister Sameh Fahmi and Electricity Undersecretary Hassan Hasaneen. He added that harsh police intervention during the protests prevented higher attendance by the public.

Egyptian independent daily Al-Masri Al-Yom reported receiving 200 letters of complaint from citizens of 16 different Egyptian provinces. Some claimed that power cuts occurred in their homes as the daily fast of Ramadan came to an end, while others complained that lowered power currents damaged their electrical appliances.

David Butter, regional director of the Middle East for the Economist Intelligence Unit, said that the public outcry in Egypt was a result of the rarity of such problems in the country.

“The Egyptians are quite efficient in the energy sector,” Butter told The Media Line. “Other countries in the area such as Lebanon, Syria, Iraq and Saudi-Arabia have suffered much worse and more chronic energy crises. The Egyptian reaction reflects the novelty of the situation.”

Butter added that a lack of availability in natural gas was one reason for the current crisis, caused by delays in development of new gas fields in Egypt. He said Egypt’s export of gas to Israel accounted only for 9% of its total exports, and therefore was not a real issue.

“The needs of the local market are growing rapidly, and there’s a struggle to match supply with this growing demand” he said.

Similar to previous popular upheavals in Egypt following the increase in bread prices, Butter opined that the social unrest will be short lived.

“We may see sporadic expressions of discontentment, but this won’t end up as a major display of opposition to the government,” he said.

Recurring power shortages in Iraq in June evoked widespread demonstrations in the southern city of Basra, leading energy minister Karim Waheed to resign.