Egyptian President Abdel-Fattah al-Sisi took part on Friday in a bicycle marathon together with artists, media figures and students in Cairo to encourage low consumption of fuel which is costing the government billions of dollars every year.

Prime Minister Ibrahim Mahlab and Defense Minister Sidqi Subhi also took part in the marathon of 20 kilometers, which began at the military academy in New Cairo.

Wearing sporting gear including cycling gloves, President Sisi sought to promote reduced fuel consumption by encouraging people to cycle and walk more. The cash-strapped government spends tens of billions of dollars a year on fuel subsidies.

“If you use your car, you pay around 4 pounds for 20 or 25 kilometers (15 miles) and Egypt pays 8 pounds for those 20 kilometers,” Sisi said in a statement broadcast by state media.

“If 3,000 people did this (cycling) with me, how much would that be per day?,” he said. Cyclists are rarely seen in Cairo where chaotic traffic regularly clogs up large parts of the city.

Egypt spent about 170 billion Egyptian pounds ($24 billion), or around a fifth of its budget, on energy subsidies this fiscal year ending June 30, state media quoted the government as saying this month, and plans to cut that to 104 billion next year.

Energy prices in Egypt are among the lowest in the world and although successive governments have called for subsidy reform none have dared impose big price rises for fear of unrest.

Artificially low prices for electricity, butane and fuel at filling stations provide little incentive to curb consumption, despite a fuel supply crisis that causes daily blackouts.

Power generation in Egypt is largely dependent on natural gas, now in short supply after long-term policy decisions on investment have been put off repeatedly, partly due to three years of political turmoil and uprisings in the region.

Sisi deposed elected Islamist President Mohamed Mursi in July following mass unrest against his rule and won more than 96 percent of the vote in elections last month.

[With Reuters]