Electricity cuts in Egypt are threatening people’s well-being, a rights watchdog said on Tuesday, while natural gas production is also down.
Human Rights Watch said that the Egyptian government’s scheduled electricity cuts are putting people’s economic and social rights at risk.
“Egypt’s government has long demanded implicitly that Egyptians sacrifice their civil and political rights in return for economic prosperity,” the group’s deputy regional director, Adam Coogle, said in a press release. “But electricity cuts dramatically reduce people’s ability to realize their rights, including food, water and health care.
In July, Egyptian Prime Minister Mustafa Madbouly announced power cuts for several hours a day in response to increased demand for electricity. The decision came amid the heatwave sweeping the Middle East, North Africa and southern Europe at present. Cairo's high temperature on Tuesday was 99 degrees Fahrenheit (37 degrees Celsius), according to AccuWeather.
Madbouly said last week that daily power cuts of one to two hours may last into September, the state-owned news outlet Al-Ahram reported.
Residents of Cairo and Alexandria whom Al-Monitor spoke to on Tuesday said power cuts in their neighborhoods are currently lasting about one hour per day. Human Rights Watch alleged in its statement that the cuts are lasting longer in rural, poorer areas.
The electricity cuts in Egypt are also tied to its natural gas sector, and the government’s plans to reduce electricity consumption predate the current heatwave. In the summer of 2022, Egyptian authorities began reducing lighting in public areas in an effort to reduce electricity consumption. The purpose of the reduction was to lower the amount of electricity required for domestic use and ship the surplus to Europe, The Wall Street Journal reported at the time.
This move followed the Russian invasion of Ukraine early last year, after which European states sought to reduce their dependence on Russian gas. Egypt’s economy also suffered from the supply shocks that followed the war, and the country’s foreign reserves declined considerably. Natural gas exports can help Egypt boost its liquidity.
Egypt’s natural gas production is slowing down amid the export plans, however. Gas production in May amounted to roughly 5 billion cubic meters (bcm), and overall production during the first five months of 2023 constituted a three-year low, Reuters reported on Monday.
Moreover, Egypt has not made many large discoveries since the 2015 discovery of the Zohr gas field by Italian energy giant Eni. Production at Zohr was 2.3 billion cubic feet per day (bcfd) in July, down from 2.7 bcfd in 2019, according to Reuters.
The research firm Fitch Solutions predicted in a July report that Egypt’s gas production in 2023 will fall to a three-year low of 64.9 bcm. Relatedly, the company predicted that Egypt’s annual natural gas exports will decline from 11.3 bcm in 2022 to 10.8 bcm in 2023. Fitch cited water infiltration issues at Zohr and high depletion rates in the country’s gas fields in its assessment.
Eni has been drilling more wells in Zohr in an effort to mitigate the effects of the water infiltration on production, according to an April report from the energy analysis firm MEES.
Egypt’s gas ambitions are increasingly dependent on the country re-exporting Israeli gas, Marc Espanol wrote in a memo for Al-Monitor PRO in July. Israel began exporting gas to Egypt in 2020. Last year, Egypt signed an agreement with Israel and the European Union to explore the possibility of exporting Israeli gas to Europe by way of Egypt.
Coogle said that Egypt’s plans for natural gas exports are “at odds with Egyptians’ electricity needs,” and he called on the country to invest more in renewable energy.
Egypt’s renewable energy sector is growing, but the country continues to get most of its power from gas. Renewable electricity generation amounted to 12.2% of the total power generated in 2021, according to a November report from The World Bank.