Egypt's Electricity Crisis Poses An Early Challenge for Morsi

Severe summer heat and power cuts struck Egypt at the start of Ramadan, raising tensions that contributed to a deadly gunfight in Cairo's streets. Ahmad Rahim writes that violence and overloaded public utilities are eroding public confidence in newly-elected President Mohammed Morsi. 

al-monitor Muslims take a rest after an evening prayer during Ramadan at Al Azhar mosque in old Cairo July 23, 2012. Photo by REUTERS/Amr Abdallah Dalsh.

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ramadan, water crisis, water, resentment, power outages, power grid, power, morsi, infrastructure, electricity crisis, egypt, class warfare

Jul 24, 2012

When the long hours of fasting begin just as the power cuts out for a few hours and the temperature in Egypt climbs above 40 degrees Celsius [104 degrees Farenheit], the people can find no one to blame except President Mohammed Morsi. The country’s electricity crisis came into the spotlight at the start of Ramadan, increasing the citizens’ suffering.

The country’s dilapidated infrastructure, high temperatures and the increased pressure on the power grid have pushed the government to cut the electricity supply for long hours, especially in poor areas. These cuts increased discontent among people whose lives were already difficult, and they expressed their anger by blocking roads. Residents of lower-income areas in the Giza Governorate tried to storm the governorate building to protest against the long power cuts in their area. These densely populated areas have been subject to hours-long power cuts, despite the fact that their electricity consumption is nothing compared to one street in a high-income area. In wealthy areas, each house is fitted with multiple air conditioning units that consume large amounts of electricity.

These power cuts coincide with higher temperatures inside houses as a result of the weather. They also accompany higher temperatures in the streets, where a gunfight resulted in nine casualties, as was the scene the day before yesterday [July 22] in the district of al-Zawiya al-Hamra in Cairo. The district where the fight took place is barely two kilometers from the Ministry of Defense and a few meters from a regional military headquarters.

The street turned into a battlefield as the fight suddenly broke out, and a heavy exchange of gunfire ensued. The power outages meant that the area was already dark, but the use of Molotov cocktails further complicated the situation. Once the skirmish ended and the streetlights turned on, everyone began to pick up what was thrown in the fight. This battle came at a time when severe criticisms have been leveled against Morsi, who had promised to restore security during his first 100 days in office. However, police cars did not arrive to the scene before the end of the fight, which finished with nine people either killed or wounded.

Morsi had promised in his campaign that several changes would be made regarding security, public sanitation, energy, traffic and bread in the first 100 days of his term. But none of these changes have thus far been realized. Apart from these issues, there is a new problem exacerbating the situation. Water shortages are nothing new in Egypt, but this time they are taking place during the hot summer days of Ramadan. They are increasing the anger of the people, which is especially acute given that millions of Egyptians raised their expectations regarding progress and an end to their suffering after the election of a new president. However, their expectations have not been met.

The crisis has also affected children. In front of the health bureau in the Qibba Gardens district, next to the Ministry of Defense, dozens of parents arrived with their children to receive vaccinations against various diseases. However, those who arrived at the scene were shocked by the shortage of polio vaccines, which meant that certain babies were unable to be vaccinated until the necessary doses are available. The parents’ response to this shortage was to “revolt.” It is not the first time that vaccinations have been postponed.

Officials at the health bureau suggested that the parents write a letter to the Ministry of Public Health demanding that it provide the local health bureau with the necessary vaccination serums as quickly as possible. However, this was not enough to calm the parents, who were almost violent in their attacks on the bureau’s personnel.

These types of crises are weakening Egyptians' confidence in the ability of their economy to recover. A report issued by Egypt’s Council of Ministers’ Information and Decision Support Center revealed that Egyptians are growing less optimistic about their future living conditions, relative to previous months. Their living conditions are now bringing new concerns into their lives.

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