The Muslim Brotherhood are like a group of Bedouins, living one day at a time and taking paths with unknown destinations. Perhaps the recent power outage, which coincided with the onset of summer and the approach of the month of Ramadan, is one of the new factors that the Brotherhood is unable to manage.
The electricity issue seems to contradict the Brotherhood’s way of thinking, since it requires the group to drop temporary solutions and set plans oriented toward the future. Therefore, the power outage crisis, which went on throughout the past week, became more serious than the way it was described in official statements, news bulletins, satellite TV programs, and even in conversations between Egyptians who were cynical, fed up, desperate, resilient or pessimistic.
The blackout affected the various levels of economic activity, and reports were circulated among the media indicating that “craftsmen and owners of furniture and decor workshops in the city of Belbeis in the al-Sharqiyah governorate blocked the road linking more than eight governorates in 10 of Ramadan industrial city for more than 14 hours. They burned tires in protest against the repeated power outages at their workshops, which have caused them heavy losses since they were unable to meet their customers’ deadlines for the delivery of their products."
Perhaps the image of roads blocked in protest against the blackouts is eye-catching for the media and for politicians, yet it fails to explain the inherent complexity of the scene. The losses caused by the power outage exceed in size and nature the losses caused by roads blocked in protest.
Another photo taken in Belbeis shows a number of protesters filing complaints in the police station about the repeated power outages, before calling upon the city’s residents to refrain from paying their electricity bills if these power outages occur again.
This shows that the means of protest fall within a broad range of possibilities all answering the following question: If the Brotherhood is living one day at a time, should we follow its approach? Or should the parties affected by its rule take a different approach?
Some examples of the disaster
Every detail of the electricity issue seems linked to dozens of other details, and tackling each detail separately prevents us from seeing the overall picture.
In this scope, one can tackle the example of the health sector, where doctors in Gharbia governorate warned that power outages at hospitals threaten the lives of thousands of infants in incubators. While in Alexandria, continuous power cuts caused the death of a patient in the intensive care unit.
The same applies to the education sector. A group of high school students sent a letter to Egyptian President Mohammed Morsi, saying, “If we are to fail this year, it will be because of you and you are to be held responsible for this.” It is known that exams in Egypt are held during the months of May and June, which are the most important two months of the school year. Thus, power outages pose a serious problem for students.
What’s more, the government’s energy conservation plan aims at reducing street lighting, where students used to go to study when the power was out. Students have been facing a true dilemma: when the electricity is off they go down to the street only to find it dark as well!
The approach of the Brotherhood government to this dilemma portends an even greater disaster. There has been growing talk that the Ministry of Education will take power outages into consideration when drafting the official exam questions, which only suggests a lower level of education.
The electricity crisis is to be added to other issues that demonstrate the disintegration of Hisham Qandil’s floundering government.
The statement made by Minister of Electricity Ahmed Imam is living proof of the government’s confusion, as he said that “conserving energy is a national and religious duty, particularly in light of the circumstances surrounding the energy market in Egypt, and the elevated consumption rates, which exceed normal consumption by 10%.” This is not to mention the statement by the Minister of Religious Endowments Talaat Afifi, who described energy conservation as “a matter of faith,” stressing that Islam is against all kinds of extravagance.
The two ministers have gone as far as to sign a cooperation protocol to reduce electricity consumption in mosques, and to hold training courses for imams so they can raise awareness about energy conservation in mosques.
For his part, Magdy Wasfy, the general director of support in the Ministry of Supply, has been keen to throw the ball in the court of other ministries, as he said that “the shortage of fuel necessary to run power plants, which led to repeated power outages over the past two days, is the responsibility of the Ministry of Petroleum,” stressing that this ministry is in charge of supplying fuel for power plants, and that “the Ministry of Supply has nothing to do with it.”
It is worth noting that the Cairo governorate suffered from a deficit in electricity generation by 50% of the required output on Tuesday, May 21, and Wednesday, May 22. This was due to a lack of fuel, which is pumped to electricity stations, according to the Ministry of Electricity. As a result, the power has been out for long periods of time in several areas.
Why are there repeated blackouts? How can this issue be dealt with? The answers to these questions go back to a few years ago, when the “nuclear solution” — that is, the proposal to install a nuclear reactor in the city of El Dabaa — has been put forth as the only solution to the growing gap between production and consumption of electricity.
Nevertheless, this solution has become an “illusion” at this time for several reasons, some of which are financial, while others are linked to political instability, which is likely to prompt “international partners” to refrain from taking part in this ambitious project.
Thus, Egypt has found itself forced to go back to conventional power plants, while postponing any idea of an alternative, such as solar or wind energy, due to its high cost and technical complexity.
Now, the Brotherhood government can only manage the crisis rather than solve it. This could be done by repairing power stations that do not operate properly and providing them with fuel on a regular basis. The government could also suggest productive and scientific means for energy conservation. These means, however, are expensive and would increase the burden on the state budget. Also, objective conditions in this case further promote the Brotherhood’s way of thinking: “[live] day by day.”
Causes of the crisis
It has become a standard for the electricity sector to offer annual maintenance plans, and plans every 10 years in order to enhance the level of service. However, over the past two years, maintenance plans have been overlooked under the pretext of budget deficits, while plans to increase efficiency have been disregarded.
Thus, some of the power stations have remained without maintenance throughout the past two years, which was one of the main reasons behind the ongoing crisis, as this reduced energy production by no less than 15%. This is in addition to the growing rate of demand, which has increased by up to 7% annually, leaving a deficit of about 30%.
Moreover, given the fact that 90% of the energy is generated by thermal, petroleum or gas stations, and 9% by hydroelectric sources, such as the Aswan Dam, the cost of production is already high, considering that Egypt does not produce diesel.
In addition to all this, there are 17 thermal power stations in Egypt, operating on petroleum, which represent 30% of electricity production. The combustion chambers ought to operate on gas instead, which costs less and helps reverse heavy losses amounting to millions of Egyptian pounds per day. This is especially true since diesel oil power generation costs 10 piastres per kilowatt-hour (about $0.014), while gas-fired power generation costs 7 piastres ($ 0.009). Nevertheless, this requires huge amounts of money, which exceed the state budget.
Lack of planning
It appears that the choice between gas or diesel oil is one of the incomprehensible and unjustified dilemmas in the production of electricity in Egypt. Indeed, gas is cheaper and cleaner, not to mention that gas-fired power stations cost less than those operating on diesel gas. So why not shift to gas? This question has remained unanswered since the days of Hosni Mubarak and remains so during the reign of Morsi.
Now, after having collected all the scattered pieces, we can see the bigger picture: the increasing power [shortage] is an indicator that the rule of the Brotherhood will further deteriorate the living conditions of Egyptians. It is true that the crisis was already gripping the country when the Brotherhood took up the reins of power, but the Islamist movement has only deepened the crisis instead of trying to solve it.
Electricity, fuel and money are the main ingredients of modern economic and social life, and if the Brotherhood failed to provide them, this means that the summer is likely to be dark, scorching and “a disaster.” What will those affected by the Brotherhood’s rule do? Will they rise up for the sake of light?
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