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A daily schedule for power cuts in Al-Sisi’s Republic of Darkness

April 30, 2024 at 2:00 pm

A man walks with a flashlight along a darkened street during a power cut in the Fleming neighbourhood of Alexandria, Egypt on 25 November, 2023 [AMIR MAKAR/AFP via Getty Images]

Not even the most pessimistic people could ever have imagined that the Egyptian government would set a daily schedule for power cuts. This is now happening in a country whose ruling regime has always bragged about having surplus electricity being exported to Arab and European countries. This surplus was celebrated by the Egyptian prime minister in a Facebook post on 7 February, 202, under the headline: “The New Republic: a hub for electric connectedness between the continents”.

The government also celebrated the fact that President Abdel Fattah Al-Sisi has established 31 electricity power stations and the Benban solar energy complex. These required huge investments, amounting to 355 billion Egyptian pounds ($7.36bn) between 2014 and 2021, according to Minister of Electricity Mohamed Shaker.

The Egyptian government doubled the nominal energy capacity to 59.5 gigawatts in June 2020, while consumption was only 35 gigawatts. This means that Egypt had an electricity surplus of more than 24 gigawatts, according to the government’s own data.

Moreover, Al-Sisi would announce from time to time a series of electricity interconnection projects between Egypt and six countries: Saudi Arabia, Jordan, Sudan, Libya, Cyprus and Greece. Nevertheless, the Egyptian people have found themselves in the dark on a daily basis for one or two hours, or more. The surplus electricity has turned into a mirage.

Frequent power cuts have been imposed since July last year. The government has approved a daily schedule for what the media calls a “load reduction” plan.

Al-Sisi justified what was happening by saying on air months ago: “Regarding the issue of electricity being cut off, we can keep it from being cut off if we could, but we can’t.” He noted that cutting off the electricity for an hour a day saves the government $300 million.

The load reduction plan specifies the time of the power outage for each area, although it doesn’t seem to reduce electricity bills.

The duration of the power cuts varies from city to city, where they tend to last for one or two hours per day; in the villages and estates they range between three and four hours daily, even in very hot weather.

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The plan excludes North Sinai, South Sinai, Red Sea, Matrouh and tourist areas such as the North Coast and El Alamein, as well as the New Administrative Capital east of Cairo. These are areas with low population density.

Meanwhile, highways and desert roads are dark at night. Electricity is turned off on main streets, squares and bridges in the centre of Greater Cairo as well. In addition, witnesses have reported that some tourist attractions have also experienced power cuts.

Such cuts have exacerbated the daily suffering in a country that has serious poverty and inflation. They have caused many accidents and deaths, most notably businessman Mahmoud Khattab. He died earlier this month while trying to get out of the elevator of his building near the capital. Khattab was in the elevator when the power was cut, and ended up falling from the seventh floor.

Khattab’s death was not the first and will not be the last. A few days ago, a teacher was also killed while trying to get out of an elevator after a power cut caused it to stop. Another was killed when he slipped between the elevator and the wall on the seventh floor in a building in the Gharbia Governorate, and a fourth was electrocuted because of a sudden surge of electricity as power came back on, according to Egyptian newspapers.

The health authorities are refraining from announcing the death toll due to the power cuts. A spokesman for the government, Counsellor Mohamed Al-Homsani, said that there are other priorities such as providing goods and medicine, and that people can handle reduced electricity supplies.

Although the load reduction plan requires the exclusion of facilities that the government describes as essential, the Egyptian Stock Exchange suspended trading on 22 April due to a power outage and the lack of an alternative source of energy. This caused huge losses to investors, the value of which has not been disclosed.

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On Saturday, a power outage was experienced by South Sinai Governorate General Office building, the naval base there, National Security (an internal intelligence agency), the port and other facilities, according to officials in Al-Tur in the governorate.

Egyptians complain widely about power cuts affecting schools, hospitals, mosques, banks, factories and shops. Internet services have been disrupted and employment opportunities with companies outside the country have been lost.

Well-known Egyptian media figure Lamis Al-Hadidi expressed her dissatisfaction with the power outages affecting banks, saying on X that this is a disruption of people’s interests and a waste of limited work time.

The government says that cutting off electricity saves it a billion dollars a year, but this does not take into account the huge economic losses incurred as a result. There are some large, complex and hard to estimate losses that affect industry, trade, agriculture, tourism and investment. What’s happening is also harming the country’s image and destroying its reputation as an investment vehicle, according to economic expert Mustafa Abdel Salam.

International buyers decided to postpone indefinitely the acquisition of two power plants implemented by the German company Siemens in the Administrative Capital and in Beni Suef Governorate until guarantees are made by the Egyptian government that it will provide the fuel necessary to operate them.

Egypt is facing a crisis in providing necessary gas to operate electricity power stations, 55 per cent of which operate on natural gas, as well as diesel fuel. This has been aggravated by the technical difficulties experienced by the Zohr field, in the north of the country, which caused a deficit estimated at about 1.2 million cubic metres. Other projects have also stopped due to non-payment of oil companies’ dues of about $7 billion, according to Reuters.

The repercussions of the crisis seem to have affected some prominent figures, which has prompted former Egyptian Minister of Information Osama Heikal to complain publicly on Facebook. He said that it is very provocative to see the fully lit, yet empty, New Administrative Capital, while the streets and homes of Cairo, the largest residential area in the country, have no electricity.

A former government advisor wrote in Al-Shorouk that cutting off electricity affects business performance, investments, the movement of individuals and capital, and banking transactions. Load reduction also indirectly affects people’s productivity, through its negative impact on morale and the possible increase in crime rates and tension in personal and working relationships.

While journalist Amr Adeeb, who is close to the circles of power, wondered aloud on his show “Al-Hekaya” on MBC if one billion dollars gained from cutting off electricity is worth people’s anger, journalist Tamer Sherine Shawky said that the electricity crisis is not due to the lack of fuel, but is a deliberate humiliation of the people, sending the message that they have no rights, and that they are second, third or even tenth class citizens. He warned on Facebook that things may soon collapse and reach an uncontrollable level, leading to a revolution that would not be in the interest of anyone, at home or abroad.

With about 25 million students taking their end-of-year exams soon and a hot summer fast approaching, Egyptians expect greater suffering as scheduled power cuts continue in Al-Sisi’s Republic of Darkness.

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The views expressed in this article belong to the author and do not necessarily reflect the editorial policy of Middle East Monitor.