When his neighbourhood is plunged into darkness, high school student Maximos Youssef is forced to study for his year-end exams critical in determining his future job prospects by the light of a candle.
The 18-year-old is one among millions of Egyptians whose tempers have been frayed by the recurrent power cuts hitting the country in recent days, blamed on and contributing to the nation’s plummeting reserves of foreign currency.
The outages have sparked scattered street protests across Egypt and calls on social networking sites for people to stop paying electricity bills, compounding the challenges facing President Mohamed Morsy.
Mr. Morsy says Egypt only has 80 per cent of its electricity needs met and that its turbines are outdated. “We have a real energy problem in Egypt,” he told reporters over the weekend.
Electricity Ministry spokesman Aktham Mohamed Abou El-Ela told AP that the government has earmarked $200 million to be used by the Oil Ministry to buy fuel for power stations. The government is vying for a $4.8 billion loan from the International Monetary Fund as one way to boost its foreign currency reserves, which have plummeted to $14.4 billion since the uprising. The reserves help pay for fuel subsidies that keep electricity bills relatively affordable.
But more money would still not immediately solve the shortfall of about 3,000 to 4,000 megawatts.
A surge in crime, persistent street violence and political instability have compounded the crisis by scaring away tourists and investors, leaving the country cash-strapped for fuel that is needed to keep power stations running.
In the southern city of Luxor, a popular tourist destination, the lights went out in the international airport and in ancient Egyptian temples recently, raising fears that the power outages will further sap tourism.
While blackouts occurred under Egypt’s former President Hosni Mubarak, who was ousted in the uprising, they became more frequent last summer. As temperatures climb again this year they have become part of daily life, even in the most upscale districts of the capital.
Mr. Morsi says his government is arranging to cut electricity for a maximum of two hours twice daily, but residents of poorer towns and villages complain that the outages last much longer. Amir el-Deeb, 29, who lives in the Boulaq el-Dakrour district of Giza near Cairo, says lights go out five times a day there. He is particularly concerned because the Muslim holy month of Ramadan begins in July and those who observe the daytime fast often stay up late at night for prayers and meals.
The government has urged citizens to reduce electricity use during the summer. Last year, Prime Minister Hesham Kandil was mocked for advising citizens to gather at home in one room and wear cotton as a way to cut down on air conditioning use. Political satirists dubbed him “Hesham Cottonil”, referring to one of Egypt’s largest undergarment manufacturers.