Egypt: From Energy Exporter to Energy Basket Case

Egyptians are suffering through their worst energy crisis in years, with citizens getting increasingly angry and impatient

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David Lev,

Drilling for oil and gas (illustrative)
Drilling for oil and gas (illustrative)
Flash 90

Not long ago, Egypt was an energy exporter, with Israel and Jordan eager customers for Egyptian natural gas. Now, though, Egypt can't even produce enough energy for its own needs – and the country over the past several weeks has faced rolling blackouts, with even the most upscale districts in Cairo facing 3-5 hours a day of darkness.

In other areas, such as Alexandria, irate residents have held violent demonstrations against the government and the electric company over blackouts that have lasted as long as ten hours. Protests are becoming more common in Cairo as well, and the government has placed police and the army on alert.

Since the fall of Hosni Mubarak, Egypt has seen its foreign currency receipts drop precipitously, as tourism, one of the main suppliers of foreign currency, has mostly dried up. As a result, Egypt does not have enough money to buy oil on the open market, and is having trouble producing enough gas to supply its electrical needs, since it can't afford to run the gas extraction system on a regular basis.

The blackouts have become more than an inconvenience; reports in the local media say that many Egyptians have been attacked by robbers and thugs, who are taking advantage of the dark to steal whatever they desire. Reports of rape have also climbed. There are now more fires as well, caused by candles that were mishandled. In one tragic case, a six year old who had lit a candle in his father's garage during a blackout caught fire when fumes from the garage ignited the candle's flame, turning it into fireball and burning the child to death.

Many Egyptians blame the government, as well as President Mohammed Morsi himself, for mishandling the energy issue. Although Egyptians are used to rolling blackouts in the summer due to high demand, the situation this year is far worse, they say. Meanwhile, Morsi's Freedom and Justice Party has apologized for the blackouts and appealed to the Egyptian people to be “just a bit more patient” while the energy mess gets sorted out.