Cairo — Egyptians are suffering through a rare spate of winter power outages, an indication they could sweat through a hot summer when soaring temperatures are likely to bring nationwide blackouts, experts say.
Summer blackouts would put Egypt’s next leader, set to be elected in the coming months, in a difficult position. In July, frequent electricity cuts, long gas lines and political tensions helped to stoke massive antigovernment protests that prompted the military to oust Mohammad Mursi, the country’s first freely elected president.
Some experts attribute shortages to a lack of foreign investment to develop Egypt’s natural-gas resources, which meet most of the country’s energy needs. Mohammad Shoeib, managing director of the energy division at Egypt’s Citadel Capital and former head of the Egyptian Natural Gas Holding Co., said he expected the power cuts this summer to be far worse than those last summer.
“The expectation for next summer is the darkest summer that Egypt has ever seen,” he said. “It is clear that the demand for electricity needed is more than what” the government can provide, he added. Egypt’s government said the system has adequate resources to handle summer demand. Gulf countries such as Kuwait, Saudi Arabia and the United Arab Emirates have thrown Egypt a lifeline with deliveries of some $4 billion (Dh14.6 billion) in petroleum. But their future commitment to propping up Egypt’s energy needs remain unclear.
Whether the expected power cuts bring Egypt’s political instability to another rolling boil will largely depend on who wins the coming presidential vote. If the popular head of the country’s armed forces, Field Marshal Abdul Fattah Al Sissi, runs and wins, he could potentially weather the kind of broad dissatisfaction that could arise from a dramatic escalation of power outages.
Field Marshal Al Sissi would also be in a position to reduce to Egypt’s energy subsidies, which now cost about $17 billion a year and account for about one-fifth of the country’s budget.