Two days ago, the Egyptian government published a lengthy statement listing its achievements in the energy sector and electricity production since El-Sisi came to power eight years ago. This is a fact. The country has succeeded in doubling its electricity production capacity from 30 gigawatts in 2014 to 59 gigawatts in 2022, which is more than enough for its needs. But the government statement came when all cities and villages in Egypt witnessed daily power outages. Therefore, instead of the information being an occasion to praise the government, most comments inquired about the reason for the frequent power outages, even though the country didn’t suffer from a production crisis.
The government should have responded to citizens’ questions. Still, the leaks revealed that there is an unannounced plan that includes cutting off the electricity supply for at least two hours a day from all areas in cities and villages in the various governorates, willing to reduce the consumption of natural gas and diesel fuel to be available for export to save foreign exchange at a time when the country has a severe economic crisis. Egypt’s natural gas exports increased during the year 2022 by 14.28% to reach 8 million tons, compared to 7 million tons in 2021. The value of those exports also increased by 171% to reach $8.4 billion, compared to $3.5 billion in 2021, due to the increase in LNG export prices globally, according to data from the Ministry of Petroleum and Mineral Resources.
According to the plan to provide gas and diesel for export, diesel fuel consumption was reduced from 16,000 tons per day to 8,000 tons. In contrast, the rates of natural gas consumption were reduced from 120 million cubic meters of gas per day to 80 million cubic meters of gas per day, and the work of some production and generation stations was stopped. The nine distribution companies nationwide have drawn up a plan to tighten control over power thefts by cutting off electricity for more extended periods in the areas with the most loss across the country, such as Shaq al-Tha’ban, Arab Musaed, Manzala and al-Marj.
The government’s plans to provide gas and diesel made many citizens angry. Indeed, their businesses have been severely affected by frequent power outages. Some of them have questioned the feasibility and efficacy of such measures. “I work online with a company outside Egypt, and I get my salary in dollars, which benefits the economy. Last week, I could only work for three days because the electricity was out all day. How will the government compensate me? Does this benefit the economy if the company fires me and cuts my dollar salary? I doubt,” says Islam Mohamed, a citizen residing in Beheira governorate, in an exclusive interview with Egypt Watch.
Hafs Abu Muhammad, one of the citizens residing in the Marj area, where the government decided to cut off electricity for more extended periods, claiming that it has a high rate of electricity thefts, says: “I do not steal electricity. Isn’t the electricity police supposed to do their job and search for energy thieves instead of the government’s policy of collective punishment?” This is not the first measure taken by the state to provide natural gas for export and save hard currency, but it is the most violent measure and most affecting citizens. For example, last August, as the country was preparing to host the United Nations Climate Change Conference COP 27, the government decided to reduce the use of natural gas, the cleanest-burning hydrocarbon, in electricity generation, in return for expanding the consumption of diesel fuel.
The state turned a blind eye to experts’ warnings against relying on diesel fuel to generate electricity. From an environmental point of view, diesel fuel is one of the worst types of power, the most polluting the environment, and the least efficient in generating electricity. From an economic point of view, it is impossible to continue relying on diesel oil due to its adverse effects on power plants that will need frequent maintenance. In its endeavour to provide natural gas for export, the government announced a plan to rationalize the consumption of electric energy, which includes the complete closure of internal and external lighting in all units of the state’s administrative apparatus after the end of official working hours, and the reduction of street lighting, public squares and main axes. Commercial malls that use central air-conditioning systems will also be obligated not to lower the temperature below 25 degrees Celsius, and major sports facilities such as sports clubs, stadiums, football fields, and indoor halls will be required to reduce electricity consumption.
On the other hand, the government has a deliberate slowdown in delivering natural gas pipelines to citizens. Karim Younis, a citizen residing in one of the cities east of Cairo, complains that the gas line has yet to be connected to his house, despite having paid the necessary government fees more than a year ago. He believes the reason is the desire to provide this gas for export and let the citizens use primitive and hazardous liquefied gas pipelines.