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Egypt's Electricity Woes Amplify Economic Frustrations

  • Elizabeth Arrott

Egyptian man recites versus from the Quran at an underground metro after a massive power cut has hit large parts of Cairo, Egypt, August 9, 2012.

Egyptian man recites versus from the Quran at an underground metro after a massive power cut has hit large parts of Cairo, Egypt, August 9, 2012.

The Egyptian government is trying to cope with electricity shortages by ordering stores and cafes to close earlier. But economists worry this plan to fix one problem will lead to more and cause further public frustration with the government.

Government officials say legislation to close shops and restaurants early will go into effect after the Eid al Adha holiday later this month.

Energy conservation

Blackouts have become increasingly frequent as the post-revolution economy stumbles.

But leading Egyptian businessmen and several economists say the government's effort to conserve energy is sorely misguided and will cost jobs, hurt revenues, and further damage the tourism sector.

For leading political activist Wael Khalil, the early closings and the possible repercussions are indicative of President Mohamed Morsi's term.

"We have not seen from Morsi or his administration any attempt, a master plan or a grand plan, that deals with the issues and problems in the short and medium term," said Khalil. "What we have seen so far is attempts to patch things without enough assessment of the wider impact or, to be honest, without any new thinking.”

Immediate remedies

Even the attempts at patchwork fixes seem untenable. The early closings, for example, are seen as largely unenforceable, especially in Cairo, a teeming city of 18-million people not known for keeping regular hours.

“With the Morsi government we did not see any success actually or any solid success in any Egyptian part, especially the Egyptian economy," says economist Magdy Sobhy Youssef, deputy director of the Ahram Center for Political and Strategic Studies. "So, frustration is there and will be there unless the government is doing something just to relieve people.”

Protests

Youssef notes the frustration is seen in various economic sectors - with port workers, doctors, factory employees staging walkouts and demonstrations.

Which poses a further dilemma for many who ask, "Do protests push the government to do more, or simply prolong instability?"

“There is a huge polarization within society about what course of action should be taken, how much do we seek to get the president at this point of time?" says political analyst and publisher Rania al Malki. "Is this the right time to rally support against him, or is it the time to try to support any positive initiative to help him reach his goal?”

Morsi's promises

Economist Youssef says parliamentary elections in the coming months offer a chance for a more representative government able to rebuild the economy and institute real change.

“If we have a balanced parliament and a balanced government, then we will have a lot of actual modifications to the government, instead of what we are seeing now with the Morsi government,” said Youssef.

But the promise of imminent change and economic betterment has been made many times; with Morsi's election, with parliamentary elections before that, and during the revolution itself. It is a promise that for many Egyptians is wearing thin, as patience is wearing out.
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