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EGYPT: Electricity outages spoil Ramadan celebrations

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Thousands of Egyptians were forced to break their Ramadan fasting by candlelight on Wednesday. Not really what could be called a romantic iftar, but rather a way of coping with rolling electrical outages across the nation. 

The neighborhoods of Nasr City, Maadi and Haram in Cairo, as well as other parts of Egypt, experienced blackouts between 6 p.m. and 8 p.m., and once again later in the evening. The power cuts were the latest in a series of outages that have marred Egypt's scorching hot summer as well as citizens' celebrations during the holy month of Ramadan.

While Egyptians are blaming the government for failing to deal with escalating power consumption since June, officials at the Ministry of Electricity and Energy have asked for better conservation.

"The government can't hold us responsible for every malfunction in Egypt. This government has failed in managing our facilities, and resources thus should be replaced," said Mohamed Askalani of the group Citizens Against Expensiveness.

Exasperated by the power outages, crowds demonstrated Wednesday by shutting down a section of the main road connecting Egypt's north and south in the province of Fayoum, 81 miles southwest of Cairo.

"Officials refuse to help us. They told us 'Go do whatever you can,'" one angry protester told Egyptian media.

President Hosni Mubarak held an emergency meeting with Minister of Electricity Hassan Younis and Minister of Petroleum Sameh Fahm to discuss the matter. Amid reports of an ongoing conflict between the two ministries, the head of the Egyptian Electricity Holding Company, Mohamed Awad, recently blamed a shortage of 16,000 megawatts in the power supply on the Petroleum Ministry's failure to provide electrical plants with enough natural gas.

An unnamed official from the Electricity Ministry was quoted by daily newspaper Shorouk as saying that the country's exports of 1.7 billion cubic meters of natural gas to Israel every year is one reason behind the current power shortages.

Younis announced earlier in the week that Egypt had begun initial steps in constructing its first nuclear power plant to serve the growing needs for electricity.

-- Amro Hassan in Cairo

Photo: Electrical power lines. Credit: Associated Press

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