CAIRO — Friday noon prayers resounded from mosques this morning across Cairo, but it wasn’t noon. It was 1 P.M.
Computers and cell phones displayed the wrong times. Departing EgyptAir flights took off an hour later. “What time is it?” many people asked on social media.
As of midnight, the Egyptian government reinstated daylight saving time “as a way to help reduce electricity consumption.” The practice was formally abolished three years ago, but the recent decision to bring it back has been met with confusion. And yet, with blackouts lasting over an hour now becoming a daily occurrence, Egypt’s energy crisis is impossible to ignore.
Unable to pay its steep energy bills, Egypt is struggling to provide enough energy to its 85 million people. The country owes foreign energy companies roughly $5.7 billion, and the interim government is scrambling for solutions.
On a recent day in one of Cairo’s sprawling slums, residents lit homes by weak cell phone light, unfazed by the sporadic blanket of darkness. In a gym miles away in an upscale Cairo neighborhood, women lifted weights in the dark and pedaled on stationary bikes next to portable lamps. When a window that had been opened to let in more light slammed, a woman tore off her headphones and frantically asked if it was a bomb.
Much of interim government’s attention has been focused on security, with near daily bombings and attacks targeting security forces in the capital and across Egypt. The international community has condemned the government’s security crackdown as repressive. But the crippling energy crisis is no less of an issue in Egyptians’ daily lives, and is tied closely to the security situation.
Egypt’s energy shortage last year, marked by long lines at gas stations and power cuts, exacerbated fury at then-President Mohamed Morsi, who was later ousted by the military on July 3.
With some neighborhoods in Cairo now experiencing three or four blackouts a day, businesses and embassies have taken extra measures by installing backup generators.
In early April, Egypt’s cabinet approved the use of coal as fuel, despite anger from environmentalists, doctors and Egyptians working in the tourism industry. The move largely catered to Egypt’s cement industry, which has been operating at a lower capacity due to the energy shortage.
With summer here, and an increased reliance on air conditioning as temperatures in the largely desert country rise, the crisis will likely only get worse. Egypt has even said it would ban air conditioners that can be set under 68 degrees Fahrenheit in an attempt to save energy.
In a recent televised interview with Abdel-Fattah el-Sissi, the former military general who is expected to be the next president, he suggested Egypt import energy efficiency light bulbs, urging Egyptians to turn off the air conditioning and lights.
While the government’s decision to reinstate daylight saving goes into effect Friday, the clocks will be set back again in late June at the start of the Muslim holiday Ramadan. Then, they reportedly will be set forward again at the end of the holiday in July, and back again at the end of summer.