CAIRO — With temperatures climbing, Egyptians are taking to the streets and the Internet to protest daily power cuts that have paralyzed cities across the country and generated fresh anger at the embattled government.
In a memo to the Cabinet, a local medical rights group said it had received at least 50 reports in just three days from hospitals complaining about equipment failures because of the blackouts. The Egyptian Center to Protect the Right for Medicine appealed for a quick solution, noting the diesel-powered generators at most public hospitals are old and unreliable.
A patient at the state-run Medical Research Institute in the coastal city of Alexandria reportedly died when the power failed in the intensive care unit. In Kafr El Sheik, a governorate north of Cairo, residents gathered outside a local hospital to help transfer newborns to another facility when 10 incubators stopped working recently.
The power cuts have also been a problem for thousands of students across the country who are preparing for their end-of-year exams. Governors in Cairo and other cities have urged authorities to refrain from cutting the electricity when students are taking the exams, but many complain it's hard to study when the lights go out and there is no electricity to run the air conditioning.
"It's difficult to focus when you're frustrated. That's the toughest challenge," said 17 year-old Ahmad Belal, who wants to be a heart surgeon and needs top grades to get into medical school. "Trying to concentrate on your studies but being interrupted every two minutes because the weather is hot or because you're angry you don't have electricity for most of the day just makes it impossible."
Belal lives in the Nile Delta city of Mansoura, where he said the power cuts sometimes last more than four hours at a time. He studies by candlelight when the lights go out at home.
"Some of my friends go out to cafes, but it's always very crowded and loud, and it's also difficult to focus," he said. "Plus, the lights go out in cafes too."
Power disruptions are nothing new in Egypt, especially in the summer months, when consumption spikes. But this year’s blackouts are more frequent than in the past, often occurring several times a day and lasting for hours.
“God, I’m not asking you for a fancy villa, or the latest car model, or millions of pounds even … All I want is for the power not to go out,” wrote one frustrated Twitter user who goes by the handle @AmgdAboZeid.
The crisis is adding to the pressure on President Mohamed Morsi, who had promised to tackle the country’s ubiquitous power and fuel shortages, along with a host of other problems, in his first 100 days in office.
Hundreds of residents in Alexandria, Kafr El Sheikh, Aswan and other areas have taken to the streets in recent weeks to voice their displeasure, blocking roads and even railway lines while chanting anti-Morsi slogans, according to the independent daily Al Masry Al Youm. More demonstrations are planned June 30, to mark the first anniversary of Morsi’s presidency.
There have also been calls on social networking sites for Egyptians to refuse to pay their electricity bills until service improves, calls the electricity ministry said were "destructive."
A popular meme doing the rounds on Facebook complains: "Egypt is the only country in the world that collects money for the garbage that is filling the streets and the electricity that is always out from the salaries of its unemployed citizens."
Last week, the electricity ministry issued a rare apology, explaining in a statement that it had been forced to resort to load-shedding because consumption is outpacing production. It urged residents to ration their electricity use and said it was working with other departments to obtain the fuel needed to generate more power.