Wednesday, June 26, 2013

Letters from Egypt: Gas Update, Pushing Up Protests

For anyone that missed last night’s blog, please make sure to read it in response to the gas shortage in Cairo. And no, a miracle did not happen.

I took this picture this morning on my way into the office. If you notice, the Shell gas station is past the set of buildings in the top left corner of the photo. My taxi will likely finish his gas today. He woke up this morning at 2 am, but was still unable to get gas. At 7:30 am, he still had half a tank and even I am only using him when it is absolutely necessary with plans to just walk to my office tomorrow. Luckily for me, my office is not too far from home – it’s just the heavy bags and uphill journey coupled with the heat but it could be worse.

The country’s Minister of Petroleum said that Egypt did not have a fuel shortage claiming that the long queues outside stations were a result of rumors forcing individuals to “hoard petrol products.” There is some truth to that, if I’m speaking honestly. My driver told me how he received a phone call from a well-connected Egyptian yesterday who asked if he needed gas. When Ramy told him yes, the man instructed him to head to Gezirah Street in Maadi. Ramy said it took about 15 minutes for him to fuel up and everything was done under the table.

While people fear the worst and some of the problems can be attributed to hoarding, it isn’t the entire truth as the country has faced fuel shortages for over a year now. Turkish news agency Anadolu quoted the ministry as saying that Egypt’s strategic reserves of three vital fuel products would run out by the end of June (although I have yet to understand why an Egyptian newspaper, Al Ahram, would quote a Turkish news source on an Egyptian matter in “Egypt Officials Attribute Fuel Shortage to Hoarding, Smuggling”).

I traveled to Hurghada, a Red Sea resort town about 4.5 hours outside of Cairo, a couple of weeks ago for a long weekend. We left the resort at 7 am on Sunday, June 16 to pass three gas stations in the area that didn’t have fuel. We ended up just driving to El Gouna (40 minutes outside of Hurghada on the way back to Cairo) to refuel. Had we not gotten gas there, we would have been stuck waiting for the shipment to arrive.

Obviously you can imagine how protests scheduled for the weekend might be pushed up a day or two in advance. Facebook chatter had one Egyptian female saying, “Everybody is going tomorrow [Thursday, June 26] to Tahrir, is there any news about changing the plan? 30 June will be too late I think!!” Someone responded that it was true, marches would take place to Tahrir although that seems like it will only counter the more organized plans of June 30.

FYI for those in Maadi, June 30 Plans:
People will begin to gather in Medan Victoria (at Ace Club and Kimo Market) at 5 pm with marching through Maadi set to begin at 6 pm not to exceed 3 km. By 8 pm, regroup at Medan Victoria and individuals will decide if they will stay in the Medan, home or Tahrir/Etihadeya. Source: June 30 in Maadi

Tuesday, June 25, 2013

Letters from Egypt: No Gas in Cairo, Prepare to Walk

UPDATE: There is an application that you can use to locate the nearest gas station with fuel supply, Mawenly. Currently it is only compatible with iPhone 3GS, iPhone 4, iPhone 4S, iPhone 5, iPod touch (3rd generation), iPod touch (4th generation), iPod touch (5th generation) and iPad (requires iOS 5.0 or later). Android use is supposedly in the works.

Did you find it extremely difficult to grab a taxi today around 5 pm when usually there seem to be about 10 taxis per person wandering aimlessly around your neighborhood (not to mention the constant beeps although you’re clearly walking in the opposite direction)?

Did you just give up after seeing random mixed groups all piled high in cabs and start to walk?

Well, unless Cairo gas stations get shipments in the morning, get prepared to put on those walking shoes. Even if the stations get the necessary fuel, chances are there will be limited supply and the lines will be ungodly.

I remembered my colleague mentioning something about the gas shortage during our regular power outage at the office today, but I didn’t really give it a second thought. As I went to drop off some things at home before running to a 5:30 pm appointment, I noticed people at the end of my street beckoning my taxi. I told them I was sorry as I was just dropping things off really quick and noticed they were still waiting for a cab when I came back. I said, “I don’t understand – this is taxi ally. It’s so weird for them to still be waiting for a ride.” My regular taxi driver, Ramy, told me that he went to get benzene at 3:30 am. Even at that time he was forced to wait 1.5 hours to fuel.

My friend Noha had to go to Mohandaseen (about 45 minutes from Maadi) to buy her plane ticket to Dubai. Afterwards she and two other women tried to catch a taxi to return to Maadi. Nothing. The ones that did pass were full of passengers. There weren’t even available microbuses. When this happens, taxi drivers do not operate the way they would in NY whereas if you share a taxi, you share the cost. Here, taxis still charge each individual the same amount. For instance, say you were taking a taxi that normally costs LE 7 and another individual was going the same way, but another location, costing LE 10. The taxi wouldn’t just charge LE 10, with you and the individual splitting the difference. The taxi would get LE 17 total – an LE 7 profit. Of course whenever something like this happens, you can also be assured that the standard price is inflated substantially.

After my appointment, I had dinner plans with the girls. I called them all to tell them of the shortage. While they were able to find a taxi, it still took awhile (this was also around 7:10 pm). And after dinner (9:45 pm) – well, we all ended up walking to our respective destinations.

There are some of you that have flights. There are others that work outside your residential neighborhood. And if the situation isn’t stabilized soon, it will grow even more problematic.

Some might say that Morsi is doing this to stop protestors from gathering on June 30 (with beginnings on June 28); however, people were already planning to walk the length of their starting point to places like Tahrir and Etihadeya – even all the way from the lost colony of Maadi. There has been a fuel shortage for awhile, and I think things are just now coming to a head. I know my heart personally goes out to those truckers and such that spend no less than four hours every day, sometimes twice a day, waiting in line for fuel.

In either case, expect more frustrations as a result – which could mean a longer demonstration period. If gas is low, prices will increase. In an already poor country, you do the math.

And then again, maybe we’ll all wake up in the morning and find fuel. Miracles do happen. I’m not sure if they happen in Egypt, but I’ll keep an open mind. Until then, I'd make sure to wear some comfortable walking shoes.

Sunday, June 23, 2013

Letters from Egypt: Evacuation Orders

In order to avoid spending costly amounts of funds on evacuating employees, many foreign companies in Egypt are forcing their staff to take summer holidays early. Some foreigners have received orders to book their trip out of the country prior to June 28 as rallies will begin that day with June 30 scheduled to be the largest gathering.

Demonstrations are planned throughout Cairo, including Maadi. I was invited to the Facebook page, June 30 in Maadi. The event was created on June 16 and thus far, does not seem to be productive in narrowing down an exact meeting time and place. It continues to be a brainstorming session without a clear leader or plan – much like the elections that saw the liberals dispersed into various directions instead of a united front.

One poster did say, “Hey guys, we should also think about security and how are we going to control security inspections. We do not want anybody to disturb us with weapons… Knives… etc.” He followed up by saying that Maadi police officers should handle this situation “out of uniform.”

One of my friends posted:

Dear all, I like your sense of patriotism and wanting to go to Tahrir or Etihadeya, however, think about that:
1- Are you willing to face some MB militias?
2- Are you up for a fight? tossing stones and all?
3- Can you see injuries and do not panic? Help?
4-Are you willing to pass through ( Dar el salam, Masr al Adeeme..etc?)
5- Will you STAY there for 4 days?

If you answer no to any of the above, then Maadi is a better option, you will be closer to home, safe, and you will definitely be heard! P.s. the event is called JUNE 30 IN MAADI :)

If you plan on going, just remember the video I posted regarding the Muslim Brotherhood (MB) supporters and their thoughts on Ethiopia. Diplomacy was not even an afterthought. These people, who echo the voices of those that will be protesting in favor of the MB-led government, immediately began throwing out suggestions that consisted of arming rebels. They have no regard for anyone that opposes their view point, including their own countrymen and women.

The question remains: can liberals finally unite under one voice instead of millions of individual screams?

Wednesday, June 19, 2013

Letters from Egypt: The Country’s Finest Brainstorm

I know, it seems impossible. I mean is there another leader that could possibly make so many public blunders, more than former US president George W. Bush? Remember that time he left his microphone on at a UN meeting? Mind you there were plenty of other cringe-worthy moments from his administration. Well, if anyone is in the running, it has to be the Egyptian politicians who were recently televised discussing Ethiopia’s plans to build the Renaissance Dam (brief background of the project detailed at end of post).

Take a gander at this primetime TV brought to you by no other than Morsi and Friends with English subtitles…

One of my favorites had to be leveraging Egypt’s national soccer team as well as exploiting local artists. How thoughtful indeed. Or how about the one to spread rumors that Egypt purchased more fighter jets? I guess these guys don’t realize who they purchase said jets from. Psstt, hey you with the beard – you get those items from the US. Do you really think Ethiopia is going to believe that you were capable of buying more when you don’t even have money to pay your oil and gas bills (not to mention to potentially rally against Israel, a US ally)?

The Al Nour party member (Salafis, better known as Islamists) said that Ethiopia, Israel and the US are behind the dam’s construction. In mid-October 2011, Italian firm Salini Construttori S.P.A. began importing the items for what will be Africa’s largest hydrodam. France’s Alstom signed a €250-million contract with Metals & Engineering Corporation (METEC) to supply turbines and generators for the hydropower plant in January 2013. The only other backers are Chinese.

The Al Azhar sheikh thought that because Ethiopia’s foreign minister laughed "in the faces of Egyptians" in response to Egypt's claims that Israel was behind the dam (some people think Israel will hope for the power generated from the Renaissance although there are no transmission lines or infrastructure to remotely make that a possibility in the near to mid future). The sheikh took it as an insult, but I guess the foreign minister forgot that you just can’t get through to stupid.

What is very appalling is the same Salafi suggesting that Egypt arm rebels in Ethiopia (Oromo Liberation Front and Ogden National Liberation Front), although he wasn't the only one to voice this bright idea. Not once did he ever mention diplomacy, but instead jumped immediately to extreme measures. And yet they wonder why people are fearful of the Muslim Brotherhood, aka Ikhwan, being in power. It’s because they seem to never think of anything but violence to get their way.

It’s clear that the Morsi-led regime is trying to divert attention from mounting tensions with large-scale demonstrations planned for June 30 (although rumors have protests starting on Friday, June 28). And as seen in the past, what better way than to blame Israel as the main culprit of the Renaissance?

Maybe Morsi knew exactly what he was doing by televising this broadcast unbeknownst to the “brainstorming committee” hoping to make himself seem smart in a room full of idiots. Then again, probably not.

For a brief background, the Renaissance Dam will be Africa’s largest hydropower project once completed. It’s been in the works for awhile, but the late Ethiopian president, Meles, pushed plans through once Egypt was dealing with a revolution and Sudan dealing with seceding South Sudan. The dam, formerly known as the Great Millennium Dam, will be constructed on the Nile River just 40 km from the border of Sudan. It is estimated that the hydro project will eventually produce 5,250 MW of electricity with the first 700 MW originally due to come online by 2015.