By Laura King and Amro Hassan, Los Angeles Times
CAIRO — An hours-long power outage in the Egyptian capital and elsewhere in the country on Thursday stranded commuters, disrupted TV broadcasts, and trapped a small but unlucky cohort in elevators as daytime temperatures topped 100 degrees.
Compounding the misery, the outage shut down water supplies in some parts of the country as only water plants with generators continued to operate. Many factories and bakeries also stopped working, leading to long lines of unhappy people waiting for their daily bread subsidy. Cellphone signal boosters were also affected.
Egypt has suffered through a summertime electricity drought that has led to regular rolling blackouts, but Thursday’s outage stood out in terms of both duration and scope. State media did not provide a number of those affected, but said many governates — the administrative equivalent of provinces — were hit along with the capital.
Twitter users vented their outrage — often signing on from cafes in parts of Cairo that still had power — and angry television commentators called for firing the minister of electricity.
For many Egyptians, the prolonged outage was particularly galling, coinciding with a blast of late-summer heat and coming on the heels of official reassurances that the electricity problems were being alleviated.
Authorities blamed a technical failure at a Cairo relay station, and said institutions such as hospitals would be given priority as electricity was restored. Egypt’s stock exchange, powered by generators, was unaffected, state media reported.
Egypt’s chronic energy problems have been worsening for years, due to a combination of poorly maintained infrastructure, weakening oil and natural gas output and failure to pay foreign companies that partner with the state in energy production.
However, this summer’s power woes do not appear to have triggered widespread antigovernment sentiment, as last year’s did, when President Mohammed Morsi was in office. Morsi was toppled by a popularly supported military coup led by then-Defense Minister Abdel Fattah el-Sissi, who is now president, and Morsi’s movement, the Muslim Brotherhood, has been decimated by arrests and fatal clashes with security forces.
Still, the big blackout led to grumbling in shisha cafes and in living rooms and on social media.
“Sissi is the bad omen,” one Facebook user said in a status update, referring sarcastically to the former general’s much-publicized account of a omen in a dream that told him he would one day lead Egypt.
A Twitter user chimed in: “Wonder how long it will take the government to blame the mass power cuts on the Muslim Brotherhood?”
Hassan is a Los Angeles Times special correspondent.
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