Egypt president asks for patience over power cuts

Staff Writer
Columbus CEO

CAIRO (AP) — In a nationally televised speech on Saturday, Egypt's President Abdel-Fattah el-Sissi asked the public to be patient and grasp the extent of the challenges facing the country following a massive power outage that struck the capital and other cities.

El-Sissi said the power outage Thursday that halted the capital's subway, disrupted airport operations, took TV stations off the air and left entire cities without electricity for hours was largely due to crumbling infrastructure that needs billions of dollars and time to fix.

He said he is already reaching out to investors to address the power crisis. He estimated the country needs about $12 billion over five years to upgrade and build new power plants to meet increasing demands.

"Why am I telling you this?" el-Sissi said, speaking off the cuff from his office in colloquial Arabic. "We have said before that Egypt faces many challenges. Electricity is like any other facility. It needs money and huge investment to fix. We must know this is not going to happen overnight."

In his half-hour speech, el-Sissi said he understood the public's frustration but begged for patience. He said he wants to keep the public in the picture so as not to be taken to task in a year's time for lack of results.

"I am talking now to remind myself and remind each other that we said we had many problems, and we said we will treat them together," he said. "I will not address you with a pre-written speech. I am speaking out of responsibility. Please be patient. You must be sure that we will overcome all this but not in a month or two or three."

The failure of el-Sissi's predecessor, Islamist President Mohammed Morsi, to deal with the power shortage was one of the factors behind the public anger that escalated during his year in power. El-Sissi ousted Morsi last year amid massive protests against him.

El-Sissi said saboteurs are working to deepen the country's problems and "stir the public's anger." Government officials have accused Morsi supporters of aggravating the power crisis through loyalists in the electricity sector.

El-Sissi said an investigation into Thursday's mass outage is underway and the results of the report will be shared with the public.

"We will hide nothing from you," he said. "We are confronting many things. We are fighting an existential battle."

Government officials scrambled to offer an explanation for the massive outage on Thursday, citing different causes for the early morning halt. That prompted calls for Electricity Minister Mohammed Shaker to resign.

Amid the mounting frustration, a local newspaper and a prominent TV presenter accused Shaker of being a member of Morsi's Muslim Brotherhood, saying he had run in the engineering syndicate elections on a list backed by the group.

Shaker denied the allegations in al-Watan newspaper, saying he had never been a member of the Islamist group. He said he had run on a list that included Brotherhood members and other individuals, and that he later resigned from his post as deputy head of the syndicate when he found the governing council was "mixing politics with union work."