Loading ...
Sorry, an error occurred while loading the content.

Ahram Online - Blackouts in Egypt are also politics

Expand Messages
  • Paul
    Ahram Online - Wednesday, 01 August 2012 Blackouts in Egypt are also politics While president Morsi s campaign calls on citizens to do the state s job, citizen
    Message 1 of 1 , Aug 1, 2012
      Ahram Online - Wednesday, 01 August 2012

      Blackouts in Egypt are also politics
      While president Morsi's campaign calls on citizens to do the state's
      job, citizen campaigns are calling on the state to fulfil its
      responsibilities, from housing to water, electricity and garbage collection
      Wael Gamal , Tuesday 31 Jul 2012


      In one week, there have been three calls of a new kind to mobilise the
      street. They are united by a common theme that is unrelated to the
      constitution or elections or transfer of power or any of these key
      political issues that have dominated the scene since the January
      revolution. “We want to live,” “We will not pay” and “A clean country”
      are three campaigns that focus on issues that are more tangible than the
      battles of previous months. They all focus on average citizens.

      At the start of Ramadan the residents of Saft El-Laban in Giza
      surrounded the governorate’s headquarters to protest frequent water and
      power outages. But this was not the first for these locals; in August of
      last year, residents barricaded the ring road to protest water outages
      at the peak of summer and high demand. This time around, Saft El-Laban
      dwellers were protesting extended and frequent blackouts, and lack of
      garbage collection, as well as much broader problems in water services
      affecting the entire country.

      The abused the Egyptian as a citizen and a consumer

      The main themes of dispute since the January revolution have centered
      around the struggle of the Egyptian national as a political citizen.
      These confrontations have been about the elections and the transitional
      period, the role of the police, the creation of political parties,
      military tribunals and so on.

      Meanwhile, continuous confrontations on the ground for rights of
      livelihood, production and consumption – including strikes and social
      protests – have never been in centre shot. They are at best ignored by
      politicians and the media, or at worst condemned and sometimes even
      suppressed in a manner that does not even provoke public anger.

      In fact, this second sphere of confrontations is no less important than
      the first. They are linked together in more ways than the advocates of
      “let’s write a comprehensive constitution and everything else will fall
      in place” think. Meanwhile, the political rights of the Egyptian citizen
      – which are still in flux despite the huge leap accomplished by the
      revolution – remain truncated and superficial. They will remain that way
      if they are not accompanied by a change in the balance of power in
      favour of the Egyptian consumer.

      The project to rule Egypt that was led by Gamal Mubarak needed political
      dictatorship in order to impose the dictatorship of large companies. The
      rule of companies is just as harsh and inhuman when it comes to
      controlling the lives and livelihoods of people. These companies created
      immense poverty and misery, which continues, as ballot boxes are not
      enough to dislodge them.

      This type of dictatorship clearly manifests itself in the life of the
      Egyptian consumer who is helpless and has no control over the quality or
      type of products and services available for consumption. The Egyptian
      consumer is the victim of countless malpractices, some illegal, and is
      compelled to buy commodities, even food and sometimes medicine, that are
      substandard. Some used goods are promoted as new and there is no
      monitoring for pricing or regulation of monopolies.

      In other words, companies and businessmen decide what is suitable profit
      – irrespective of how high – without due consideration to consumers, who
      are forced to spend what little money they have. This is compounded by
      the manipulation of people’s poverty, illiteracy and ignorance of their
      legal rights especially in rural areas and in Upper Egypt.

      The same applies to public services, whose cost the state obsesses about
      – and in every budget attempts to raise fees and trim its
      responsibilities – while neglecting the quality and type of service.
      This is obvious when it comes to trains, hospitals and even garbage

      The consumer citizen stands alone against this politically enabled
      rampant exploitation. The revolution however, opened the door to
      changing this equation.

      The revolution and electricity

      The demands of the “We will not pay” campaign reveal the political
      dimension related to the balance of power in society – a balance of
      power propped up by the state and its laws. The campaign is demanding
      that districts declare their electricity usage to achieve equality in
      bearing the burden, as well as a publicised schedule of power outages
      and their duration: “It is unacceptable to surprise us without
      consideration for our dignity,” they declare. The campaign began in Saft
      El-Laban, but also in villages in the Delta and Upper Egypt, before it
      was adopted by the leftist Popular Alliance Party.

      In addition, the campaign demands the publishing of contracts with the
      international garbage collection companies because “collecting garbage
      is the job of executive bodies, not citizens.”
Thus, the campaign is
      standing up to systematic biased policies: power outages that affect the
      poor only; blackouts in slum areas, provinces and small villages, while
      well-to-do areas like Mohandiseen, Heliopolis and Maadi, carry a much
      lighter burden.

      Quite simply, some districts are able to completely dodge such outages.
      The rise in the demand for electricity is of course the product of bad
      planning by the government well before the revolution, but it is also
      the result of a huge upsurge in electricity usage by the wealthy after
      an unprecedented boom in the purchase of air conditioners. In fact,
      business tycoon and politician close to Mubarak Ahmed Ezz cited the fact
      of high usage of air conditioners before the revolution to prove that
      the lives of Egyptians are lavish.

      Meanwhile, the price of electricity was floated for consumers according
      to a plan coordinated with the World Bank. Until today however, the
      state continues to subsidise electricity for factories owned by the
      cronies of capitalism. Now, we are facing a situation whereby a resident
      in Saft El-Laban, who is in contract with the state he funds with his
      income and taxes paid on every box of cheese he buys, pays market price
      for electricity that he does not receive.

      In capitalism, the most basic rules of a contract state that the service
      provider should provide the service as agreed, otherwise the contract is
      void. Therefore, the campaign’s threat of refraining from paying bills
      is just one measure – albeit insufficient because the state is legally,
      constitutionally and politically obliged to guarantee that no citizen is
      denied basic services.

      Herein lies the key difference between the “We want to live” and “We
      will not pay” campaigns on the one hand, and “A clean country” on the
      other. The state, its president and his ruling party are behind the
      third campaign, “A clean country.” It is a product of the authorities
      who are capable of changing policy and are indeed responsible for it,
      and not an effort by the neglected victim.

      Unlike “We will not pay” and “We want to live” (which calls on citizens
      to organise themselves in defence of social justice in housing, wages,
      and other issues), the logic with “A clean country” is that the citizen
      is supposed to play the role of the state, fulfilling its obligations.
      These are the same obligations that citizen finances out of his pocket.
      It is to fulfill these obligations that the citizen chooses representatives.

      The initiative of the president and his party fails to address changing
      the policies that discriminate against the poor and fails to address how
      to make these services efficient in the future. (Anyway, it is
      unreasonable for citizens to continue collecting garbage especially that
      they will not be able to complete the collection cycle).

      We have not heard anything about reviewing the contracts with the failed
      European garbage collecting companies; we have not heard anything about
      how to raise the efficiency of the current system of garbage collection.

      The residents of Saft El-Laban need for the unjust system in the
      consumption arena to change, while the state is reassigning the burden
      to them rather than dealing with the matter.


      Cochabamba is a city of one million residents in Bolivia’s Andes
      Mountains that waged a brave war in 1999-2000 against privatising water
      services. US company Bechtel would have taken ownership of the water
      under the pretext of improving services. The company raised prices by 35
      per cent to nearly one fifth of the incomes of locals. The city rose up
      to defend their right to water, and the city revoked the contract and
      stopped the deal while the army killed one and injured dozens of
      residents in defence of Bechtel. The victory was inspirational across
      Latin American after locals efficiently managed the water.


      If our right to water, electricity, housing and a clean street is not a
      political matter, then what is political?

      “Yes we will not pay anyone, understand that we are human beings”.

      This article was first published in El-Shorouq newspaper.
    Your message has been successfully submitted and would be delivered to recipients shortly.