Nesma Nowar reports on the most recent gasoline crunch
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Long queues of cars formed in front of gas stations in the wake of a fuel crunch that gripped Egypt last week
Sara Hussein spent three hours in a gas station queue in Cairo in order to fill up her car and consequently arrived to work late. But Hussein was luckier than government employee Basma Tawfik who spent the whole day in a forlorn attempt to fill up on gas, missing work entirely. These stories were repeated across Egypt where the fuel crunch crippled normal activities.
Dozens of cars lined up in front of almost every gas station in Cairo in a third wave of fuel shortages this year. Drivers queued from before dawn to fill their tanks while some gas stations closed displaying "No gasoline" signs. The long queues of cars caused heavy traffic congestion that blocked Cairo's streets, turning the capital's already nightmarish traffic even worse. Some motorists had to go outside the capital in order to fill up their tanks.
Fuel shortages started across Egypt last week. The shortages are in the cheaper 80-octane gasoline as well as the more expensive 90- and 92-octane lead free gasoline, as well as diesel. Gasoline and diesel were available on the black market at extortionate prices. "I had to buy 20 litres of 80-octane at LE50 instead of LE18," said taxi driver Mohamed Hamed.
In many governorates, clashes between taxi and microbus drivers and their customers took place after the former raised fares to make up for the more expensive gasoline they bought on the black market. In other governorates, the diesel crunch raised fears over the wheat harvest, which might come to a halt if the diesel that runs agricultural vehicles dries up. The crunch has even hit Egypt's fishermen who are unable to fuel their boats. In Kafr Al-Sheikh governorate, 700 fishing boats have completely stopped working.
Despite evident shortages, Minister of Planning and International Cooperation Fayza Abul-Naga denied Saturday that the country is facing a fuel shortage. She asserted that the authorities have pumped quantities of fuel that are enough for 10 days. She also said the government is following up on gas stations and that it has closed some stations for three months for breaching government rules.
Meanwhile, Hani Dahi, head of the Egyptian General Petroleum Corporation (EGPC), stated that the main reason behind the crisis is the delay in the arrival of three shipments, two of them carrying diesel. He stated that the delay came on the back of foreign suppliers' demand to receive payments for Egypt's fuel purchases in advance.
Dahi denied what Reuters reported that foreign suppliers are reluctant to sell Egypt petroleum products for fear that the country would not cover its fuel payments. Dahi said that the EGPC has paid most of its dues to suppliers, at $9 billion since April 2011 to the present.
While Dahi blamed the problem on delayed diesel and fuel supplies, ordinary Egyptians attribute the shortage to politics. "I think the crisis is artificial," one taxi driver told Al-Ahram Weekly. "This crisis is attached to politics and the upcoming run-off election." The similar point was made by Mai Adel, who said the crisis is fabricated to take attention away from major political events taking place in the country.