The pain was excruciating, the darkness daunting. The combination was too much for an 11-year-old girl. I cannot remember exactly how that night started, but I will always remember how it ended. The nightmare began when I accidentally dropped a pot full of boiling water, severely scalding my upper legs and the lower part of my abdomen. To add insult to injury, a power cut followed that delayed the emergency treatment I required. Although I have never forgotten this incident, Egypt’s current electricity crisis has inadvertently triggered a flashback.
Later in the hospital, the plastic surgeon rightly pointed out that the neighboring pharmacist who had applied a dressing had made a classical error. The last thing you should do to a scalding burn is to wrap it with a dressing. The surgeon had to unwrap the dressing, which was firmly attached to my swollen and inflamed skin, and peel the dead skin away. The standard at that time was to perform this procedure without anesthesia or any form of pain relief. The procedure, punctuated by my relentless screams, lasted a full 96 minutes, according to a giant wall clock that glared down on me. Words are not enough to describe my ordeal, but I survived it, and was later discharged home___ to another power cut.
Pain and darkness are a terrifying and almost unbearable combination. Fortunately, however, the pain became more tolerable over the next few days, and the random power cut was an event that distracted my attention from my wounds. But my real savior was my little transistor radio, which broadcast news from channels around the globe. Each one taught me something new, and allowed my hyperactive mind to grasp two words: perspective and spin. In short, my recovery days served as my introduction to the world of politics.
Moreover, the random power cut became fun. Darkness made the noisy Cairo streets quieter; no loud TV from my neighbors’ houses, or kids bickering in the streets. Then there was, of course, the loud cheer when the electricity came back on, as if the whole neighborhood had won the lottery. Looking back, it was not such a bad experience. I learned a lot and it shaped my life in a way that might not have happened otherwise.
My mother and I (like many Egyptians) developed a plan to cope with power outage; candles, matches, dried food, batteries, and a prompt defrost of the fridge ___ a tenacious plan to maintain a kind of normality. Interestingly, there was no revolt or resentment among the public. Admittedly, the problem eased off a bit later, although it never disappeared.
However, more recently, Egypt’s energy crisis has become worse. A combination of negligence, chaos, abuse of the system, and chronic lack of investment has compounded the existing problem. This reached grave proportions on September 4, when Cairo and other cities and regions in Egypt experienced an unprecedented power outage.
Thus far, the government has remained tight-lipped about the damages and consequences of the outage. Undoubtedly, there must be a loss of production times, damage to equipment, destruction of products, and additional maintenance costs. It is also easy to imagine the health impact on hospitals and patients. Generators in Egypt are poorly maintained and may not start promptly after the power cut. The lack of accountability in Egypt prevents us from properly assessing the damage. Furthermore, one important aspect that tends to be largely ignored is the psychological impact a chronic power outage has on people, particularly children. Instability and unpredictability can interrupt children’s thinking processes, rattle them deeply, and negatively influence their studies and progress at school.
Exacerbating the situation is the fact that in the age of high-speed internet, games and mobile phones, people have become increasingly dependent on electricity for their daily routine. As a child, I was content with my simple radio; the younger generations of today are not; their expectations are higher. As Akram Ismail has rightly mentioned, after the January 25, 2011 uprising, Egyptians have had less patience with the failures of state services and have demanded change.
If we exclude those who approved of the ousting of ex-President Morsi, Egyptians are roughly divided into two groups: an older generation that is willing to give President Sisi some time to address Egypt’s domestic woes, and a younger generation that is more angry and frustrated, who demand accountability. Many youth do not believe the current government is capable of implementing an innovative approach to the energy crisis.
Egypt needs solar panels, smart meters, and, more importantly, a new motivated management team that can implement the right changes. In a special televised speech, President Sisi appealed for patience over power cuts. The question, however, is: Can the public remain patient, and for how long?
If the January 2011 revolution can teach us anything, it is how revolution succeeds only when it can unite the nation’s various generations. This energy crisis can inflict deep burning wounds that can bridge the age gap and turn many Egyptians against their leadership. What Sisi needs to do now is what my surgeon did with my wounds years ago, peeling the dead skin off to allow fresh healing to start. A process that can be rough and painful. However, unless Sisi can do a good, comprehensive job, the much-required healing process will never start, and unimaginable knock-on effects may happen in the near future.
In a way, I was lucky the burns happened at a relatively young age. Healing was fast; the burns left no scars. Egypt, however, suffers from several deep wounds that can leave it scarred for a long time. The leadership has a colossal task; a complicated surgical process that needs meticulous handling. Egyptians can put-up with a short-term agony, but it is unlikely they will tolerate chronic, enduring torture.