CAIRO – Egypt's interim government said Wednesday it is restoring daylight saving time this month to alleviate a crippling energy crisis, three years after previous officials abolished it.
The energy crisis has recently deepened, with frequent blackouts in the capital and other provinces, sometimes lasting for several hours. The crisis is the culmination of factors building for years, which dramatically worsened in the turmoil since the 2011 uprising that ousted autocrat Hosni Mubarak.
It is a hot topic in the current presidential campaign, where the country's ex-military chief Abdel-Fattah el-Sissi and his rival, Hamdeen Sabahi, have had to tell voters how they plan to deal with the problem.
It was also a major issue driving opposition to Islamist President Mohammed Morsi before he was overthrown by the military after massive protests against him last summer.
With dwindling revenues, the government is already struggling to pay for energy subsidies — estimated last year at around one fifth of the budget.
Egypt's major gas fields, most over 10 years old, are maxing out. New ones won't start producing for years. Oil and gas companies, which extract natural gas through partnerships with the Petroleum Ministry, have balked at new investments amid three years of instability. They have been further discouraged by the government's insolvency: The ministry currently owes at least $4.5 billion to international oil and gas companies.
Egypt's natural gas production has been declining for years. Production in January was down 10 percent from January 2013, according to the most recent government figures. Electricity consumption increases roughly seven percent annually, thanks to Egypt's energy-heavy industries, steady population growth and increasing technology use.
In its statement Wednesday, the interim government said it had to restore to daylight saving time because of the energy crunch and the frequent blackouts. It said will be in effect starting May 15 "as a way to help reduce electricity consumption."
The government said the holy month of Ramadan, due to begin in late June and when believers abstain from eating, drinking and having sex between sunrise and sunset, will be exempted from daylight time saving, to help reduce fasting time.
Daylight saving time was abolished in April 2011, after the post-uprising government polled the public who voted against having it. At the time, the government said the program had no benefit.
During their campaigning, El-Sissi suggested a national program to replace regular light bulbs with high-efficiency ones to reduce consumption, while Sabahi said the use of solar energy must be explored. The elections are to take place on May 26-27.