Ramadan preparations in Cairo
A man carrying a traditional lantern in Cairo ahead of Ramadan on Sunday August 8, 2010. Photo by Reuters
Text size
related tags

"Why is is necessary to invest seven million Egyptian pounds for a two-hour electricity shortage? If every family saves 5 percent of its electricity consumption, Egypt will not need an investment like that," said Hassan Younes, the country's electricity and energy minister.

Younes was referring to the projected cost of three nuclear power plants Egypt is planning to build. Despite the minister's doubts regarding the need to invest such huge sums on nuclear power, he announced that by the end of the year, Egypt will issue a tender to build the first such power stations, to start operating in 2019.

Three firms have already presented proposals for electricity-producing nuclear power plants - the French Areva company, the Canadian firm AECL and the Russian Rosatom. Last week, the American firm Westinghouse submitted its proposal for an advanced AP1000 model reactor. Other proposals are forthcoming.

Critics of the Egyptian government say the country began to take an interest in building nuclear reactors too late. Studies show Egypt is exploiting about 65 percent of its energy resources for producing electricity. By 2032, Egypt will need an estimated 70 gigawatts of electricity, compared to the 20 gigawatts it is producing today. This need cannot be satisfied by means of Egyptian oil or natural gas, especially as it's believed Egyptian oil sources will begin to dwindle by 2012.

Other studies and forecasts say the shortage is already being felt, and severely so, in Cairo and in outlying areas. To battle the shortage, the Energy Ministry has published a series of instructions for consumers on how to save power. When necessary, the electric company cuts off the juice, mainly at peak hours.

The government has also warned about the use of decorative lanterns and strings of colored bulbs customarily hung for the month of Ramadan, which begins next week. This year it is forbidden to hang large lanterns or strings of lights so as to conserve electricity, and fines will be imposed.

On Middle Eastern time

Despite the considerable attention given the nuclear solution in recent weeks, it is liable to fall victim to the Egyptian pace. Back in 1955, the idea of building a nuclear power plant was posed, but the years went by, and the project was stopped after the Six-Day War. In 1974, Richard Nixon offered to build Egypt a nuclear power plant, but when the Egyptians found out it would be under American supervision, they rejected the project.

A decade latter, in 1984, Egypt again began to discuss the possibility of building eight nuclear reactors. The Chernobyl disaster occured, and the project was frozen. In 2006, Gamal Mubarak, President Hosni Mubarak's son, announced the renewal of the nuclear project and the plan to build three nuclear power stations. As is appropriate, a special council was also set up on the use of the atom for peaceful purposes. Since then, it has emerged that in Egypt there are not enough experts in the field of the atom and reactor safety.

Above all, a huge dispute developed on the location of the reactors. After examinations and studies, the area of Dab'ah on the Mediterranean coast, not far from Alexandria, was proposed. However, agile businessmen, including close associates of Gamal Mubarak, believed it better to use the area for building holiday villages rather than nuclear reactors. A rumor flew around that these business people had already acquired land in the area after showing studies indicating the site was likely to be risky for a nuclear reactor.

Dr. Ibrahim Kamel, who heads the Kato conglomerate that, inter alia, engages in building and managing vacation sites and is a member of the Egyptian Tourism Authority, said that "the Dab'ah area was not suitable for nuclear reactors because the winds there are northeasterly; in case of a reactor leak, the Delta area is liable to suffer heavy losses. The value of the land at Dab'ah is too high to use it for building a nuclear reactor." Kamel, a close friend of Gamal Mubarak, is also a member of the ruling party's secretariat.

Though the Egyptian energy minister has denied that plots of land have been sold in the area designated for reactors, the intention to examine other possible sites for building reactors confirms the suspicions.

The Jewish side

It was only to be expected that the dispute on wearing the veil would ultimately come down to the Jews. Last week, a religious preacher, Dr. Amana Nusir, ruled that wearing the veil is, in fact, a Jewish custom, going back to the Bible and the Rambam's ruling to the effect that "a Jewish woman who goes out to the street without covering her head and face is behaving contrary to Judaism."

Nusir, former dean of humanities at Al-Azhar University and now a lecturer in philosophy at Cairo University, is an uncompromising opponent to the wearing of the veil. She spoke at a conference of female university graduates from Islamic countries that was held in Alexandria and urged the women to cling to science and religion to get closer to God. She said "this is the only refuge by means of which it is possible to advance society," instead of taking pride in external signs like the veil.

The late head of Al-Azhar, Sheikh Mohammed Sayyed Tantawi,forbade women studing there from wearing the veil and prohibited them from taking examinations when veiled. Nusir sees herself as the successor to champion his path. What better way could there be than depicting wearing the veil as a Jewish custom? No good Muslim woman would want to imitate a Jewish custom.