CAIRO: Long queues snaked outside empty petrol stations in Cairo and other Egyptian cities on Thursday, as worried motorists waited for new deliveries amid fears of price hikes and longer-term scarcity.
Industry professionals say the situation has shot fuel prices up on the black market, where some motorists have no choice but to go, amid insufficient public transport alternatives.
The queues have brought more traffic to Cairo’s notoriously busy streets, sparking incidents of road rage, according to press reports.
In rural Egypt, witnesses on Thursday said scuffles and knife fights erupted among frustrated drivers. Some even fired guns in the air.
“There’s no fuel or diesel at all. We wait five hours to fill the car and then we can start working,” said taxi driver Rashed Said.
“I only found fuel at this petrol station,” said Maged, another driver. “This has been the case since yesterday,” he said pointing to the long queues.
Workers at gas stations complain of receiving only half their usual quantity of fuel.
Fuel is highly subsidized in Egypt to maintain the price of 15 US cents (11 euro cents) per liter of 80 octane petrol, the cheapest quality.
The sector has been under pressure for months due to a fall in foreign reserves and an increase in the budget deficit, threatening subsidies.
In mid-January, the country suffered a shortage for several days, made worse by rumors of price hikes that sparked a rush on petrol stations.
Making matters worse, public transportation has been crippled by a weeklong strike.
Fingers are pointing in all directions.
The government blames the black market. Many drivers blame the government for mismanagement. Others blame the sagging economy.
Minister of International Cooperation Fayza Aboul Naga sought to calm fears, telling the press that “the government has no intention of raising fuel prices.”
Petroleum Minister Mohammed Abdullah Ghorab said the situation was due to a “lack of confidence” by consumers, insisting that petrol stocks are sufficient.
Amr Mustafa, deputy head of the General Petroleum Authority, said smugglers control 15 to 20 percent of petrol products available on the market, the independent daily Al-Masry Al-Youm quoted him as saying.
Egypt’s economy has been in crisis since a popular uprising last year which toppled president Hosni Mubarak, marked by a drop in tourism and foreign investment.
Cairo is currently in talks with the International Monetary Fund over a $3.2 billion loan to ease the crisis.