Energy Diet

Cairo traffic at its peak

Cairo, or the ‘city victorious’ as it translates in Arabic, is a sprawling metropolis full of charm, character — and cars! There are simply too many of them. The vast numbers are even more shocking when one realizes that car penetration is less than 10 percent. I read an automotive report in 2008 that predicted double-digit growth for car sales in the next few years.

Consumption will slow down post-revolution, but this is still a real long-term concern. How much worse can it get? A recent Japanese report predicted that average speed in the capital will go down to 0 kilometers per hour in less than a decade. There are a host of reasons for that, including overpopulation and an inefficient infrastructure, but I think energy policy also deserves a closer look.

I am no expert, but I have to admit I’ve always seen the energy situation in Egypt as quite bizarre. The government has always placed an extremely high subsidy on domestic fossil fuel purchases like petrol, making it cheap (about 30 cents a liter for unleaded petrol compared to $2 a liter in the UK!!) to run our vehicles (I can’t complain!) but at the same time, this offers us almost no incentive to save.

The even bigger concern, in my view, is this has been going on for so long that I doubt most of us even realize that there is a subsidy at all, but rather think this is the market rate for fuel. With Egypt at risk of having to import oil for the first time due to excessive energy use, these policies beg to be re-visited.

However, the solution obviously is not as simple as recalibrating prices. Multiplying the prices sixfold overnight could prove catastrophic. A phased increase makes more sense, but would take years and is merely treating the symptoms.

In my view, a revamp of public transport should be the primary target. In Cairo, the underground trains and buses are dilapidated and the system to use them unintuitive. I lived in London for seven years and never bought a car; here, it is hard to live without one.

If we direct investment over the next five years to improving these facilities, and therefore making it accessible to a bigger segment of the population and across the country as a whole, then we have won half the battle. From here we can direct our attention to infrastructure and policy, and then we may be finally able to tip the scales in our favor in this energy conundrum. I’m optimistic.


  1. clipton
    March 2, 2011, 10:06 am

    It’s alarming to read that the predicted average speed in the capital will drop to 0. Wow. It would be great if the revolution could generate the political will for an enhanced public transportation system like in Colombia. The Transmilenio has been a great success in Bogota. Here’s interesting coverage:

  2. Yogesh
    March 3, 2011, 11:35 am

    Almost similar situation is in New Delhi, Average traffic speed in the city is around 10km/hour. There is absolutely no motivation factor if i want to save fuel, avoid traffic or use public transportation. You could read my story at

  3. Omar Samra
    March 3, 2011, 7:00 pm

    Thanks Clipton for the link, this is indeed a great accomplishments. I wish Cairo would adopt something like that. We did a revolution so I have a feeling this is no longer in the realms of the impossible 🙂

  4. Omar Samra
    March 3, 2011, 7:00 pm

    Yes Yogesh you are right! I found uncanny similarities when I went to Delhi. Great article too 🙂

  5. Tori
    March 6, 2011, 6:06 pm

    This is good advice!

    “In the Office

    * If I am printing, I try to print on both sides of the paper.
    * If I don’t require good quality printing, I set printing in economy mode, which takes less ink.

    Before I Go to Bed

    * Truly unplug all electronics
    * Put auto shut-off timer in place for wireless router

    At Home

    * Wash only full loads of laundry
    * Get dual-flush toilets installed (in next two months )
    * Put a shade over sun-facing balconies so that there is less heating getting inside the rooms during summer
    * Start using timer while cooking”

    click the link from Yogesh

  6. Walid Hassanein
    November 29, 2011, 2:11 pm

    Hey Omar. Nice article. This photo needs to be credited 🙂