Sunday, May 15, 2005

Ordinaries in action

Late Thursday night (2am), my friends and I are cruising in the streets of Heliopolis in search of a famous sha'aby Kebab place. Have you noticed how all the gas stations have the Grade 90 gas back in the pumps again? Are you following what's happening with Air Traffic Control officers? Questions that popped up while we were cruising, lost in the streets of Heliopolis.

A couple of months back, the government started to reduce the Grade 90 gas from gas stations, limiting it to only a few gas stations that service this popular grade of gas. I complained back then as to the way the government was doing this. Officially lying about it, saying that gas prices are not increasing, while they are gradually replacing Grade 90 gas (for 1 pound) with Grade 92 which costs 1.4 as much.

Today, oil service companies are doing it the right way. They are placing ads in newspapers about the benefits of the higher grade gas, ecnouraging people to use it instead of the lower grade. Today, all gas stations are serving Grade 90 gas again, along side with the higher grades. Aha, what happened?

Ordinary people might've actually caused the shift back. I don't know the numbers, but it could've been around 1 in 5 gas stations that was serving Grade 90 a couple of months back. That one-in-five gas station had long lineups of cars patiently waiting to get their cheap gas. I for one would go into a gas station and ask, do you have 90. If the answer is no, I'd drive away. A guy I know drove into a gas station, asked for 90, got a No answer, so he asked the attendant to pump 1 Litre only! The attendant was astonished, "why just one litre?!". The driver responded, "so that I can drive to the next gas station and fill it up with grade 90"!

Foreign companies extracting oil from Egyptian soil have an agreement with the State that the government takes 50% of the extracted oil, and the other 50% is sold by the companies to the government represented by the Egyptian General Petroleum Corporation (EGPC). EGPC has been giving those oil companies a hard time paying them for the 50% they buy (as in not paying at all), causing those companies to sell our valuable natural resources abroad, and the government doesn't seem to care. Maybe EGPC should bring its funds from abroad where its being invested in other countries and pay those oil companies, and maybe the government should reduce its spending and cut down on its theft. But no, the most logical solution is to raise the gas prices and have the ordinaries take the burden.

There are many arguments as to why gas grades as well as prices should increase, and I would tend to agree with most. Yet, I was pissed at the way the government was doing it, and as long as I have an alternative, I will go for it. And apparently, so did everyone else.

So, that was the drivers in the street. What about those managing our air space, Air Traffic Control officers? They went on a semi-strike again. This one lasted for a few days which costed Egypt nearly 30 million USD in flight delays and cancellations.

AlAhram Weekly has the story. A couple of months back, Air Traffic Control officers took action, by organizing a sit-in and slowing down air traffic, in demand of higher wages and better working conditions. They requested to meet with Mubarak (the kind-hearted president) to satisfy their requests, which their incompetent beauracratic superiors are incapable of meeting or making any untraditional decisions (in a story I heard, they sent a memo to the President while he was in his Presidential plane via the air traffic channels requesting to meet him). None of their demands were met back then, and instead disciplinary actions were taken against eight of the strikers.

Last week, the air controllers went back on strike in support of their colleagues, slowing down air traffic in a number of airports, causing pilots to stay in the air for extra hours, risking shortage of fuel, potentially resulting in disasters. Many airlines have cancelled flights as a result of the chaos. The air controllers strike has cost Egypt millions of dollars, but the government would not listen nor negotiate a few extra pounds increase in their salaries. They'd rather hire foreign workers with atleast 10 times the locals' salaries than listen to the demands of ordinary Egyptians.

The Minister of Aviation threatened to hire foreign air controllers, and has already fired some of the strikers (he even called for them to be 'legally executed' in that Ahram piece). AlAhram newspaper (Arabic version) has portrayed the air controllers as reckless and irresponsible (which one must admit is kind of true, but must ask why they would go that far), and disloyal to the country.

There you go, ordinary Egyptians in action! Now, back to follow the real deal --the Judges in action.


Anonymous said...

Actually, 90% has been always there at almost all the gas stations I go to in Heliopolis. It was never removed.

Mohamed said...

Maybe I should go live in Heliopolis then :) Well, atleast the gas stations in the Giza area that didn't have 90 are now serving it again.

mostafa said...

it is true, at least in mohandeseen, that some gas stations stopped selling 90 octane petrol. They brought it back again one or two weeks ago. In the station I frequent, they changed the places in which 90 octane pumps are located. This causes me a great deal of headache as it forces me to exist from another street, this forces me to go through 3 u-turns to get back to my road to work. Which wastes like 10 minutes or sometimes more.

About the Air Traffic Controllers sending a memo to Mubarak through the radio while he is aloft. Under emergency laws this could be classified as terrorism. I am amazed that they were not treated as terrorists. They almost hijacked the airport.

Ayman Alzawahery said...

What a bunsh of whinning bastard. Go to work!

Sayed Koutob said...

Egyptians are sheep and they will continue being sheep forever until another Nasser would come along and teach them dignity anf honor again.

Orientalism said...

Then he would execute you MR.Koutob:)

Al Sharief said...

Please Mohamed,
Stop this "Ordinary" Egyptian nonesense. Trained and Qualified national "Airtrafic Controllers" are NO ordinary group of people, I'm not necessary agreeing of escelating the matter so far, but I do not have the facts of the history of the conflict to judge them. Egyptian Judges are also NO ordinary group in the Egyptian socities. Their crtical jobs allowed them to be special and made them dare to pioneer and pulled these acts & in a way they are saying enough!

Mohamed said...

I'm not saying that the Judges are ordinary people by any means. I am in fact distinguishing them from ordinary people. But I am claiming that Air Traffic controllers are ordinary people, yes, with very important and critical jobs, and so as many other ordinary people with important jobs.

DNA said...

"EGPC has been giving those oil companies a hard time paying them for the 50% they buy (as in not paying at all), causing those companies to sell our valuable natural resources abroad, and the government doesn't seem to care. Maybe EGPC should bring its funds from abroad where its being invested in other countries and pay those oil companies, and maybe the government should reduce its spending and cut down on its theft."

This is what I found most interesting. I'd really like to find out more about this - do you have any sources for the delayed paybacks you quote above?

And btw - when the 90 octane scare was at its worst, I spoke to a local gas station manager about this. He said it was down to the gas station's policy to decide which grade to use at the pump. The Exxon/Mobil network opted to move to the higher grade because they have more affluent clients who end up pumping higher grade octane anyway. The gov. stations - ironically enough - i.e. the gov. subsidised stations - continued to pump grade 90.

Just a question: isn't the octane issue an example of 'democracy' in action?

As for the air traffic controllers, you have incorrectly stated that a few months ago during the first strike, nothing happened. That's not true - they received raises and they continue to do so - I don't know why Al Ahram's piece fails to mention this.

Ofcourse, threatening to bring in foreign controllers and the kind of disciplinary action taken against them - that's all way out of line.

Mohamed said...

A friend of mine is the source regarding EGPC not paying (I don't think you'll find any official source re this), and atleast one oil company selling its share of the extracted oil to Greece. The CEO of this company came once to Egypt and met with Mubarak threatening to pull out all of the company's investments, and the second day EGPC paid its dues from funds brought from outside.

Regarding gas stations serving Octane 90, it was the reverse of what you say actually. Esso/Mobil had quite a number of stations that continued to serve Octane 90, and the stations that completely stopped serving Octane 90 were the government Ta3awon stations. They even removed all the Octane 90 signs (which are back now).

I think it was up to the station yes, but they cannot do it without a green card from the government, and ofcourse all stations would love to stop serving Octane 90 for the more expensive grades. There was a memo that was sent from EGPC to gas stations to proceed in that direction --incidently, on the same day Nazif was quoted that gas prices are not going up.

Re Airtraffic controllers, AlAhram piece says that not a single demand was met, and mentions routine bonuses which are not a result of the strike. The CNN piece you point to says otherwise. Dunno.

What's interesting to me in this whole thing is not who's right or wrong, but how the government is dealing and interacting with the people, and how the people are responding --which the people are indeed responding in their own unique ways. There are apparently no channels of communication (lack of democracy that is). In the case of gas, its not just a matter of market demand, its a matter of government policies that affect the people's daily lives and how those policies are implemented. In the case of Air Traffic controllers, its how the government is dealing with the whole situation, and how the people (Controllers) are reacting in a potentially disasterous way. AlAhram quotes the Aviation Minister saying "You are traitors and should be executed. I am willing to do it, but via legal channels". I find such a quote repulsive.

DNA said...

I'll try to find any source on the EGPC - thanks for that.

As for the gas stations - my experiences were the opposite, but nevermind. I think we agree on the principle that the gov went about this through all the wrong ways.

You're right - it's interesting watching how people react, especially with situations becoming so volatile.