Egyptians open makeshift study halls as rolling blackouts hit students

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In Egypt, where a shortage of natural gas has caused rolling blackouts during a heatwave, churches, cafes and libraries have stepped up to help students study for their crucial high-school exams.

The venues that have their own power generators, which also include sports centers and wedding halls, have opened to students struggling at home with power cuts that were officially extended this week to three hours daily.

Egypt generates most of its electricity from burning natural gas.

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On Tuesday, Prime Minister Mostafa Madbouly said Egypt would need to import $1.18 billion of mazut fuel oil and natural gas to end power cuts exacerbated by heatwaves that have driven up electricity consumption. Declining domestic gas production and fluctuations in imports have also contributed to power cuts.

The government aims to stop cutting power for the rest of the summer from around the third week of July, he said.

More than 745,000 students are slated to take the exams this academic year, according to the education ministry. The results help determine which students are accepted to public universities.

Hundreds of students, eager to escape the heat, lined up on Tuesday outside the air-conditioned Bibliotheca Alexandrina on the Mediterranean coast. The library had announced that students could use its 2,000-seat reading hall free of charge outside its regular hours.

“I came here because there are many services available, it’s a nice vibe, there’s internet and the atmosphere is calm, which encourages us to study,” said high school student Hassan Yazi.

Khaled Saeed, the library’s head of security, said staff were surprised by the large number of students who turned out.

At Alexandria’s Coptic Church of Saint George, priest Yacoub Barsoum said it is using its generator to supply power to halls for students, including internet access.

“We try to provide simple things that we can afford like water, cold beverages, tea, so we can offer (students) a suitable atmosphere,” he said.

In Cairo, Noura Saeed, a physician whose oldest daughter is a high school student, temporarily moved in with her sister in a gated community that has consistent power, after her building lost electricity for more than eight hours on Monday.

“We are trying to cope,” she said. “I tell my daughter to consider this move a change of scenery, I have to find a way to keep her calm.”

Saeed added that other parents are hosting study groups in their homes based on their power-cut schedules.

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