Egypt's police and army will deploy to protect deliveries of subsidised butane cooking gas after shortages sparked thefts and countrywide protests, the newspaper al-Ahram quoted the minister of social solidarity on Wednesday as saying.
Canisters of the gas, which officially sell for five Egyptian pounds (US$0.83) thanks to the state subsidies, have been fetching up to LE50 on the black market, the paper said.
Egypt's cash-strapped government spends up to a quarter of its budget on fuel subsidies and most of that goes to keeping the price of butane and gasoline low.
The government has struggled in previous years to provide subsidised cooking gas, but this year the economy is faltering in the wake of the uprising that toppled Hosni Mubarak, and many people also complain that there are fewer police on the streets.
Social Solidarity Minister Gouda Abdel Khaleq said the army, police, Petroleum Ministry and local governments were coordinating to protect butane deliveries to local distribution centres, al-Ahram reported.
Shortages outside of Cairo have been growing in recent days, with long queues forming in front of distribution centres, al-Ahram wrote. Some villages had gone for over a week without gas.
Guards at a butane filling plant in the southern city of Aswan used fire hoses to disperse crowds trying to get canisters. The crowds then blocked the main highway to Cairo for several hours before police drove them away, it said.
Hundreds of people in southern Egypt also blocked Egypt's main north-south railway near Sohag for three hours until a truck arrived with 2,000 canisters, which were distributed under police guard, the newspaper reported.
Al-Ahram quoted Ahmed Ghorab, head of the state company that produces the butane and fills the canisters, as saying the crisis would end within two days provided the army and police protected butane deliveries.
Egypt's cooking gas production has increased by 31 per cent from a year earlier to 1.3 million canisters a day, he said.