The shortage of butane gas continued into its fourth week in Egypt at the end of February with households in the poorer areas sometimes having to pay LE70 for a cylinder, or ambooba as it is called, that usually costs LE10. Butane is used mainly for cooking rather than heating and is therefore vital for all households.

It is difficult to establish whether it is the butane or the cylinders that have run short, but the lack of supplies has led to violence in some parts of Cairo.

The government petroleum authority has now increased its production of cylinders by 100,000 a day to bring the total to about 1.3 million a day. However there also seems to be a problem with the gas supplies themselves.

Although Egypt has its own natural gas, over 55 per cent of its butane supplies are imported, mainly from Algeria and Saudi Arabia. And here the story becomes complicated. Some sources report that Algeria is blaming Egypt for not paying for previous supplies, others that Egypt is blaming Algeria for increasing the price unreasonably, and yet others, quoted by the weekly edition of Al-Ahram, that the two governments don