Jan. 15 (Bloomberg) -- Egypt’s Islamist president vowed to hold accountable those responsible for a train crash in Cairo’s outskirts that killed 19 security forces as the incident provided new ammunition for his critics.
The accident, which comes about two months after another train smashed into a school bus in southern Egypt, killing 50 children, was the fifth such occurrence since Mohamed Mursi’s election in June, the state-run Ahram Gate reported. The deaths of the children led to the resignation of the transportation minister, who was replaced two weeks ago in a Cabinet reshuffle.
“Egypt’s tragedy is not in the orientations of who governs it, but in the absence of the ability to run the nation,” Nobel Laureate and opposition leader Mohamed ElBaradei said on his Twitter account today. The failures “increase and the people are the victims. Egypt kneels each day.”
Mursi, elected in June after being fielded by the Muslim Brotherhood, visited some of the victims at the military hospital where his ousted predecessor has been receiving treatment. The Islamist said the wounded would receive all the care necessary, and pledged to hold accountable those responsible, irrespective of their positions, the state-run Middle East News Agency reported.
The U.S.-trained engineer has come under increasing criticism over his stewardship of the economy and the country’s political transition in the wake of the uprising that ousted Hosni Mubarak in 2011. Less than two weeks before the second anniversary of the start of the uprising, Mursi’s critics are gearing up for new demonstrations on Jan. 25 against what they argue is the Brotherhood’s attempt at a stranglehold on power.
Tuk-tuk driver Mustafi Ali, 20, said he went to the scene immediately after the crash to help. Among the gathering crowds he saw one young man crying over the body of his twin brother who had been cut in half in the wreck.
“I had dreamt that this county would be a better place after the revolution, not that every day our brothers and sisters would die,” Ali said, adding he had participated in the uprising against Mubarak two years earlier.
The collision occurred around midnight and left at least 117 injured when two cars from the military train carrying more than 1,300 central security conscripts separated from the others as it was moving to another track, transportation ministry officials said.
Dozens of activists gathered by Cairo’s main railway station to protest, demanding a halt to rail activity nationwide, while several demonstrators were arrested in another protest that was forcibly dispersed by security forces in the coastal city of Alexandria, the Ahram online website reported. In the port city of Suez, dozens of activists demanded the government be dismissed, MENA said.
Prime Minister Hisham Qandil, who visited the crash site in the Giza district of Badrashin early in the morning, came under fire from youth activists.
“The blood of those victims is on your neck,” one of the activists told Qandil, the Ahram Gate website reported. The train had been coming from the southern city of Assiut to Cairo.
An investigation has been launched into the accident, authorities said, and the driver was detained for four days for questioning. The government will pay the families of the deceased 30,000 Egyptian pounds ($4,573) each while those injured will be compensated based on their wounds, the Cabinet said in an e-mailed statement. In addition, the victims will receive separate compensation from the armed forces, it said.
The crash site was littered today with the shoes of the conscripts, while the seats of the two carriages were strewn across the area, spattered with blood. The train cars were crushed wrecks, with residents hovering nearby, occasionally fighting with officials as they accused the government of negligence.
Residents and hospital officials in the area said the hospital lacked the necessary supplies and it was the families in the area who pooled their money together to buy bandages and other supplies.
Shortly after midnight “we started receiving severe cases that could have been saved, but we didn’t have the resources,” Mohamed El-Sayed Ali, a morgue worker at the Badrashin Hospital, said in an interview at the site. The first ambulances to arrive came 45 minutes after the crash, said Nasser el-Saqa, another man who rushed to help after the accident. “Only two showed up at first. It wasn’t enough.”
Egypt has a long history of fatal train crashes, most linked to negligence and a rail sector that has seen little development or maintenance. The new transportation minister has been charged with quickly overhauling and improving the network.
The country’s worst railway crash was in 2002, when a train headed to southern Egypt caught fire, killing more than 350 people on board.
The head of the Freedom and Justice Party, the Muslim Brotherhood’s political arm, laid the blame on decades of neglect and corruption under Mubarak, saying in a statement on the party’s Facebook page the recurring accidents are “evidence of a near total collapse of the infrastructure.”
The accident is a “warning bell to all of us about the need to overcome the political differences and to cooperate on rebuilding Egypt,” Saad el-Katatni said. “There is no time to waste.”
To contact the reporter on this story: Tarek El-Tablawy in Cairo at firstname.lastname@example.org
To contact the editor responsible for this story: Andrew J. Barden at email@example.com