On the 5th of November 1605, Guy Fawkes (Fox) sought to humiliate and end the English Monarchy, by blowing up the House of Parliament, in what is now known as “The Gunpowder treason and plot”. Guy Fawkes plot failed and he was arrested that night and executed on the 31st of January 1606. The 5th of November, now known as the Bonfire Night, is still celebrated in England till present day, some celebrate the plot’s failure, others celebrate the attempt.
Here in modern day Egypt we do not need an evil perpetrator to humiliate us, we humiliate ourselves. Tuesday the 19th of August 2008 should go down in Egyptian history as the ultimate celebration of our failure as a nation, the day we lost our dignity to fire, smoke and incompetence.
Yesterday a massive fire ravaged the 19th century palace that housed the upper house of Egypt’s parliament (Shura Council). Flames started from the roof and within the course of two hours worked its way downwards through the building; soon enough the blaze soared upward from the top floor of the three-story building, and much of the interior appeared gutted.
It took the first fire truck to an hour and a half to arrive at the site and Yahoo! News reports that: “While firefighters focused on one corner of the building, the blaze burned unabated on the other side, spreading to the second floor with periodic explosions and showers of sparks…. Hours after the fire erupted only three trucks were hosing down the building, apparently due to water shortages.” Meanwhile Al Jazeera was showing comical footage of two army helicopters scooping water from the Nile River to and blindly pouring it over the blaze site, of course without any immediate (or non immediate) effect.
Come dusk, downtown Cairo was covered in a cloud of thick black smoke; smoke billowed over the metropolitan capital and could be seen from as far as Maadi district. The once prestigious building have miraculously (or in this case tragically) turned into an uncontrollable inferno, and the poor Egyptian fire fighters aided by the army and national security forces were unable to do anything to save the building.
Later on, parts of the buildings ceiling collapsed and news reporters were quoting witnesses saying that the building was utterly destroyed and burnt to the ground. Parliament’s archive room, library and several large meeting chambers were all destroyed. Firefighters doused surrounding buildings with water to prevent them from igniting, but flames continued to rage past midnight.
Reportedly there were no casualties and less than 20 people were hospitalized, mostly workers and firefighters.
Twelve hours after the fire started, there was still no official word on the cause of the fire. However some security officials said they had ruled out terrorism, and that an electrical short-circuit had likely sparked the fire.
Now whether the building was set ablaze or not, that’s not the question right now -although honestly if it was arson, it would be a little more dignified and face saving- the question is: How did our ever vigilant police force and courageous fire fighters allow a symbol of the government, the nation and it’s dignity, which also happens to be a historical building, be burnt to the ground?
When asked about why the fire fighters couldn’t control the fire, Cairo governor Abdul Azim Wazir, the interior affairs ministry spokesmen and other officials, kept repeating to the reporters the same foolish ridiculous answer: “We have to put in mind that building is old and contains a lot of wood… Wood is an inflammable substance!”. No shit? Wood is flammable? That’s odd… I thought it was used in making fire matches because it was fireproof and fire-retardant. Obviously I was wrong, turns out that our governmental officials are the ones who are RETARDants.
We get the picture, the building is old, it contains a lot flammable substances, which means we have to be a little more careful, and fire proof the building in more efficient ways, especially when we are talking about the house of parliament (Think US Capitol).
As usual, the Egyptian government does not learn from its mistakes, here is a list of fires that took place in downtown area alone during the past years:
- In the early 70’s the Royal Opera House was destroyed by fire
- August 2005 a huge fire brought down a building in the downtown neighborhood of Abdin.
- March 2007 Fire destroyed Cairo’s shanty town in downtown Cairo on Tuesday, leaving about 1,000 people homeless. A police officer said the fire was caused by (again) an electrical short circuit.
So where the hell is the surprise? Fire, eats out the structures of old buildings and brings them down… Did no one in the fire department know that before? All the more reasons to enforce fire-safety codes on old building as well as new ones!
I don’t care about the 91 fire trucks on site (as reported by Cairo governor), I care about how many of these trucks were actually fighting the fire, apparently not many according to global news agencies. The two army helicopters scooping water from the Nile were a tragically comic scene, is it really that hard to get fire fighting choppers these days? Especially that fires seems to be a recurring “incident” in Modern Egypt.
Yahoo! News reported: “Egypt requires some fire-safety measures in buildings, including fire extinguishers, but in general the rules are not strictly enforced.” Just as they reported after the Lauran building collapse that: “Buildings regularly collapse in Egypt.”
When will it end?
When will our government value the Egyptian citizens and their dignity?