No Parliament, No cry!

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?

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Alex catastrophe: I blame the media!

Follow up on my last article; Alex catastrophe: The Wakeup call…

 

As is the case with tragedies like the Louran building collapse; they bring us to question all the role players on the scene, Government, society, local authorities, District office, engineers & of course the media.

The global media coverage is in the least, sad but true, it gives us a painful insight about how we’re viewed as a nation worldwide, and it’s not by any means an optimistic or admirable image.

The CNN coverage stated that:

Buildings regularly collapse in Egypt, either as a result of deterioration with time or shoddy construction that fails to meet standards and regulations.”

Al Jazeera, Reuters, Herald tribune & New York Times coverage gave statements to the same effect. As for the MSNBC, they went further to state:

“Shoddy materials, illegal construction and a culture of corruption were blamed for the deaths of more than three dozen people buried when a 12-story apartment building crumbled to the ground.”

That’s how we are viewed globally now, as a culture of corruption!

However, what’s even more upsetting was the Egyptian media’s coverage. The Egyptian media’s coverage of the incident confirmed that our media is still divided into two halves; which I’ve named the appeasers & the inciters.

The appeasers being of course the sector of the media that is indirectly sponsored & controlled by the government, those work as somewhat an unpaid PR agency for the government, trying to pacify and soothe the society in the face of such tragedy.

Therefore the information communicated by this sector is somewhat true, but is often unreliable because it is toned down to the maximum.

As for the inciters, they are of course all the yellow tabloids and opposition owned media, which tend to do the exact opposite, blow the news out of proportion and exaggerate it to the other extreme.

Those two faces of the coin are equally untrustworthy for getting facts and objective information. And usually in a lot of these cases they both worsen the sufferings of those directly affected by the tragedy, with their mixed false information and uncertain facts.

An example of this is the “Al Masry Al Youm” coverage which on 28/12/2007, on its website published the news of the death of Roba Ayoub & all of her family. Although at the time Roba (God bless her soul) was still under the rubble. Continue reading

Alex catastrophe: The Wakeup call!

This is a refined version of my article; Awake: the collapse of buildings and morals, it was published in Campus magazine March 2008 issue. To view the older article click here

dedicated to Roba Salah Ayoub, may God bless her & rest her soul

“We wish you a merry Christmas,

We wish you a merry Christmas,

& Happy new year…”

The jingle goes. Unfortunately that was not the case in Alexandria…

One day before Christmas, & right after Adha eid, on Monday the 24th of December morning; Alexandria woke up to another horror, to maintain the series of tragedies the city have been plagued with during the recent years.

The Lauran residential building collapse claimed 35 innocent lives (including 2 complete families) & took both the city and the nation by surprise. Amongst whom is “Roba Salah Ayoub” may God rest her soul & also 4 other members of her family.

I came to know her during my study in Arab Academy, Alex. and the least I can say about her is that she was a young and vibrant character, with a kind heart & a bright future awaiting her; fate has it that she was one of the many victims of this tragic collapse. And this touched me deeper than I imagined such thing would, as I’m sure it did to all those who knew her.

On Sunday the 30th the authorities announced the end of search and rescue operations, and left the city celebrating the New Year by burying it’s loved ones. Only 3 survived the disaster, all were pulled out of the rubble during first 48 following the collapse.

The apartment block, which was originally built as a seven-storey structure, was built without a license, in 1982. The owner later obtained a permit, and then added an illegal extra five floors.

On site witnesses have recounted that the rescue operations were well coordinated, and surprisingly humane. Except for a territorial feud that occurred on the first day between the army and the National Guard forces on-site, everything went smoothly, and everybody did the best they can.

Up till here the news is pretty normal (if we consider a building collapse a normal occurrence), buildings fall everywhere right?

It’s a painful tragedy by all standards, true, but yet it’s not as tragic as a ferry sinking, and taking 1,000 passengers down with it, one might say. So normally this feature should end here, and with a little prayer for the victims of the Louran Building, I should conclude this article.

Unfortunately this is not the case, buildings fall everywhere, that’s right, but not as regularly as they do in Egypt.

During the last 8 years only, (starting with the turn of the century) we had about 20 building collapses in various areas of Egypt, 5 of which was during the last two years. (Almost as frequent as, say, rock concerts?!) Continue reading

Awake: the collapse of buildings and morals

Update: Campus Magazine published a refined version of this article in it’s February issue; to view the article “The Wake up call” Click here

First I’d like to wish you all a happy new year, and give you my warmest season greetings… hope all the feasts that have been concurring during these two months are happy and full of joy.

With that said and over with, I’d like to get to the real reason I’m sending out this mail; as most of you know by now, a building have collapsed in Louran area in Alexandria last week, on the 24th of December, killing as the latest body count revealed, nearly 40 innocent Egyptians, between mother, father & child. Amongst whom is “Roba Salah Ayoub” may God rest her soul & also 4 other members of her family.

I came to know her during my study in University and the least I can say about her is that she was a young and vibrant character, with a kind heart & a bright future awaiting her; fate has it that she was one of the many victims of this tragic collapse. And this touched me deeper than I imagined such thing would, as I’m sure it did to all those who knew her.(please pray for her)

But I also didn’t send you this mail to share my grief with you… (those of you who know me well, knows I don’t care much about the “sharing & caring” culture!)

Egyptian rescuers save Lila Mahmoud Safwat, who was found alive under debris of the 12-storey building which collapsed in Alexandria.

I’m sending you this mail to discuss what you and me are going to do about such a tragic accident. Wait, did I just say accident?! No! CRIME would be a more accurate way to describe it.

Because that’s what it is… a crime, a cold blooded crime, if ever there was one, and you know who the accused is?

It is YOU & ME before anyone else, it’s our apathy and indifference! Continue reading