Negligence, corruption, and failure are three words that sum up Egypt’s condition under the regime of Abdel Fattah Al-Sisi this week. It has been a week when Egypt experienced a number of crises which thrust it into the international spotlight: the MV Ever Given running aground and blocking the Suez Canal; a fatal rail crash in Sohag governorate; and the collapse of an apartment block in the capital, Cairo.
Around ten per cent of the world’s maritime cargo passes through the Suez Canal every day. It is a hugely important route. When the Ever Given ran aground it created a backlog of hundreds of vessels waiting to pass through the canal.
Initially, high winds were blamed for the incident, but the story soon changed to suggest the possibility of human error. Then the media aligned to the regime introduced a conspiracy theory and claimed that the ship — one of the largest container vessels in the world — and its owners have a track record of accidents. “This ship is notorious,” said Ahmed Moussa, a media personality close to the regime.
The Suez Canal crisis revealed the pro-regime media’s weakness, despite the financial and political support it gets. However, experience demonstrates the failure of these outlets to cover what is really happening with the vital waterway. Their lack of transparency is the dominant feature.
While many pro-regime newspapers spoke of reopening the canal because the crisis had been ended thanks to the efforts of the government, led by the Suez Canal Authority (SCA), international TV and newspapers were talking about the temporary closure of the waterway pending long-term solutions to such issues. While ideas for refloating the ship were being discussed elsewhere, the Egyptian media were priding themselves on Egypt’s importance as proven by global concern about the canal crisis.
The regime may have pointed to what happened in the Suez Canal as a temporary crisis which would not happen again, but Al-Sisi cannot make excuses for the train crash which killed at least 32 people and injured more than 150 others. The disaster proved once again the regime’s failure to invest in Egypt’s crumbling infrastructure. The president has built new palaces and prisons, and spent billions of dollars on a new administrative capital, at a time when Egypt’s foreign debt has risen to more than $120 billion in seven years and domestic debt is more than four trillion Egyptian pounds. He is the same president who refused to spend $10bn to develop the railway infrastructure and demanded that funds should be deposited in banks so he can receive two billion Egyptian pounds in interest annually.
The railways in Egypt have been suffering from under-investment for decades, and the number of accidents during the Sisi era is a dangerous indication of gross negligence of this important sector. This negligence places millions of passengers in danger every single day. Not surprisingly, Al-Sisi has appointed yet another senior army officer, Kamel Al-Wazir, as Minister of Transport.
Although Al-Wazir is the former head of the Armed Forces Engineering Authority, he has no experience in the transport sector. He is, though, an experienced state official who has unparalleled loyalty to Al-Sisi, so it does not matter whether he is qualified for the ministerial role or not.
Cabinet spokesman Nader Saad confirmed that 56 billion Egyptian pounds had been allocated to develop the railway infrastructure from 2014 to 2020; he denied that Al-Sisi and his government have failed in this regard. Nevertheless, the number of train accidents in the same period has increased significantly.
In March 2015, a train in the Suez governorate collided with a primary school bus, leaving seven dead and 26 injured. In mid-2015, a train crash in Beni Suef injured. In January 2016 a train collided with a car, killing seven people and injuring three others. The following month, another train crash in Beni Suef injured 71 people. On 27 February 2019, a train hit a concrete barrier at the Ramses Railway Station in Cairo; at least 30 people were killed and Minister of Transport Hisham Arafat was forced to resign.If these incidents had occurred under any president other than Al-Sisi, the Egyptian media would have sparked a revolution and called on people to take the streets to oust the failing president. That’s what happened under the late President Mohamed Morsi, when the same media which now praises Al-Sisi, right or wrong, described the democratically-elected leader as a helpless loser who carried full responsibility for the blood of Egyptian citizens and demanded that he should resign without delay. They keep quiet about Al-Sisi’s blatant and all too often deadly failures.
Thus, sadly, it was no surprise when a thirteen-storey building in Cairo collapsed on Saturday, killing and injuring dozens of people. Again, this was not a first during Al-Sisi’s time in office and is unlikely to be the last as long as bribery and corruption are rife in government departments. The images on social media revealed a serious delay before the authorities responded to the disaster to help the injured and recover bodies. Many questions have been asked about why such a delay occurred, and why the disaster happened at all. We need to look no further than the regime of Abdel Fattah Al-Sisi for the answers.
The Egyptian people have had a difficult week caused by failure, neglect, and corruption. They have been, and remain, the most important features of the Sisi regime.
Translated from Arabi21, 29 March 2021 and edited for MEMO
The views expressed in this article belong to the author and do not necessarily reflect the editorial policy of Middle East Monitor.