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EGYPT: Controversial fire

August 21, 2008 |  7:36 am

The fire that gutted parliament’s upper house earlier this week has exposed the deep-seated public disenchantment with the government of President Hosni Mubarak.

Egyptians met the news with more than sorrow or shock. On the contrary, for some, the incident was an opportunity to openly rail against a government incapable of handling crises and, for others, to mock a ruling regime that is failing to improve the lives of Egyptians not connected to the ruling National Democratic Party.

The 19-century palace burned on Tuesday, leaving one firefighter dead and about 16 hospitalized. Firefighters spent the night struggling with flames that raced through the three-story building in downtown Cairo. According to initial reports, no criminal cause stands behind the fire. So far, the blaze is blamed on a short electrical circuit.

The local press has been voicing harsh criticism of the government for not equipping the strategic and historic building with fire alarms and sprinklers that could have stopped the fire that went on for hours.

“The smoke that came out of the Upper House proved that nobody in this country, from the president down to the smallest solider, can claim that we are capable of facing any accident or handling any crisis,” wrote Magdy El-Gallad, editor of the most prominent independent daily Al-Masry Al-Youm.   

In the meantime, many laymen rejoiced the fire, hailing it as a divine revenge against a corrupt government. “The curses that this government has been getting from the people could have burnt a country not only a parliament’s building. God has taken the revenge of the poor,” read a comment on Facebook.

The parliament adjourned its sessions earlier this summer. Otherwise, the death toll could have been dramatic. However, not all Egyptians appreciate this fact.

“I wish the parliamentarians were in session when the fire went,” read another comment on Facebook.

-- Noha El-Hennawy in Cairo

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