Minister of transport refuses to resign over train crash

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Last Monday, the Public Prosecution ordered the detention of eight people in connection with the train accident in Sohag Governorate in Upper Egypt. This came days after the accident, which killed 18 people and injured 200 others, last Friday, according to the latest statement of the Ministry of Health and Population. The Ministry had spoken about 32 deaths until it denied the accuracy of this figure attributing the matter to the ministry’s reliance on the narrative of the people.

The Public Prosecution’s statement indicated that the public prosecutor ordered the detention of the two train drivers, their assistants, the controller of the Maragha railway station tower, the head of the central control department in Assiut, and two other observers in the department, for four days in custody in connection with the investigations into the Sohag train crash.

The prosecution went to inspect the accident site and concluded a preliminary analysis. The train that was coming from the southern side collided with the 3rd-grade train while it was stopping by the crossbars, which led to the overturn and derailing of several cars from the two trains. The statement added that the accidents resulted in the death of 18 people, the injury of 200 others, in addition to finding scattered human pieces.

The Egyptian Railway system witnessed several fatal accidents during which 10 personalities were rotated to direct the system over the last decade, at the rate of the departure of a minister every year from his position as a result of a major accident. However, almost the only exception was with the current Minister, Kamel Al-Wazir, who originally came to his post due to the same circumstances two years ago, after the former Minister of Transport Hisham Arafat resigned on February 27, 2019, following the Ramses Station train accident that killed 21 people and injured 52 others.

The major general, who is close to the president and his favourite minister, on TV statements after the recent accident, provoked widespread controversy when he announced his rejection to resign claiming that he won’t give up on the responsibility assigned to him by the Egyptian president. He added that his resignation is considered an escape and betrayal of his country emphasising that he won’t resign because of the Sohag train crash but rather if he fails or is lazy, saying that: “Why should a minister leave when some problem occurs in his ministry?”

The statements sparked widespread controversy, especially as they came after his announcement in the press conference that immediately followed the accident, in which he indicated that he had withdrawn from operating the electronic pathway due to citizens’ objection to the delay, which may put him under suspicion, and may also deny the Ministry of Transport’s narrative of the involvement of unknown people in the train accident.

In the same context, the Egyptian parliament postponed the approval and discussion of all requests submitted by members of the house that reached 20 requests, regarding the formation of a fact-finding committee about the accident, as an activation of the principle of the separation of powers, according to the statements of Parliament Speaker Hanafi Jabali.

Over recent years, Egyptians have suffered from train accidents, from which there have been hundreds of victims. In mid-2020, the Central Agency for Public Mobilisation and Statistics issued a detailed report on train accidents, stating that Egypt witnessed more than 10,000 accidents from 2013 to 2019, and more than half of them occurred in the last three years before 2020.

Egypt comes out top of the list of the worst 10 countries for fatal train accidents, which is the reason it is included on the black map of train accidents. With every train accident during the past years, the incidents directly recall the statements of Egyptian President Abdel Fattah Al-Sisi, in August 2017, during the inauguration of a number of projects, when he said: “Instead of paying EGP 10 billion to develop the railway, I prefer to deposit this amount in the bank where I will get 20 per cent benefit annually which will increase what I have by EGP two billion.”

The World Bank issued a report in December 2018 which stated that Egypt needs to spend about $10 billion on railway reforms between 2019 and 2029.