Minister's fingers burnt
BOWING to mounting pressure, Culture Minister Farouk Hosni presented his resignation to President Hosni Mubarak late yesterday, reports Nevine El-Aref. Presidential and Culture Ministry sources told Al-Ahram Weekly that Mubarak offered no immediate reaction to Hosni's resignation offer
The culture minister's decision follows intense criticism in the wake of the disastrous fire that took place at the Beni Sweif Cultural Palace during a 5 September theatre performance. The fire, which left at least 46 people dead and 22 injured, was initially caused by lit candles that were part of the play's décor. When one of the candles was accidentally knocked down, the resulting blaze quickly spread to the curtains and other combustible elements that were part of the set, including paper and wood.
The theatre itself was clearly ill equipped to handle emergencies; as hundreds of spectators, actors, theatre critics and intellectuals stampeded in fear, the main theatre door remained locked, thus trapping most of the panicked audience inside. Only a few people found their way out via an auxiliary exit at the other end of the hall.
The immediate reaction to the fire was a fierce media campaign against the Culture Ministry, accusing it of negligence. The Writers and Artists for Change Movement filed an appeal for an investigation with the general prosecutor. Effective alarms and fire extinguishers might have contained the fire and limited the scope of the disaster, they said.
Hosni said the growing calls for his resignation had catalysed his decision to resign. "I was facing personal accusations even before the investigations were over," he told the Weekly. "I submitted my resignation to President Mubarak so that he could take the proper decision."
Hosni's nearly 20-year stint at the ministry has been marred by recurring controversies over antiquities smuggling and shoddy restoration of monuments.
The entire cabinet will be presenting its resignation to the president in the next few days, to allow the newly re- elected president to choose a new team. In 2002, Transportation Minister Ibrahim El-Demeiri resigned after a major train fire that killed hundreds, and was also blamed on negligence.
See Minister's resignation turned down