Wednesday,15 August, 2018
Current issue | Issue 1296, (19 - 25 May 2016)
Wednesday,15 August, 2018
Issue 1296, (19 - 25 May 2016)

Ahram Weekly

Towering infernos

The spread of fires across Egypt has spawned a flurry of rumours about their cause, writes Ahmed Morsy

Al-Ahram Weekly

More than 40 blazes have broken out across Egypt in the past two weeks leaving dozens injured, at least five dead and millions of pounds worth of property destroyed. Shops, markets, a gas station, a school, a university, houses, storehouses and government buildings have all fallen victim to the flames.

Cairo alone witnessed 10 fires in only one week. A fire broke out in two adjacent buildings in Al-Geish Street, a smaller blaze occurred in the Cairo Directorate building and another in the fabric shops of Ataba’s Al-Ghoriya market. The largest blaze was in Al-Attaba’s Al-Rewayei market.

An apartment block in the Al-Darb Al-Ahmar area went up in flames, a vehicle outside the High Judicial Court burned, the storage area at Qasr Al-Eini hospital became an inferno, a fire erupted in a car painting shop in Al-Azbakiya area, a bus at Cairo Airport succumbed and the Interior Ministry’s Human Relations building in Al-Darasa district was licked by flames.

In Giza, eight blazes were reported. There was a fire at the chemistry laboratory in the Faculty of Science at Cairo University, at a juice factory in 6th of October City’s industrial zone, in a power transformer next to the Institute of Cinema in Al-Omraneya district, at a palm tree plantation in Al-Wahat, in the Giza Directorate building, at residential properties in Faisal and Al-Omraneya district and at a school in Dokki.

Other blazes were reported in Al-Minya, Beni Sweif, Sohag, Alexandria, Al-Gharbieya, Al-Dakahliya, Al-Qalioubiya, Al-Sharqiya, North Sinai, Suez, Hurghada, Domietta and Al-Beheira.

The fire at Al-Rewayei market, which burned for two days, began on Sunday. Three people died and 91 were injured. According to Ali Shokri, deputy head of the Chamber of Commerce, property losses caused by the Al-Rewayei blaze are estimated at LE400 million. The fire engulfed a six-storey hotel, four adjacent buildings and 238 retail outlets.

An initial inspection of the site of many of the fires blamed “electrical short circuits and the weakness of safety measures”.

Almost all the shop owners whose property was burned in Al-Rewayei told Al-Ahram Weekly that the fire was the result of arson.

“It was a day off so there was no excessive load on electricity supplies. This could not be a reason for the blaze,” said Zakariya, one of the ruined shopkeepers.

Mahmoud Abdel-Latif, another merchant in Al-Rewayei, said, “Hidden hands spread the fire between buildings that were not adjacent.”

A day after the Al-Rewayie blaze, Cairo Deputy Governor Mohamed Ayman Abdel-Tawab told Sada Al-Balad channel, “The government is reviewing a plan to evacuate downtown marketplaces.” With his words, speculation over the cause of the fire reached fever pitch. And then the rumours grew, fanned still more by the flames that erupted in Al-Ghoriya market.

Al-Nahar channel broadcast the efforts of firefighters to extinguish the Ghoriya blaze live, only to terminate its coverage when a crowd of shop owners began to chant anti-government slogans.

“We don’t believe the fire was due to an electrical problem,” one Al-Rewayie merchant told the Weekly. “It will all be clearer when we hear whether the government will renovate or demolish the scorched buildings.”

The fires stirred a debate on social media.

“Good morning. Where will today’s fire break out?” posted one social media user.

Social media users were basically divided into two groups: those who blamed the government and those who said it was the Muslim Brotherhood that lit the flames.

 “One way or another it happened to cover-up the government’s failure to address many issues, including the economic and political files, and to evacuate informal marketplaces and replace them with commercial enterprises,” one of the posters who blame the government told the Weekly.

Brotherhood bashers, on the other hand, spoke of a “fire plot” to destabilize the nation.

“It cannot be an accident,” said Samir, a 52-year-old resident of Al-Attaba. “Tens of blazes that broke out in various governorates in the same week cannot be a coincidence. The terrorist Muslim Brotherhood group is surely behind such incidents.”

Major General Abu Bakr Abdel-Karim, assistant interior minister for public relations and media, discounted the speculations.

“Rumours that the Brotherhood is behind the fires are groundless. The one common factor they had is the use of informal electricity connections,” he said.

“The matter needs to be looked into in order to discover the truth and identify the perpetrators,” said MP Fouad Badrawi.

Badrawi has called on Prime Minister Sherif Ismail to make public all information on the “multiple fires”.

“There is an invisible hand behind these incidents, aiming to shake up stability and impede economic development,” claimed Badrawi.

Meanwhile, local prosecutors have taken statements from witnesses to the fire that engulfed the hotel and market in Ataba on Monday. Investigators are checking footage from security cameras for clues to the causes of the fires, but so far have not identified any potential arsonists.

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