Off the rails: Egypt’s deadly record of train accidents

Off the rails: Egypt’s deadly record of train accidents
Firefighters at the scene of the train crash at Cairo’s main railway station on Wednesday, above. (AFP)
Updated 28 February 2019

Off the rails: Egypt’s deadly record of train accidents

Off the rails: Egypt’s deadly record of train accidents
  • The country was among the first to introduce trains, but poor maintenance and deadly accidents have tarnished its history

CAIRO: The train accident in Cairo’s Ramses Station on Wednesday is just the latest in a long list of major railway disasters in Egypt that have caused hundreds of  deaths in recent decades. 

And while the cause of the most recent accident remains uncertain, people at the site of the crash appeared to be frustrated at the government’s failure to revamp the railway network.

“Is my fate to die (on the tracks)? It happens all the time ... what do the authorities do?” asked a man travelling from the Upper Egyptian province of Minya.

His comments speak to a larger frustration. 

Egyptians have long complained that the government has failed to deal with chronic transport problems in the country, where roads are as poorly maintained as railway lines, and fatal train accidents are a common occurrence. 

Figures from the official statistics agency show that there were 1,657 train accidents in 2017, up from 1,249 in 2016.

Trains are a vital component of the average Egyptian’s transportation, with 1.4 million passengers traveling by rail every day. The country’s railway lines stretch over 9,570 km through 705 passenger stations.

Egypt was the second country in the world after England to introduce the railway, and the first to do so in Africa and the Middle East. 

Construction began on July 12, 1851, with a line between Alexandria and Kafr Eassa beginning operations in 1854. Cairo’s Railway Museum, which opened near the Ramses Station in 1933 and was revamped in 2017, tells the story of this proud history.

So what went wrong with the region’s oldest rail system? Officials often blame the network’s poor maintenance on decades of negligence and a lack of funds.

Major train accidents date back to at least the 1990s. For instance, in December 1995, 75 people were killed when a train crashed into the back of another train.

The worst accident in Egypt’s history happened in February 2002 in El-Ayyat, 70 km south of Cairo, when a train traveling from Cairo to Luxor caught fire and travelled for 9 km before it was halted. While the death toll was placed at 383, some say it could have run as high as 1,000.

The last major incident occurred in August 2017, when two passenger trains collided near Egypt’s Mediterranean city of Alexandria, killing more than 40 people and injuring scores.

Egyptian President Abdel Fattah El-Sisi has called for a revamp of the national rail system, and during the past four years, the state has made various renovations to the railway lines, costing more than 300 million Egyptian pounds ($17 million). 

Last year, Egypt signed a deal for new passenger coaches worth $1.14 billion with a Russian-Hungarian consortium; the previous year it signed a $575-million deal with General Electric to buy 100 locomotives.

After Wednesday’s accident, the government was quick to respond. El-Sisi called on his government to carry out an investigation and to hold those responsible accountable.


EU representative blames Lebanese officials for country’s ills

EU representative blames Lebanese officials for country’s ills
Josep Borrell, the high representative of the EU for foreign affairs and security policy, with Lebanese president. (Supplied)
Updated 23 min 25 sec ago

EU representative blames Lebanese officials for country’s ills

EU representative blames Lebanese officials for country’s ills
  • ‘Economic crisis in the country is due to mismanagement and not linked to refugees’

BEIRUT: Josep Borrell, the high representative of the EU for foreign affairs and security policy, has criticized Lebanese officials and conveyed a “severe” message for “not forming the government after nine months of the resignation of Hassan Diab’s government and nomination of Saad Hariri as prime minister-designate.”

Borrell, who is also vice president of the European Commission, said that “the Lebanese crisis is not related to surrounding conditions, nor to war in Syria, but to the political class, which bears responsibility.”
The European official’s statement came after his meeting with Lebanese President Michel Aoun on Saturday at the Presidential Palace. It was the first of a set of meetings that will include the speaker of Parliament Nabih Berri, Prime Minister-designate Saad Hariri, and caretaker Prime Minister Hassan Diab.
Before Borrell’s arrival to Beirut, news spread that the EU intends to impose sanctions on Lebanese officials responsible for obstructing the formation of the government.
The news was based on a proposal by France, which launched an initiative last September to quickly form a rescue government to stop financial collapse in the country. However, the initiative faced significant obstacles.
Borrell stressed that the “crisis in Lebanon is locally made, and its impact is huge on the Lebanese people, for unemployment rose to 40 percent, and more than 50 percent of the Lebanese live below the poverty line. These are dramatic figures, and the Lebanese presidents and leaders should bear responsibility and form the government without delay, in addition to implementing the necessary reforms.”
The European official said that “only an immediate agreement with the International Monetary Fund (IMF) will save Lebanon from a financial collapse, and there is no time to waste.”

HIGHLIGHTS

• Before the arrival of the EU representative to Beirut, news spread that the union intends to impose sanctions on Lebanese officials responsible for obstructing the formation of the government.

• The news was based on a proposal by France, which launched an initiative last September to quickly form a rescue government to stop financial collapse in the country. However, the initiative faced significant obstacles.

He addressed politicians, saying: “You are on the verge of a full financial collapse.”
Borrell said that “the caretaker government cannot sign an agreement with the IMF, but it can lay the ground for the reforms much required by the international community. Financial and economic aid is usually given to the governments. However, we are willing to give aid directly to civil society.”
Borrell said: “The European Union had provided €330 million ($392.7 million) in aid for Lebanon during 2020. This is equivalent to €1 million per day. And we have set a framework of cooperation with the United Nations to provide aid directly to the Lebanese people.”
“We have various ways and tools to provide aid to the Lebanese government, and we are ready to mobilize them right upon sensing a tangible progress in the necessary reform process,” he said.
Borrell commented on “the proposal of some states to take measures against the ones obstructing the formation of the government,” and declared that the “Council of the European Union is considering many options including sanctions.”
“We prefer not to revert to these measures and we hope that we would not be obliged to do so, but this depends on the Lebanese leadership,” he said.
“The sanctions would mobilize politicians to move forward, and the issue is being considered. I really hope that there would be no need for implementing sanctions. The sanctions path is long and requires good information to determine who is obstructing and who is not.”
During the meeting with Borrell, Aoun called for “the returning of the Syrian refugees back to their country, as the situation has stabilized in most Syrian territories, and Lebanon is no longer capable of bearing  the impact of this displacement.”
Borrell responded in front of the journalists by saying: “We are ready to provide more support to Lebanon, Jordan, Turkey, and other countries that host refugees. And we are confident that the Lebanese authorities would not revert to the forced return of refugees to their country.”
“The economic crisis in Lebanon is due to mismanagement and is not directly linked to the refugees’ issue,” he said.
He insisted that the upcoming parliamentary elections should be held on time and should not be postponed: “We are ready to send a monitoring team ... to ensure that the elections will be fair.”
Borrell said that he will meet civil society activists to hear their opinion on the current situation, and discuss ways to support their efforts.
The European official asked the “Lebanese authorities to investigate the explosion of the Port of Beirut, hoping that it would lead to the awaited results after nearly one year of the incident.” According to the presidential media office, Aoun had asked Borrell for “European assistance to recover the financial assets which were smuggled out of Lebanon to European banks.”


Biden to host Israeli President Rivlin on June 28 — White House

Biden to host Israeli President Rivlin on June 28 — White House
Updated 19 June 2021

Biden to host Israeli President Rivlin on June 28 — White House

Biden to host Israeli President Rivlin on June 28 — White House
  • Rivlin will visit shortly before he is due to end his seven-year term in July

WASHINGTON: US President Joe Biden plans to host Israel’s new president, Reuven Rivlin, at the White House on June 28, the White House said on Saturday.
“President Rivlin’s visit will highlight the enduring partnership between the United States and Israel and the deep ties between our governments and our people,” White House spokeswoman Jen Psaki said in a statement.
Rivlin will visit shortly before he is due to end his seven-year term in July.
Isaac Herzog was elected the country’s new president this month in elections that marked the end of the era of Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu era in Israel.
The role of president is largely ceremonial but also meant to promote unity among ethnic and religious groups.
The government changed after last month’s fighting between Israel and Palestinian militants in Gaza also touched off rare mob violence among the Jewish majority and Arab minority within Israeli cities.
“President Rivlin approaches the end of his term, this visit will honor the dedication he has shown to strengthening the friendship between the two countries over the course of many years,” Psaki said.


Israel says Iran’s Raisi extreme, committed to nuclear program

Israel says Iran’s Raisi extreme, committed to nuclear program
Updated 20 June 2021

Israel says Iran’s Raisi extreme, committed to nuclear program

Israel says Iran’s Raisi extreme, committed to nuclear program
  • Foreign minister Yair Lapid calls Iran's new president the 'butcher of Tehran'
  • Says Ebrahim Raisi is committed to the regime’s nuclear ambitions and to its campaign of global terror

JERUSALEM: Israel on Saturday condemned Iran’s newly-elected president Ebrahim Raisi, saying he was its most extreme president yet and committed to quickly advancing Tehran’s nuclear program.
“Iran’s new president, known as the Butcher of Tehran, is an extremist responsible for the deaths of thousands of Iranians. He is committed to the regime’s nuclear ambitions and to its campaign of global terror,” Foreign Minister Yair Lapid said on Twitter.
A separate statement from the Israeli Foreign Ministry said Raisi’s election should “prompt grave concern among the international community.”
Israel’s new government, sworn in on Sunday, has said it would object to the revival of a 2015 nuclear deal between world powers and its arch-foe, Iran.
Israel sees a nuclear-armed Iran as an existential threat. Tehran denies seeking nuclear weapons.
Toeing the policy line set by the administration of Israel’s former prime minister, Benjamin Netanyahu, the foreign ministry said: “More than ever, Iran’s nuclear program must be halted immediately, rolled back entirely and stopped indefinitely.”
“Iran’s ballistic missile program must be dismantled and its global terror campaign vigorously countered by a broad international coalition.”
Raisi, a hard-line judge who is under US sanctions for human rights abuses, secured victory as expected on Saturday in Iran’s presidential election after a contest marked by voter apathy over economic hardships and political restrictions.

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Parties to Iran nuclear deal to hold formal meeting on Sunday: EU

Parties to Iran nuclear deal to hold formal meeting on Sunday: EU
Updated 19 June 2021

Parties to Iran nuclear deal to hold formal meeting on Sunday: EU

Parties to Iran nuclear deal to hold formal meeting on Sunday: EU
  • The meeting comes amid the sixth round of indirect talks between Washington and Tehran
  • These formal meetings are usually an indication that the latest round will be adjourned

PARIS: Parties negotiating a revival of the Iran nuclear deal will hold a formal meeting in Vienna on Sunday, the European Union said on Saturday.
Iran and six world powers have been negotiating in Vienna since April to work out steps for Washington and Tehran to take. The United States withdrew in 2018 from the pact, under which Iran accepted curbs on its nuclear programme in exchange for a lifting of many foreign sanctions against it.
Sunday's formal meeting comes more than a week after this round of talks resumed and is an indication that the talks are likely to be adjourned.
Officials over the week have indicated that differences remain on key issues.
"The Joint Commission of #JCPOA will meet on Sunday, June 20," Mikhail Ulyanov Russia's envoy to the talks said on Twitter.
"It will decide on the way ahead at the #ViennaTalks. An agreement on restoration of the nuclear deal is within reach but is not finalised yet."
The remaining parties to the deal - Iran, Russia, China, France, Britain, Germany and the European Union - meet in the basement of a luxury hotel.
The US delegation to the talks is based in a hotel across the street as Iran refuses face-to-face meetings, leaving the other delegations and EU to work as go-betweens.
Since former US President Donald Trump pulled out of the deal and reimposed sanctions on Iran, Tehran has embarked on counter measures, including rebuilding stockpiles of enriched uranium, a potential pathway to nuclear bombs.


Turkey highlights Syrian success stories on World Refugee Day

Turkey highlights Syrian success stories on World Refugee Day
Updated 19 June 2021

Turkey highlights Syrian success stories on World Refugee Day

Turkey highlights Syrian success stories on World Refugee Day
  • Turkey provides refugees with education and health care facilities
  • The country is home to 4 million refugees, including about 3.7 million Syrians

ANKARA: Turkey, which hosts the world’s largest refugee population, will mark UN World Refugee Day on June 20 with a focus on integration under the motto “Together we heal, learn and shine.”

The country is home to 4 million refugees, including about 3.7 million Syrians. 

Omar Kadkoy, a migration policy analyst at the Ankara-based think tank the Economic Policy Research Foundation of Turkey, is a Syrian refugee whose success story is a source of inspiration for many in Turkey.  

Kadkoy moved from Damascus to the Turkish capital in 2014. He began learning Turkish, which is now his second foreign language. 

The policy analyst is now viewed as one of the key experts on integration issues in Turkey, is also a student at Ankara’s prestigious Middle East Technical University and is writing his master’s thesis on the naturalization of Syrian students in Turkey’s tertiary education system.

He is looking forward to beginning his Ph.D. studies once he graduates. 

Kadkoy is proud of his professional, academic and linguistic efforts. 

“Achieving is limitless. In terms of integration, I find myself on a journey of a thousand miles. I began with the necessary steps, but there is much more to explore, learn and contribute,” he told Arab News.

Turkey is both a reception and transit country for refugees. About half of the Syrian refugees in the country are children. 

As part of its social cohesion and integration policies, Turkey provides refugees with education and health care facilities, and helps them find employment opportunities. 

However, with more than 4 million refugees in the country, Turks are growing less willing to accept new arrivals. 

According to the latest Ipsos survey, 75 percent of Turkish respondents support closing borders to refugees entirely, while 60 percent believe that government spending on refugees should be decreased, especially following the COVID-19 pandemic. 

A 2020 survey by Bilgi University and the German Marshall Fund of the United States revealed that 86 percent of Turks support the repatriation of Syrians. Meanwhile, other surveys show that 90 percent of Syrians do not want to return to their homeland now.

Philippe Leclerc, the representative of the UN High Commissioner for Refugees (UNHCR) in Turkey, recently said that Turkey should be given more support by the international community to handle the refugee issue. 

The EU has been supporting Turkey, with €6 billion ($7.1 billion) committed to helping refugees and hosting communities in key areas such as education, health, socio-economic development and basic needs.

Cash assistance provided by the EU-funded Emergency Social Safety Net helps Syrian refugee households cover some of their debts and daily living costs.  

According to Kadkoy, providing access to health care and education, and building the vocational and language skills of refugees does not necessarily result in integration. 

“There are many ways to look at integration. For example, are refugee students integrating well into schools? The answer would be by looking at the performance of refugee students in Turkey’s national education system and comparing it with that of the citizens,” he said. “Differences would tell us what is and isn’t working and allow us to revamp what didn’t work.”

He added: “When similar and other pointers are absent, it is difficult to talk about integration collectively. Instead, we end up with ad hoc celebrations of individual stories.”

Kadkoy said that the post-pandemic era could be a time to readdress the issue in Turkey, especially the discriminatory practices refugees face in the labor market. 

“Most of the 3.7 million Syrians seem to consider Turkey as a permanent destination. In Turkey, Syrians under the Temporary Protection rule enjoy access to public education. Around 650,000 Syrian students attend Turkish schools, access to free public health services, and there are roughly 820,000 Syrians in the labor market as either wage-workers or business owners,” he said. 

According to last year’s official statistics, there were 9,041 firms with Syrian owners in Turkey. 

The Turkish government cooperates with the international community, especially with the UN, to provide vocational training to Syrian refugees.

The education ministry recently announced that Syrian students can attend vocational training centers once a week. Students will be supported with one-third of the minimum wage during their four-year education while they receive skills training in business on other days.

World Refugee Day was established by the UN to commemorate the 50th anniversary of the 1951 Convention Relating to the Status of Refugees.