Egypt’s Sisi names military general as transport minister after train crash

Fire fighters and onlookers gather at the scene of a fiery train crash at the Egyptian capital Cairo's main railway station on February 27, 2019. (AFP)
Updated 18 March 2019
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Egypt’s Sisi names military general as transport minister after train crash

  • The pervious minister resigned after the train crash in Cairo
  • The new appointment is still pending for approval

CAIRO: Egypt's President Abdel Fattah al-Sisi appointed military General Kamel al-Wazir as transport minister on Sunday, after the previous minister resigned following a train crash that left more than 20 dead at Cairo's main station last month.
Wazir serves as head of the Armed Forces Engineering Authority, one of the main owners of the new administrative capital being built outside Cairo and a developer of large infrastructure and national projects commissioned by Sisi.
The previous minister, Hisham Arafat, stepped down immediately after the Feb. 27 crash, in which a locomotive smashed through station buffers and burst into flames, killing at least 22 and injuring dozens.
"When this (the accident) happened, we said the person who will take over (the ministry) is Kamel al-Wazir," Sisi said during a seminar organised by the armed forces to celebrate martyrs' day.
Sisi told Wazir, who frequently appears alongside the president at public events, that he can call upon any support he needs to revamp the rail system from all state institutions, including the military.
"If you want officers from the vehicles administration, the armoured vehicles or the engineers .. I don't have a problem," he said, as he turned to Defence Minister Mohamed Zaki, who was also on stage along with the speaker of parliament.
He then promoted Wazir from major general to lieutenant general, pinning new epaulettes on his uniform.
The appointment is part of what analysts say is a broader trend to expand the role of the military since Sisi led the 2013 military overthrow of Egypt's first freely-elected president, Mohamed Mursi of the Muslim Brotherhood.
Parliament is currently debating proposed constitutional changes that could allow Sisi to stay in power until 2034 and tighten his control over the judiciary.
The changes include amending article 200 of the constitution to add that the military has a duty to protect "the constitution and democracy and the fundamental makeup of the country and its civil nature".
The military's economic and civilian activities have expanded since Sisi became president in 2014, and companies owned by the military have flourished, causing concern amongst local businessmen and foreign investors.
"This trend is rooted in the claim that the military is uniquely capable of delivering results," said Timothy Kaldas, non-resident fellow at the Tahrir Institute for Middle East Policy.
"(This), in turn, justifies the military's expanding control over state institutions and participation in the economy as its businesses and enterprises continue to grow and diversify," he added.


In Syria’s Idlib, education a casualty of war

A displaced Syrian girl carries books on her head near a bus converted into a classroom in the village of Hazano in northwestern Syria. (AFP)
Updated 21 September 2019

In Syria’s Idlib, education a casualty of war

  • The conditions are dire however, with camp manager Hammud Al-Sayah explaining initial planning was done for 50 children, yet attendees now top 375

HAZANO, SYRIA: Near the village of Hazano in northwestern Syria, children come running through the olive groves every morning to meet the bus that brings school to their improvised tented camp.
Years of fighting and displacement in Idlib province have wrought chaos for the education of children, destroying schools and scattering families into homelessness across the countryside.
More than 400,000 people have been displaced since April alone, when the Russian-backed regime upped its deadly bombardment of the opposition-dominated enclave.
“These children can’t go to school, it’s too far from where they are,” said Farid Bakir, a local program manager with Syria Relief, the charity that launched the bus project.
In Hazano camp, the children get in line and hope to be among those who squeeze into the bus for a few hours.
A whiteboard is installed in the back, a thick carpet laid on the floor and a few dozen small desks, also used as chairs, are rearranged depending on the activity.
The ceiling is too low for the teacher to stand fully upright but Hussein Ali Azkour, a young boy wearing a yellow T-shirt, is enthusiastic about his classroom-on-wheels.
“The difference between a normal school and the bus, is that the bus is air-conditioned. It’s better than a thousand schools,” he said.
“When we fled here, there was no school and they started bringing the buses. If these buses were to stop coming, we would have no education and learn nothing.”
The buses cater only for ages ranging from five to 12 and include classes in Arabic, mathematics, science and sometimes English, as well as singing and drawing.
Since the project was launched in May, around 1,000 children have benefitted from the bus program, Bakir said.
That is a drop in the ocean of problems children, who represent more than half of the Idlib region’s 3 million inhabitants, are facing. According to Save the Children, the heavy bombardment since late April has damaged or otherwise impacted 87 educational facilities, while a further 200 are being used as shelters for those the violence displaced.
The UK-based NGO says some parents have been pleading with them to shut down schools for fear they would be targeted in regime air strikes.
“As the new school year starts, the remaining functional schools can only accommodate up to 300,000 of the 650,000 school-age children,” it said.
Ragheb Hassoun’s children are among the few who have been fortunate enough to receive a few hours a week of lessons through the bus project, but he says the situation is not tenable.
“We want something permanent — a school on the land where we live,” the 28-year-old said.
He and his family have been displaced several times since the start of the conflict in Syria eight years ago.

NUMBER 300K

schoolchildren out of the 650,000 can be accommodated in the remaining functional schools as the new school year starts, according to Save the Children.

Hassoun said he would be happy if his children could at least go to school during normal hours in a tent at the camp.
This is what children have in a larger camp near Dana, north of the city of Idlib, where the local school is housed under two large UN tents.
The conditions are dire however, with camp manager Hammud Al-Sayah explaining initial planning was done for 50 children, yet attendees now top 375.
Books underarm — or with bags strapped to backs — pupils are squeezed around black desks, while those unable to find a seat perch cross-legged on the floor.
Children who are four or five years apart attend the same classes.
“The pressure is huge,” Sayah said, admitting that the schooling conditions have a serious impact on the quality of education.
At 10 years of age, Abdel Razaq knows that his education is being compromised.
Standing in front of the white tent he has come to call his school, he said he dreams of a big building “where the number of children in each class is lower.”
“And where we could sit comfortably and hear what the teachers are saying.”