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The dead of the Salem Express

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Sara Abou Bakr

Sara Abou Bakr

Out of all the dive sites in the Red Sea, the Salem Express wreck is known among divers as the most depressing. In 1991, the passenger ferry carrying pilgrims back from Saudi Arabia sunk 18 metres under the turbulent waters of Safaga’s sea, killing all most of its passengers

Resting on its side, the twisted metal has become home to a multitude of sea creatures, who live amongst the stories of the dead.  Open suitcases strewn all over the bottom of the ship, cassette tapes, baby sheets and a baby carriage draw your attention first. Some suitcases are embossed, heartbreakingly, with ‘Bon Voyage’.

Stacks of blankets still bound together by rope, known in Egypt as “the poor man’s traveling comfort”, lie all over the sunken ferry. Egypt’s poor cannot afford the plane ticket to Mecca, so they opt for the ferry from Safaga. They save money throughout the year to perform the pilgrimage, answering the call from God for Muslims to visit His House on earth.

Officially nearly 500 people died in the shipwreck. Unofficially, the figure is closer to a thousand.

The owner, Haj Salem Abel Razeq was found innocent of any wrongdoing; the ship and owner had the necessary permits and safety and insurance documents.

In 2006 another passenger ferry sunk, killing 1,066 people, most of whom were also returning from the pilgrimage. The ferry caught fire, trapping the passengers inside before sinking. All those investigated, including the ship’s owner Mamdouh Salem, a close friend of Mubarak-era Minister Zakeria Azmy, were found innocent of all charges of negligence.

A retrial was ordered after pressure from grieving family members and Salem was found guilty, but disappeared in Europe with the help of Azmy. He was never caught.

These are only two examples of the way Egyptians lived under Mubarak. The way they were treated; viewed as expendable. This is the same way they are treated under the government of the first “democratically elected” president.

Forty children died in a train accident in Assuit, due to negligence and poor rail repairs, several months ago. A trial was ordered and instead of suing the ministry of transportation and the minister for endangering lives, they are now trying the train driver as well as other “minions” in this charade.

Activists were tortured and killed by the presidential palace last December by pro-Morsi supporters and to this day, no culprit has been apprehended.

Several people were killed in fights over gas cylinders last week. People stand in lines for hours to get a gas cylinder, now offered at EGP 10 each, if there is stock under the failing government. For someone who makes $2.50 a month, apparently this can drive them to kill.

Muslims and Christians in Egypt suffer from bouts of sectarian violence, almost on a weekly basis now. The polarisation, led by the current president and his Brotherhood, has put everyone on edge, supplemented by the selective justice lead by the current Morsi-picked Ikhwani prosecutor general.

But according to the Minister of Justice Ahmed Mekki, there is nothing called a failing government for an “unfit” people: “those who are ruled are the reason for the failure of their rulers”. The minister, who lost his temper on TV and blurted out this sentence, single-handedly managed to explain to many bewildered Egyptians why the current government is a failure: they refuse to admit their mistakes.

Currently, Egypt is the textbook definition of bad governance.

The problem is not the above fact.

The problem is the refusal of the regime to admit their inability to run a country as diversified as Egypt, continuing down the path of economic and social doom.

Egyptians are different now; they know the value of a single life and if Morsi and his Brotherhood think that Egyptians are all ferry passengers, they are in for a quite a surprise.

About the author

Sara Abou Bakr

Politics editor at Daily News Egypt Twitter: @sara_ab5


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