CAIRO: As Egyptian authorities clear the debris of the Souq El-Gomaa fire, the area’s residents, who were asked to evacuate, are stuck between a rock and a hard place.
“This market has been around for 40 or 50 years,” said one of the slum’s residents, who preferred to remain anonymous. “It’s not a one, or two year-old market that they could just remove. It’s not possible. Where are you going to move the people to?”
Egyptian authorities are currently examining El-Tonsy Bridge in the Sayeda Aisha district, after a car accident caused a fire that spread through the entire Gomaa market early Tuesday morning, destroying homes and workspaces.
According to MP Abdel Moneim Bekheit, the area’s representative in the People’s Assembly (PA) and the Ministry of Transportation are investigating the incident.
Eyewitnesses say the fire trucks arrived almost three hours after the fire started.
According to Bekheit, a plan was approved in 2008 to move the Gomaa market residents to May 15th City.
“This project was not yet implemented because its strategic planning is still incomplete,” said Bekheit. He explained that residents were supposed to pay half the moving expenses, but is doubtful as to how they will be able to afford it now since most of them lost their money and investments in the fire.
According to the residents, the famous market does not only operate on Fridays, and that namely furniture vendors are “set up all week long, everyday.”
“[The furniture vendors] did not pay for this furniture, they signed IOUs,” Hanan, another resident, told Daily News Egypt.
“We don’t know how many people died [as a result of the fire] but what we know is that three homes were burned down and one of the homeowners is a woman responsible for raising three orphans,” she added.
Hanan said that while the residents have been promised compensation, no action has yet been taken.
“How many years will it take? How will those people feed their children until the government provides us with alternative provisional means?” she asked. “I want them to let us earn our living until they find an alternative, and if they move someone today, then he should have another place by tomorrow.”
Hanan said people shouldn’t be left homeless “until an official moving plan is formulated.”
Another resident, who preferred to remain anonymous, said, “We don’t mind them removing the market, but they should offer a different place for us to go. We did not say no to that.”
“We want the president to come up with a solution for this,” said another resident.
One eyewitness, Um Ahmad, claimed there had been two girls and a boy in the exploding vehicle.
“When we rushed over there to try and rescue them from the flames, the car exploded and was going to burn and kill all of us,” Um Ahmad said.
One anonymous victim said that he went to the district authority for help, but was turned away.
Sayed Tawfik, who operates a small café in the market, said that the damage does not have an affect on the government.
“Everything inside is totally destroyed, it looks like the 6th of October War. If the government had been harmed in any way then they could evict people, but they just can’t find anything to do,” said Tawfik. “They sit in their offices and give eviction orders. That’s all they do.
“They said that they’ve had complaints [about the market], but who could have complained? We are surrounded by cemeteries,” he asked, “Who could have complained; the train that passes every 3-4 hours?” Tawfik asked.
Residents say they have been promised compensation, but no action has yet been taken. (Photo by Ingy Hassieb)