Tuesday, August 26, 2008

Conspiracy claims after Egypt parliament fire

-Cairo - August 2008
-Taken from The Times

When the first flames began to lick the walls of the Shoura building, a 19th-century palace in the heart of Cairo, only a few passers-by noticed. Two hours later the palace, which houses the upper assembly of the Egyptian parliament, was an inferno and thousands watched helicopters ferrying buckets of water from the Nile as black smoke bellowed over the capital.

By the time the fire was beaten, leaving one fireman dead and 16 injured, Cairo was filled with conspiracy theories.

The official account, which identified an electrical short circuit as the cause, has been contradicted by a stream of evidence leaked to independent newspapers and blogs, leaving the Government's credibility in tatters.

Some specialists — including General Fouad Alam, a former high-ranking state security official who now works as a terrorism expert — have suggested that only arson could have been the cause, provoking fierce debate over who would have gained from the burning of the palace.

One answer could lie in the ashes of the parliamentary library, where papers related to a series of corruption cases were held. Business figures linked to President Mubarak have been implicated recently in scandals ranging from the supply of contaminated blood bags to hospitals to a train fire in Upper Egypt that killed 370 passengers. Last month the courts acquitted Mamduh Ismail, a ferry operator and member of the upper house, of any responsibility for the sinking of one of his boats in 2006 that led to more than a thousand people drowning — a verdict that caused outrage.

“Arson is a safe way in Egypt for corrupt officials to get rid of important documents and files,” claimed Mohsen Radi, an MP for the Muslim Brotherhood organisation.

The daily newspaper el-Badeel claimed that the building had no adequate fire-protection system and witnesses were quoted as saying that fire crews took up to two and a half hours to begin tackling the blaze, even though there were many fire engines stationed permanently near by.

It was also revealed that engineers inside the building had attempted to reach the third floor with fire extinguishers, only to find a group of state security officials barring their way on the stairs. The state-owned printing presses were ordered not to print the paper and it never reached the streets, although The Times has obtained digital copies of the banned edition.

The Government has dismissed allegations of arson. “Please let us focus on the problem without misleading people with those worthless rumours,” Abdel Azim Wazir, Governor of Cairo, said. Stung by accusations of incompetence and deception, the Government has formed a committee to investigate the fire. It is hoped that the building will reopen for the start of a new parliamentary session in November.

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