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As a member of parliament in 2002, Mohamed Morsi called for the entire cabinet of ministers to be removed after a train caught fire in Upper Egypt, claiming the lives of 373 people. In a heated speech, he placed the blame on the government of then Prime Minister Atef Ebeid, and called for all involved to be punished. Now president of the country, he gave a much more sedated speech when a bus carrying kindergarten children collided with an oncoming train, claiming the lives of over 50, most of them, the young passengers of the bus.

In his recent statement, Morsi called for a swift investigation into the cause of the tragic accident, adding that all those responsible would be referred to the prosecutor general. Many were quick to compare Morsi’s reaction to the train crash in Assiut to his reaction to the attack on Gaza. The Assiut train crash is the worst accident the country has witnessed since he took office, but for some, his response did little to inspire confidence, and earned him yet more comparisons to his predecessor, the deposed Hosni Mubarak. A slow response time along with an attempt to scapegoat the previous regime for today’s tragedies was met with an avalanche of anger. Attempts to dispatch his Prime Minister to Assiut, as he did in Gaza, were unsuccessful when angered Assiut residents blocked his entrance.

The failed system that Morsi criticized in 2002 has seen little change in the past 10 years. Egyptian railroads continue to use manually operated crossing barriers, a system which leaves far too much room for human error. The Assiut train accident comes on the heels of a crash in Fayoum which left 3 dead after two trains collided.

Members of the opposition have seized the opportunity to continue to criticize Morsi’s government. The April 6 Movement called for the formation of a new national coalition government, while Mohamed ElBaradei’s Constitution Party said in a statement, "The consecutive road accidents are the result of the failure of past governments – the continuation [of these incidents] is a sign that the current government lacks political vision and fails to rightly prioritize."

Morsi prioritizing his foreign policy over domestic issues was also a recurring criticism heard in the wake of the accident. A parent who lost his child in the accident called on Morsi to visit Assiut, and to address Egypt’s problems before looking to the problems in Gaza.

The Muslim Brotherhood’s Freedom and Justice Party (FJP) lauded the resignation of the Minister of Transport, describing it in an official statement as "a democratic tradition Egypt missed in the past." The FJP added that it hopes "investigations into this incident would not come up with the usual culprit, that ghost called "neglect", as they invariably did in the past."

One point all political forces were clearly in agreement on was the need for a complete overhaul of both the railroad system and the transport ministry. In its statement, the Popular Current said “The full development of Egypt’s rail system has become an issue of intolerable delay. Any disruption to [improvements in the rail system] is complicity in death.”

The train crash highlights that little has changed and Morsi’s government faces seemingly insurmountable challenges in addressing the many issues that have festered through years of corruption, mismanagement and neglect. Unfortunately, neglect continues to play a starring role in current day Egypt. In addition to the, yet to be confirmed, cause behind the train crash, the followup to the accident likely cost more lives. The hospital that received the wounded was painfully under equipped, lacking the most basic of supplies to handle the injuries. The police reportedly took two hours to reach the scene of the accident, while only one ambulance was sent out initially. An eyewitness told Ahram Online, "By the time they sent a well-equipped ambulance, the children had died."

In addition to the resignation of the Minister of Transport and National Railway Authority head, the government has offered monetary compensation to families of the victims, to the amount of 40,000EGP ($6,500) per family. The families have been calling instead for accountability, a rare commodity in both pre- and post-revolution Egypt. How long can the current government continue to wash its hands of incidents that occur under its watch, placing the blame on the past?   

The defense lawyer of one of the railway workers under investigation for the crash stated that repeated requests for repairs at the Assiut railroad crossing were ignored. In the Mubarak era a train catching on fire, taking the lives of almost 400 was not enough to galvanize the government into action. In Morsi’s era, this presents the biggest opportunity yet for his administration to restore Egypt’s confidence in its government. 

Photo Credit: AP