OPED: Egypt. Priorities. Maspero? Or trains?
Earlier this week AhramOnline posted the following story:
Deadly train accidents in Egypt: A Timeline (1992 – 2012): Egypt’s atrocious railway safety record is back in the spotlight after 19 Central Security Forces recruits die in a train derailment in Badrashin on Monday
Let’s review the last six months of 2012 from the Ahram report:
- July 2012: Two trains collide in Badrashin, injuring 44.
- October 2012: Train crashes into several cars in Qalyub, Qalubiya governorate killing six and injuring dozens.
- November 2012: Two trains collide near Fayoum in Upper Egypt killing three people, including the driver, and injuring 46.
- November 2012: Train crashes into a bus carrying schoolchildren on a railway crossing in Manfalout village, Assiut governorate. Kills 51, mostly children, injures 17.
Sixty Egyptians killed in train crashes… the most shocking and heart-breaking being the Assuit crash which killed 51 schoolchildren.
One would think the horrific safety record of the Egyptian railway system would be an absolute priority for President Morsi’s Muslim Brotherhood government.
Given the declining economy and the “sort-of-kind-of-announced” future austerity measures (increased taxes and severe price increases), one would think the government would be tightening its belt and only spending in areas that would address critical infrastructure needs and, as a bonus, creating much-needed jobs for Egyptians.
One would think.
Which makes this 14 January 2013 news item seem incredibly curious:
Information Minister Salah Abdel Maqsoud met with Ismail al-Shishtawy, president of the Radio and Television Union, to discuss the launch of two new state-run channels. – Egypt Independent
That’s right, more state media. Because the Muslim Brotherhood thinks expanding Maspero is a great investment opportunity for the Egyptian government? Or six months into power they now desire their own propaganda machine to replace the once despised Mubarak era propaganda machine?
Let’s establish that this is not a wise investment opportunity:
… Egypt’s colossal state media complex – which comprises eight TV channels, numerous radio stations, dozens of newspapers and magazines and 46,000 employees in Cairo alone… “Corruption is so deeply entrenched in these buildings, and so much money has been squandered,” claims Shahira Amin, a former deputy head of the state-run Nile TV news channel, who resigned at the start of the demonstrations… – Egypt’s media undergo their own revolution, The Guardian, 21 February 2011
“Maspero is suffering from an over-inflated administrative structure” says Hisham Kassem, a prominent Egyptian media publisher. “However, laying off excess labour in Maspero will result in early retirement of 90 per cent of its 80 thousand employees. The costs of running Maspero are much higher than advertisement income. If Maspero’s government-allocated budget is announced – and sooner or later it will be – a revolution of its own will occur. After the announcement, the people will not accept to continue subsidising Maspero. Subsidies should be cut and Maspero should start operating for profits.” – Egypt’s state media: Obstacles on the road to freedom of speech, AhramOnline, 4 August 2011
Sadly, serious debate about expanding Maspero was quickly eclipsed in the news later that evening when we learned of this horrifying news:
… a military train crash in the Giza neighbourhood of Badrashin, about 40 km (25 miles) west of Cairo… A train carrying young recruits to a police camp derailed in a Cairo suburb on Tuesday, killing 19 people and injuring 107… – AhramOnline
So about that plan to expand state-run media? Is that still a higher spending priority for the Morsi government than rail safety?
These kinds of misplaced priorities during a time of economic crisis coupled with an aging, crumbling infrastructure and massive unemployment should make for easy pickings for any opposition forces preparing to run against the Muslim Brotherhood government in the upcoming elections.
I mean really, how do you justify spending untold millions expanding an already bloated and financially hemorrhaging state-run media propaganda machine when crippling taxes and price hikes are coming for 40+ million poor and working-class Egyptians?
How does the Muslim Brotherhood expect to get away with this massive, unjustified waste of taxpayer money? Surely the opposition forces would pound the Morsi government into oblivion for even suggesting spending more money expanding state media when Egypt’s rail, health care, housing, road system… you-name-it systems are crumbling and putting lives at risk every day.
Opposition? Anybody? Hello? Pound into oblivion? Priorities? Message? Hello? Opposition? Anybody?