Municipal Governance Reform is Key to Prevent Another Church Fire



Negligence, randomness, and corruption can be more fatal than a terrorist attack. The horrific accident of the burning church in Giza, yesterday, is a painful reminder on this fact. How to prevent another similar accident from killing innocent citizens, while practicing their normal routines, in worship houses, markets, or even in their homes, is the main question that the Egyptian state should work on figuring out, in the coming period.


Unfortunately, the fires caused by electric circuit interruptions and poorly maintained electric devices, that are installed at an ill-designed buildings with almost no means of protection against accidents, are not a rare occurrence in Egypt. A month can hardly pass without reading about an electric fire, caused by an air conditioner, an electric heater or even a worn-out electric wire, that had sparked a massive fire at a private home, a restaurant, a workshop, a worship house, or even a governmental bureau.


Most of the time, the loss of lives and damage of properties, in these accidents, is magnified by the lack of proper tools of protection or the random location and flawed design of the affected building that delays or completely hinders firemen and security forces from access. Sadly, Abu Seifin Church, that has been mercilessly eaten by an electric fire, yesterday, is one living example on that.


No terrorist attack on an Egyptian church has ever been able to cause a damage as big as the damage caused by the electric short circuit that set on fire Abu Seifin Church in Giza, yesterday. The most horrific terrorist attacks, in that category, are the terrorist bombings that targeted St. Peter’s Church (Al-Potrosiya) in Cairo in 2016 and All Saints Church (Al-Kidiseen) in Alexandria in 2011. The former killed 25 Coptic Christian citizens, while the latter killed a total of 21 people.


In comparison, the electric fire at Abu Seifin Church has swept at least 41 lives, half of them are children at an age range of 3 to 16 years old. That is in addition to dozens of injuries and severe damages in the residential building that is incubating the church. According to security forces and eye witnesses, a high-voltage electric currency that ran through a low-quality wire after a brief interruption in electricity supply blazed fire at the church, while dozens of Coptic Christians, living in that neighborhood, were gathering to preform Sunday prayers.


The floor where the church exists, which also includes a nursery room for pre-school children, is not equipped by proper tools to extinguish fire. Also, the building has no emergency exits for the people stuck inside to escape the fire. As a result, most of the deaths and injuries were caused by panic rush of the people who witnessed the fire. Most of the children died as a result of being suffocated by the heavy smoke that fill in their closed, poorly ventilated, nursery room.


The logical question that should be roaming your mind, after knowing how the Abu Seifin church fire erupted, is how a warship house visited by hundreds of people every week, and is also operating a nursery, lacks these basic tools of protection against accidents.


The honest answer is because the employees at municipal councils are not making their job. They are no breaking a sweat to at least ensure that important buildings in the area under their governance are capable of operating appropriately and are properly protected against life-threatening situations of emergency.


Why the municipal councils are not doing their job? Because they are infected with deep-rooted corruption, and most of the leading employees at these councils have been keeping their seats for decades, with almost no accountability on their uncaring performance. Since president El-Sisi took power, in 2014, the state made several promises to reform the municipal council system of governance through running elections. Yet, this has never happened.


The agony of losing dozens of innocent lives, including children, in a friction of second, is a sounding alert to the Egyptian state to start with the long-delayed program of reforming municipal councils. The deep-rooted corruption at the local governance system is, to a great extent, responsible for the Abu Seifin church fire and other accidents that hurt hundreds of citizens every year.


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