Egypt court convicts officials over rockslide

Egypt court convicts officials over rockslide

A Cairo court sentenced on Wednesday the deputy governor of Cairo and 7 others to jail for their role in a massive rockslide that left over 100 people dead in an impoverished Cairo area in 2008.

“The court has ruled in favor of punishing Mahmoud Yassin, deputy governor of Cairo, with five years of hard labor … on charges of manslaughter and unintentional damage,” Judge Khaled Mahgoub said in his ruling.

Following the incident, government critics said the authorities had spent too much time blaming the deaths on low level officials, but the recent court case has gone a long way to help restore limited belief in justice, said Duwayqa resident Amr Tarek, who witnessed what he recalled as “horrific” when massive rocks fell from the surrounding cliffs on the homes in the area.

“We thought nothing would come of this, but at least the government is making some attempt at justice for us,” he began. “It won’t bring back our loved ones, but if responsibility is given to people maybe the future will be better.”

Deputy Governor Yassin was not present at the sentencing and can appeal the verdict upon paying 5,000 Egyptian pounds ($890) in bail.

The other officials received three year jail terms.

Amnesty International’s 2009 report, “Buried Alive: Trapped by Poverty and Neglect in Cairo’s Informal Settlements” details the Egyptian government’s failure to protect residents of al-Duwayqa, an informal settlement in the poor Manshiyet Nasr area of Cairo.

In September 2008, a massive rockslide hit the area, destroying scores of homes, killing more than 100 people and wounding dozens others in what has resulted in widespread controversy over Cairo’s apparent failure to act before the slide occurred.

The report details 26 other “unsafe areas” in the Greater Cairo area and calls on authorities to protect residents with adequate housing. According to Amnesty, the Egyptian government was well aware of the dangers of rockslides in the area, but “did not evacuate the impoverished residents before the 2008 disaster.”

According to some estimates, including the Muslim Brotherhood’s official website, around 500 people were killed when the rocks slammed into their makeshift homes.

The government must develop a comprehensive program of action to address the risks faced by those living in “unsafe areas” and to uphold their rights to life, health and adequate housing,” added Amnesty’s Middle East and North Africa director Malcom Smart.

“In doing so, they must seek the active participation of the affected communities, and they must be prepared to provide temporary housing promptly to people needing to be evacuated because of immediate risks, as well as permanent housing.”

The area is sandwiched between the capital’s sprawling metropolis and the Muqattam hills, where ongoing real estate projects continue. A number of observers argued shortly after the incident that the construction on the mountain may have been the cause of the massive stone slabs to tumble off the mountain and onto the area.

Duwayqa was largely an “ashwayi’at,” or shantytown, and when the stones fell, there was no warning for the area’s residents. The government was slow to respond, only days after the incident, bringing in the army to help search for bodies and remove the debris that had begun to cause the smell of decay and death to grow.

Journalists were barred from the area by security forces and cameras were not allowed into the area less than 24 hours after the incident. The slide caused widespread anger against the Egyptian government, as activists believed the response was slow and was not appropriate to the needs of Egyptian citizens.

Republished With Premission From Bikya Masr