What’s the use of journalism in Egypt ?

The drawing sketch of a kindergartner carrying an emblem of the Egyptian revolution adjacent to the blood-stained train. Source of photo @masrya_83

Egyptians are once again confronted with and unified in the only thing that has sustained their togetherness: calamity.

Fifty kindergartners, at least, have died  in the split of a second as their bus moved recklessly past a dysfunctional level crossing only to be hit and dragged by the incoming train for close to 2000 meters, according to witnesses.

17 of those kids have reportedly survived, only in words. A life of woe, trauma, and disbelief may still haunt them for good.

The body parts of 4 to 6 year olds on their way to school were scattered in the radius of almost 2 kilometers. And bereaved family members had them collected in plastic bags as they desperately waited for an ambulance that came more than an hour late.

The specifics of a failing level crossing system, if any, may not be needed to cite. It’s not any different from the tragic litany of train crashes or road bloodshed this country has endured for decades.

But what has caught my attention in the midst of all this is a revealing investigative report published almost two months ago on Al Masry Al Youm website.

5.5 million pounds have been allocated earlier this year for the mere renovation of the crumbling level crossings across Egypt’s beleaguered railways. Albeit on paper. For nothing of this money ever moved beyond ink on paper, the report reveals.

The reporter  has simply toured across various crossings in Egypt to find evidence of any improvement or renovation projects but found none.

Level crossings across the impoverished upper Egypt were supposed to be completely renovated from January till April for a sum of 1.5 million pounds. No one knows in which pocket has this money now found way.

It’s a sad story.

I don’t know what the reporter who managed to reveal this corruption feels at the sight of blood stains she had wished to play a role in preventing. I feel absolutely sorry for her and equally for journalism. The brilliant information-digging she did for public interest has gone no where.

“A two-month year old investigation on corruption within the railway authority,” Ahmed Ragab, an investigative reporter with Al Masry Al Youm, tweeted his colleague’s work with much lament yesterday.

Many of us who got into journalism, particularly among this young generation, had hopes for cultivating real impact on people’s lives. Comforting the afflicted and afflicting the comfortable is the mantra that has been driving many of us. But in Egypt, it seems the comfortable is getting more comfort and the afflicted will have to bear more suffering.

It looks like a time of disillusionment for many. I know we’re not supposed to wield influence on power by every story we do. But the unmatched tragic loss of life at this accident should get us to start questioning what’s even wrong beyond the sphere and capacity of the press?

Most stories of death-by-torture in the country’s notorious police stations and detention centers have always found little or no recourse in a criminal justice system that needs to be upended. I could still recall a story I uncovered in 2010 of a young man in a poor neighborhood of Alexandria who was tortured to death.

The case of Ahmed Shaaban made its way to several international media outlets and triggered an Amnesty international statement before it made its way to a local press busy with an election season. Several local activist groups have launched protests in support. But the pressure the victim’s family had to sustain along with the continuous threats they received from the local police force had them acquiesce and finally agree to put the investigation on the shelf.

It seems across all aspects of injustice in this country, the state machinery is the actual culprit. Whoever (de)formed this bureaucracy and filled almost all legal frameworks with countless loopholes, designed to favor the powerful against the powerless in startling consistency, should be indicted with premeditated murder.

And the Muslim Brotherhood who have blatantly hijacked the Egyptian revolution are another culprit. They have deliberately reduced the radical changes everyone hoped for to mere time-serving and cosmetic reforms. The “Renaissance” project of their false prophets has revived nothing but Mubarakist practices spiced up with Islamic undertows of morality.

In fact, it’s not the first time Egypt’s railway system soaks in blood. A simple Google search can lead you into a tragic litany of accidents. Even during Mubarak’s era, transport officials got fired for similar events. What has changed? Nothing.

A simple reading into the body-count of road and railway accidents in Egypt every year is shocking. According to the World Health Organization, Egypt loses about 12000 lives each year to road accidents. Five months in power, has the Muslim Brotherhood’s second-choice president Morsi initiated or even pondered a pro-active policy to prevent this systematic bloodshed ?

The tragic accident is likely to follow the typical path such horrendous acts of public negligence tend to go through: firing an official, holding a low-level employee accountable, and offering embarrassing reparations for bereaved families. But nothing will touch the crumbling state machinery the Muslim Brotherhood has proven to be adamantly wanting to preserve as is.

This tragedy will likely be a defining moment for many who wished good for Egypt after the revolution. For the families of the dead and injured, I ran out of euphemisms that could be used to console their loss. For the Egyptian press and a nucleus vanguard of anti-establishment journalists, I wish nothing but the ability to resist a persisting state of disillusionment.

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