Fire at Maglis Shura

Crowds watch the Maglis al-Shura burn

Yesterday the upper house of the Egyptian parliament, the Shura Council, was engulfed in flames. The century-old building, or at least its upper floors, have been completely destroyed and the fire threatened to spread to the lower house of parliament, the People's Assembly. These institutions are among the oldest representative assemblies in the Arab world, since Egypt has had some form of at least consultative parliamentarism since around the 1870s, before many European countries.

Unfortunately, many Egyptians don't put much stock in parliament these days, which is often seen as a den of thieves, corrupt businessmen-MPs, or just plain ineffectual. Several times last night as I went out to see the blaze I heard people make jokes about how they hoped the senators where still in there (especially Safwat al-Sherif, the head of the Council) or how this was revenge for the highly unpopular new traffic law. Although it was announced early on that the fire was caused by an electrical problem, there is an automatic rejection of this explanation (although no other explanation is offered. An investigation is underway, and four people were hospitalized yesterday.

Upper floors of Maglis Shura

Of course in the current fin-de-regime atmosphere, some would like to think that an Egyptian Guy Fawkes was behind this. The leftist paper Al Badeel was censored last night because of its coverage of the fire. But considering that electrical fires are incredibly common, having been the cause of major train and ferry disasters in the last few years, the official explanation remains plausible.

As I went out last night and took pictures of the blaze, I noticed that inside the parliamentary compound not everyone was busy trying to put out the fire (which took nine hours, since there is so much wood in the structure). The employees below obviously had greater priorities.

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