BADRASHEEN, Egypt – Packed in a rickety train speeding through the night, the poorly fed, pale-looking Egyptian conscripts were coming from some of Egypt’s most dirt-poor villages to serve in one of the most miserable, lowly jobs of the security forces – as grunts in an anti-riot force usually deployed against protesters.
At a station just outside of Cairo before dawn Tuesday, the train’s last car jumped the track, slammed into a parked train, then was dragged for several kilometers. The car was torn to pieces, young recruits were sent flying along the tracks, and others were mangled.
In the end, 19 recruits mostly in their early 20s were killed and more than 100 were injured, some with arms or legs torn off.
The accident was the latest example of Egypt’s decrepit infrastructure turning lethal for the country’s poorest – and a reminder that the revolution two years ago has brought no relief in the lives of a population where poverty is worsening. The crash brought a new wave of anger at Islamist President Mohammed Morsi for failing to carry out reforms or overhaul the country’s crumbling public services.
Morsi’s supporters say such criticism is unfair, that he can’t immediately fix the result of years of neglect and poor administration from ousted autocrat Hosni Mubarak’s 29-year rule. The Mubarak era saw a string of train fires, crashes and a ferry sinking, some killing hundreds at a time.
Still, the anger was brewing Tuesday. After daybreak, a military helicopter hovering over the wreckage of the train enraged bystanders gathered at the site near Badrasheen station, 12 miles south of Cairo.
Where were you when the accident happened? men shouted, waving at the helicopter. Nearby, blood-stained train seats were scattered along the track, along with shoes and clothes and the shredded shell of the train car.
Hundreds of protesters massed in Cairo’s main train station, chanting, The people want to topple the regime, the main slogan of the uprising that ousted Mubarak in February 2011.