A speeding train that crashed into a bus carrying Egyptian children to their kindergarten killed 51 and prompted a wave of anger against a government under mounting pressure to rectify the former regime’s legacy of neglect.
The crash, which killed children between four and six years old and three adults, led to local protests and accusations from outraged Egyptians that President Mohammed Morsi is failing to deliver on the demands of last year’s uprising for basic rights, dignity and social justice.
The accident left behind a mangled shell of a bus twisted underneath the blood-splattered train outside the city of Assiut, some 200 miles south of Cairo. Children’s body parts, their books, schoolbags and tiny socks were strewn along the tracks.
Um Ibrahim, a mother whose three children were on the bus, pulled her hair in grief.
“My children! I didn’t feed you before you left,” she wailed in horror. A witness said the train pushed the bus along the tracks for nearly half a mile.
As one man picked up pieces of shattered limbs he screamed: “Only God can help!”
More than a dozen injured children were being treated in two different facilities, many with severed limbs and in critical condition.
Several hours after the accident, Mr Morsi appeared on state television, promising an investigation and financial compensation for victims’ families. His transport minister and the head of Egypt’s railways resigned.
“Those responsible for this accident will be held accountable,” Mr Morsi said.
The response, his critics say, comes too little too late. For months, transport workers have been complaining about poor management and poor working conditions. The accident falls exactly one week after two trains collided south of Cairo, killing four people.
While many train accidents in Egypt are blamed on an outdated system that relies heavily on switch operators instead of automated signalling, the high death toll and fact that nearly all those killed were young children will likely give ammunition to Mr Morsi’s critics who say he has done little to improve life for ordinary Egyptians.
Opposition activists have accused Mr Morsi of continuing the mistakes of his predecessor by not overhauling government services. They say he is too focused on foreign policy while moving slowly to tackle a myriad of domestic problems.
A day before the accident in al-Mandara village in Assiut province, the president positioned Egypt as a new Arab champion for the Palestinians. But with more children killed in the accident than by Israeli bombs in the Gaza Strip since an escalation in fighting this week, he is already being called on to refocus efforts at home.
“The blood of people in Assiut is more important than Gaza,” said Sheik Mohammed Hassan, a village elder speaking at the scene of the accident.