Egypt appoints military officer as transportation minister


CAIRO (AP) — Egypt’s president appointed a military officer to lead the country’s transportation ministry on Sunday, less than two weeks after its minister resigned over a deadly train crash in Cairo that killed 25 people.

The announcement underscores President Abdel-Fattah el-Sissi’s penchant for military leadership in key positions. Hailing from the military himself, El-Sissi served as defense minister before leading the overthrow of an Islamist leader in 2013, then assumed the presidency in 2014.

The state-run MENA news agency said Parliament, which is stacked with el-Sissi supporters, approved the president’s pick, Maj. Gen. Kamal el-Wazir, the head of the military’s engineering authority, as transportation minster. The former minister, Hisham Arafat, resigned hours after the crash.

The engineering authority is the force behind the military’s myriad projects and the country’s mega-plans, including the $45 billion new administrative capital under construction in the desert, about 45 kilometers (28 miles) east of Cairo.

El-Sissi spoke on occasion of the “Martyrs’ Day,” a military commemoration for its late chief of staff, Gen. Abdel-Moneim Riad, who was killed by Israeli artillery on March 9, 1969, during sporadic fighting that followed the 1967 Mideast war.

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The Egyptian leader said he has tasked “one of the best officers in the military” to overhaul the antiquated railway network.

“You have to introduce a new railway network to the Egyptians by June 2020,” el-Sissi told el-Wazir at the ceremony, while also promoting the minister to lieutenant-general.

El-Wazir, who wore his military uniform, pledged to “work around the clock” to revamp not just the railway system but all facilities under his ministry.

Eleven people have been arrested over the Feb. 27 crash when an unmanned locomotive slammed into a barrier inside Cairo’s main Ramses train station, causing a huge explosion and a fire. Authorities quickly ruled out terrorism and later said the tragedy was triggered by a brawl between two train drivers.

Egypt is facing multiple crises and has been battling Islamic militants, mainly in restive Sinai Peninsula where the insurgency is based. El-Sissi’s government has also waged a massive crackdown on dissent while at the same time struggling to revamp the country’s economy.

The country’s run-down railway system is badly in need of overhaul after a series of deadly crashes in recent years. It has a history of badly maintained equipment and poor management. The most recent publicized official figures show that 1,793 train accidents took place in 2017 across the country.

In July, a passenger train derailed near the southern city of Aswan, injuring at least six people and prompting authorities to fire the chief of the country’s railways.

El-Sissi said Sunday his government has been working for years on a costly plan to upgrade the poorly-maintained network, buying train cars and other equipment from European and U.S. manufacturers to automate the system and develop a domestic railcar industry.

Last March, el-Sissi said the government lacks about 250 billion Egyptian pounds, or $14.1 billion, to overhaul the run-down rail system. El-Sissi spoke a day after a passenger train collided with a cargo train, killing at least 12 people, including a child.

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In August 2017, two passenger trains collided just outside the Mediterranean port city of Alexandria, killing 43 people. And in 2016, at least 51 people were killed when two commuter trains collided near Cairo.

The deadliest train crash took place in 2002 when over 300 people were killed when fire erupted in speeding train traveling from Cairo to southern Egypt.

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