Today I got inordinately excited by the sight of a helicopter taking water out of the
I then felt slightly nauseous when I discovered that the emergency services’ response to the huge fire in the Shura Council was identical to its response to any event involving the gathering of ten or more people: throw huge numbers of central security troops at them.
I walked to the fire across Qasr El Nil bridge, watching the helicopter scooping up water and throwing it (rather ineffectually) all over the Shura Council.
Arriving outside Qasr El Nil there was the predictable scene of chaos, caused mostly by the police, whose sole purpose in life seems to stop journalists standing still for more than 10 seconds. It is impossible to overstate how irritating it is, when you are trying to photograph something, to have some bloke waving you away like a chicken escaped from its coop.
The strategy tonight was to line the corners of the road opposite the Shura Council with a semi-effective police cordon, theoretically to keep people back. Its effect was to herd the crowds directly into the path of huge fire trucks trying to reverse out of the Shura Council into Qasr El 3ini Street.
We milled around Qasr El 3ini trying to avoid herded away and get photos and then decided to walk round the circumference of the Shura Council.
A bonkers man outside the AUC insisted that the Pig take a photo of him giving the thumbs up against a background of the fire while he shouted “ENTA AKEED FE MASR.”
On the Falaki side the fire was huge. We found a load of kids who had turned the roof of a bus into an impromptu viewing platform while below them a really old policeman roared at them to get down. He then preceded to chase kids who jumped down waving a tree branch at them in a scene which was part comedy, part tragedy.
This part of the evening, in a back street without any security presence apart from the old bloke was slightly anarchic, and slightly intimidating. At least for a lady.
Wanting to get a view from above, we attempted to bribe several bawwabs into letting us up but succeeded in stumbling across the most noble bawwabs in the world. Not for love nor money could we go up. The residents would get angry. We eventually though found a building with a separate fire escape staircase used by the people living on the roof, and an absent bawwab.
Alas we discovered the fact that it is only the fire escape leads to the roof only after climbing seven flights of the indoor stairs, at which point my patience began to wear thin but unfortunately not my thighs, despite the intense workout they were given.
The view from the roof was worth the terror of the ascent: the fire had completely consumed that side of the Shura Council, as you will see in the video if a miracle has happened and I have succeeded in uploading it.
My legs almost giving way, I left the fire at about 11 p.m. by which time it was starting to die down slightly.
I left terrified at the prospect of what would happen if, God forbid,
What was really galling was that they did not even close Qasr El 3ini Street – Qasr El 3ini!! The street they close whenever a minister farts in its general direction. This was baffling, and the decision to leave traffic flowing through it and obstruct the passage of fire engines is testament to an extremely poor emergency response plan. Or, even worse, the complete absence of one.
Note on videos below (because I don’t know how to annotate them without deleting them)
1. Shows the excellent helicopter doing its thing. I was standing on Qasr El Nil bridge.
2. View from left-hand side of main gates of Shura Council on Qasr El 3ini. Fire engines fighting their way through.
3. View from roof of building opposite the Shura Council, Falaki side. Shura Council completely in flames.
4. Left-hand side again.
**Special thanks to Zoss, who donated this video camera**