CAIRO:On Friday, 17 persons died of smoke inhalation in a basement restaurant after the only exit was firebombed, setting the place ablaze.
Those who threw the molotov cocktails have been arrested, but many are asking how a place in violation of many basic safety standards was able to operate.
“Every authority was involved in issuing licenses to this place despite lack of minimum safety conditions, should be held accountable,” said TV Presenter Tamer Amin on his show on Hayah Channel.
Amin added, “Egyptian souls are lost so easily due to administrative mistakes and awful bureaucratic corruption.”
El-Sayyad was licensed as a three-star tourist restaurant and a bar in 2006, and is located between residential buildings overlooking the Nile River in Agouza; a small suburb of Giza.
The venue is below the ground level of the street, with no windows and only one narrow entrance opened for patrons, who has to pass through two doors separated by half a meter
The Cairo Post was not able to enter, and quoted people and eyewitnesses who previously entered the restaurant to describe it.
Speaking to The Cairo Post Sunday, a doorman of a nearby building, who said he was acquainted with the layout inside, said that there is another door for workers but has been chained for a “long time.”
Masked men threw firebombs Friday at the only working entry and exit, trapping the victims who are mostly of the bar’s staff members and leaving them for their fate inside a poor ventilated place filled with thick smoke.
One of the victims is called Samir; a teacher who lives near the bar and happened to be there after a phone from his friend’s son, who works at the place, calling for his help when the fire erupted.
Omm Mohamed, the mother of one of the victims, described the place saying “it is like a workshop not a restaurant,” in phone call to Dream TV channel on Sunday. She argued that the attitude of some of those who used to come to the place was “thuggery.”
She used to accompany her daughter every day to work. “My daughter Nada used to change her clothes in the bathroom…there were no windows, where she sometimes could not breathe well while dancing.”
Licensing nightclubs in Egypt
There are differences between licensing a tourist restaurant, a bar and a nightclub; for example, a nightclub is usually large in size and includes shows and performances, like: bands and dancers, while the other two do not.
The three can serve alcohol by acquiring liquor license. A security source of Giza investigative, requested anonymity, told The Cairo Post that El-Sayyad restaurant acquired one.
The licenses of the attacked restaurant were issued by the Tourism Ministry, a step preceded by a confirmation from the civil protection authority on the place’s safety measures.
The ministry has moved to inspect the restaurant after the attack, undersecretary of the ministry Abdel Fattah el-Assy told Al-Masry al-Youm newspaper, noting that the ministry “regularly sends inspection campaigns on the licensed restaurants.”
Attempts by The Cairo Post to get comments from the tourism ministry were not successful. Also, accurate information about licensed nightclubs in Egypt was difficult to acquire from concerned bodies.
Suzan Samir, general director of tourism department in Giza governorate, reasoned the lack of statistics on tourist installations serving alcohol and offering art performances as due to “conflicted laws and decisions from both the governorate and the Tourism Ministry,” in her statements to Al-Masry Al-Youm news paper.
Samir, however, assured that there “are only nine licensed nightclubs in Giza since 1989.”
Youm7 quoted a security source anonymously as saying that there are some 411 licensed tourist restaurants, bars and nightclubs in Cairo and Giza, while around 800 others are operating without licenses.
Licenses of night clubs in Egypt has been renewed every two years until in April 2013, when the Ministry of Tourism extended the period to be three years instead, in a way to lower expenses on such places that have witnessed a downfall since the January 25 Revolution, according to Al-Arabiyah network website.
The attack was proved criminal and any terrorist motives were ruled out, however, it has raised concerns of foreign teams participating in the 2015 Men’s World Team Squash Championship from security situation in Egypt, causing its indefinite postponement.
The Championship was due to take place in Cairo Dec.12-18. After several withdrawals from participating countries, the Egyptian Federation President Assem Khalifa requested the postponement.
In statements to Dream TV, Khalifa explained that the withdrawn teams had concerns as the Ahly Sports Club, which hosts the championship, is five-minutes driving from the attacked bar.
During the early hours of Friday, four young men on motorbike hurled Molotov cocktails at the restaurant in act of revenge after they were denied entry earlier the same day.
Three young men were arrested and are currently being investigated, while the fourth one is still on the loose.
A wave of anger took to social media against the four assailants, with many condemning some attempts to defame the victims for working in a bar; still a taboo although alcohol is legal in Egypt and places serving it have its specific licenses from the government.
On September 24, some 450 nightclubs and alcoholic beverage stores in Cairo and Giza were closed, as it coincided with the day pilgrims in Mecca take to Arafat Mount and supplicate to God as part of the hajj rituals every year.
Alcoholic beverage stores are closed every year for 29-30 days in the holy month of Ramadan, after which lines of people gather outside these stores to buy drinks they have not been able to purchase for a month.