One girl dead, 15 hurt in school staircase collapse in Egypt

Incident in town west of Cairo underlines poor state of many schools, as country remains gripped by economic woes

Pupils at a private Cairo school attend assembly on the first day back from the summer break. EPA
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An Egyptian schoolgirl was killed and 15 others hurt when a staircase at their school partially collapsed on Sunday, the General Prosecutor's office said.

It said officials had been sent to the town of Kirdasah, west of the capital Cairo, to inspect the site of the incident and question witnesses and school and council staff.

Other officials were sent to question survivors in hospital and examine the body of the dead schoolgirl.

Both the education ministry and general prosecutor's office blamed a stampede for the collapse, saying it happened as the girls were rushing up the stairs to their classrooms after a break.

The 2022-23 school year began on Saturday and Sunday across the country of 104 million people, with about 25 million students returning to classes in nearly 50,000 state schools. Classes at private schools, which number around 9,000, began two weeks ago.

Many of Egypt’s state schools are overcrowded, lack sufficient facilities and their buildings desperately need to be renovated or overhauled. Authorities say 130 billion Egyptian pounds (about $700 million) are needed to build 250,000 classrooms and end overcrowding.

Pupils at a private Cairo school on the first day of classes after the summer break. EPA

President Abdel Fattah El Sisi recently responded to questions raised about his government’s spending priorities, arguing that while overhauling the school system was both important and sorely needed, Egyptians would not have tolerated resources going to education while they had no reliable electricity, roads or sufficient food supplies.

“We as people, as regular citizens on the streets, would not have stomached the consequences of placing the country’s entire limited resources on education,” he said.

Mr El Sisi has, since taking office in 2014, embarked on an ambitious drive to overhaul the economy and the country’s infrastructure. His government has built nearly two dozen new cities, including a new capital in the desert west of Cairo, an elaborate road network and new, cutting-edge transport modes running on clean energy.

The new term began amid an acute economic crisis caused, in large part, by the fallout from the Russia-Ukraine war, with parents complaining bitterly about the rising cost of food and school supplies.

The Egyptian pound has depreciated by more than 20 per cent against the US dollar since March, causing steep price increases across the board in a country saddled with an annual $75bn import bill. Inflation rose to about 14 per cent in August, the last month for which figures are available.

Egypt's President Abdel Fattah El Sisi. EPA

Over the weekend, the price of six key items available to the nearly 70 million Egyptians eligible to buy state subsidised food and other key supplies rose by between 5 and 20 per cent. These include cooking fat and oil, soap, white cheese and lentils.

Authorities say they are doing everything they can to shield poor and middle class Egyptians against the soaring energy and food costs on global markets. They have raised salaries and pensions and allowed millions to buy more food items at heavily subsidised prices. They have also given or increased monetary stipends to millions of vulnerable Egyptians.

Updated: October 02, 2022, 5:39 PM