Thousands of villagers on the east bank of the Nile at Mallawi, Minya, Upper Egypt, demonstrated last week to protest the absence of ramps leading up to and down from the newly built giant bridge which passes close to their villages. The bridge spans the wide river joining the west and east banks at a spot where the only means of crossing from side to side are the ferries—notorious for the frequent sinking accidents. The bridge is now in the final phases of construction.
Security forces in 40 security trucks besieged the demonstrators who held banners appealing to President Mubarak to save them from the threat of drowning in the River Nile.
“All through our lives,” Ramadan Zarie, Ibrahim Rushdy, and Magdy Zaki told Watani, “we have suffered from being stuck on the east bank of the Nile; the boats and ferries being our sole means of crossing to the other bank. Frequent accidents took place; almost every family here has at one point or another lost a loved one. In the 1980s, a ferry sank and 125 people went down with it. In the 1990s other accidents claimed some 50 and 75 lives at a time. A microbus once went down and all its passengers were lost.”
Establishing this bridge required that the villagers give up some 50 feddans of their best lands, which they willingly did with the hope of finally ridding themselves of the need to use the ferries.
“Whenever a ferry disaster took place,” they said, “the officials would ask us to be patient until the bridge is built, which would put an end to all our suffering.”
But when the bridge was built, Khalaf Nuaman, Hamada Amin, Bassam Faragallah, and Samir Kamal said, “we were shocked to find no ramps near our villages. Thus, we are banned from using the bridge that passes over our heads. We are forced to use ferries again.”
“In whose interest,” asks one of the villagers, “are more than 250,000 village inhabitants on the east bank of the Nile deprived of safety?”
Moreover, another young villager pointed out, “our villages and their vicinities are rich in Pharaonic, Coptic, and Islamic monuments, which jeopardises the lives of the tourists and visitors to the area. The only ones to benefit are the ferry owners, he insisted.
On his part, manager of the central administration for roads and bridges in Upper Egypt Hussein Saad said that the bridge is not yet finished because of delay in some constructional procedures. And the sites of the ramps have not yet been determined. He implied that the ferry owners were behind a campaign to build no ramps at the site of the villages, but that their efforts would be fruitless.
The expected date for opening the bridge for service is next June.