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The New Arab

Cairo residents determined to rebuild after consulate explosion

The blast hit an area slated for redevelopment [AFP]

Date of publication: 14 July, 2015

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Analysis: The bombing of the Italian consulate left nearby homes shattered, but residents are fighting to stay in the area.

Residents of Bulaq and the Maspero Triangle, nestled in between high-rise buildings, hotels and the High Court in central Cairo were woken by a loud car bomb at the Italian Consulate on Saturday morning.

A group claiming to be affiliated with Islamic State claimed responsibility for the explosion, which led to one death and nine injuries.

Mohamed Salah El Din, a 44-year-old resident living near the consulate, was startled and immediately went to see where the blast happened.

"I heard the bomb at 6:30am and I ran quickly when I heard it. My room is right on the roof so I went down and saw the smoke billowing up," he told al-Araby al-Jadeed.

Salah El Din said the authorities had sealed off the area quickly and instructed onlookers to stand back:

     I wish that God destroys their homes, just like they destroyed ours 
- Maha Hassan, resident

"Fire trucks from Attaba came around 7.15am, which is only about five minutes by car, but 45 minutes after the bomb went off."

Smelling smoke

Maha Hassan, a 52-year-old housewife living about 150 metres away on the fifth floor of a building in the informal housing which the area is known for, had just finished early morning prayers and went to sleep just after 6:00am - only to be woken half an hour later by the force of the blast.

"I smelled the smoke first, then in rapid succession sounds of things breaking around the home. I ran to my mother saying 'let's get out of here, because the whole building is falling apart'," she said.

"My son woke up and he was panicking, saying 'we have to get out of here before we die'. We ran to the balcony, not knowing if we should go up on the roof or go down where our neighbours were, outside on the street," she added.

Furniture in her apartment was charred and glass was broken.

Visibly shaken and distraught Hassan told al-Araby al-Jadeed: "Everything is in a mess right now - the pipes have burst and people are injured. I am asking for God's justice.

"We are in blessed days right now and Eid is coming in a few days - how can these criminals do such a thing? I wish that God destroys their homes, just like they destroyed ours."

Speculation rife

At the time al-Araby spoke with Hala Mohamed, another resident of Bulaq, the reportedly IS-affiliated group had not claimed responsibility.

She had speculated that it was militias affiliated with the outlawed Muslim Brotherhood who were behind several explosions in the past two years - since the crackdown began.

Nearly two weeks before the bomb at the Italian consulate, Egypt's attorney-general, Hisham Barakat, had been assassinated in car bomb outside the military academy in Cairo.

"We don't know who exactly did this but one thing is for sure we are not leaving Bulaq Abou El Ela," she said. "We are staying put - until it's all reduced to rubble, if that's what they want. We are not leaving."

Read more: Cairo consulate blast targets homes slated for corporate redevelopment

Later on Saturday, a group calling itself Islamic State in Egypt vowed further attacks against what it termed "security dens" were imminent.

"I don't think the Italian consulate was a specific target the same way I don't think this was an attack directed against foreign interests," Gennaro Gervasio, a professor of Middle East politics at the British University of Egypt, told al-Araby.

"Italy is a main sponsor of Sisi's Egypt, and is one of its many supporters. This was against the Egyptian regime for the current policies of repression and the so called 'securitised solution'."

For several years Gervasio taught at the Italian consulate.

"It is one of the oldest diplomatic missions in Egypt and unlike other missions which are fenced, the consulate is not highly surveilled," he said.

"It seems to me a matter of convenience - and other foreign entities are open to further attacks, however it is similar to how tourists were targeted in the 1990s - it was aimed against the state."

     I've been in Bulaq for 45 years... but I have never seen destruction like this before
 - Maha Hassan, resident

Feeling helpless

Housewife Hassan said she was contemplating filing a report at the local police station - as she felt helpless that she would have to pay for the damages incurred.

"I've been in Bulaq for 45 years. I am of the long-time residents of Bulaq. The last time something like this happened was during the 1992 earthquake - but I have never seen destruction like this before," she said.

Hala Mohamed urged authorities to quickly apprehend the culprits. "The government does not care about us," she said.

She insisted that previous governments had neglected the area for decades, leading to structural deficiencies in many of the buildings and businesses.

"Mubarak never did, neither did Morsi. Look, we love Sisi and we won't say anything about him - but the people behind him are [greater] devils than Mubarak," she said.

"What we're saying is that we want our daily rights - not [just] every time something happens, where people's lives are turned upside down. The government turns a blind eye to our pain."

She concluded: "We want those who planted the bombs to be held accountable, they have ruined our lives."

We are not naming our correspondent in Egypt at this time due to ongoing security concerns.

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