Egyptian President Mohammad Mursi. Image Credit: Reuters

Cairo: Living in a Cairo district, which is more than 300km from the province of Assiut, the first thing Rania Salem did, on learning about a deadly school bus crash in that remote province, was to rush to her six-month-old child’s school.

“Every morning my son goes to school by bus. Usually I feel worried for his safety due to a lack of security on the streets. But on seeing the terrifying TV images of the bus disaster in Assiut, I could not help but go quickly to my son’s school and accompany him home,” Rania, 29, said.

Fifty-two people, including 50 children, were killed on Saturday when a school bus was hit by a train in the village of Al Mandara in Assiut.

The mishap, the worst since President Mohammad Mursi took office in June, prompted many Egyptians to compare the Islamist leader’s response to an Israeli bombardment of the Gaza Strip and his reaction to the Assiut tragedy.

“I must admit that I admired Mursi’s decision to recall the Egyptian ambassador to Israel and his strong statements backing our brothers in Gaza against the Israeli aggression,” said Rania.

“I also liked his dispatch of the Prime Minister [Hesham Qandil] to Gaza to show solidarity. However, I was disappointed at his [Mursi’s] weak reaction to the tragedy in Assiut. It was typical of [Hosni] Mubarak,” she added, referring to Mursi’s predecessor who was toppled in a popular uprising more than a year ago.

In the aftermath of the deadly crash, Mursi accepted the transport minister’s resignation and ordered a swift probe into the accident.

“I also ordered all executive agencies to take all measures necessary to offer compensation to families of the victims and keep contact with them,” Mursi said in a televised short statement.

Families of the casualties were outraged by what they saw as the Mursi government’s inefficiency.

They reportedly prevented the prime minister from visiting the scene of the crash and demanded “retribution”.

“Egyptians have every right to compare between the quick moves towards Gaza and the less quick response to the massacre of the Assiut children,” said Wael Qandil, a prominent columnist.

“Egyptians also have the right to compare between the performance of Mursi in 2005 and now. In 2005 when he was an MP, he demanded that the prime minister and transport minister of the time be held politically and criminally accountable for a rail tragedy that occurred in South Egypt. But in 2012, the transport minister was used as a scapegoat for the Assuit massacre, without anyone mentioning the political responsibility of the current prime minister,” Qandil wrote in the independent Al Shorouk newspaper on Sunday.

Mursi’s Muslim Brotherhood blamed the accident both on what it called the “legacy” of the Mubarak regime and “incompetent” officials in the incumbent government.

“We are frustrated. The tragedy reflects a long legacy of the Mubarak regime,” said Murad Ali, a media official in the Brotherhood’s Freedom and Justice Party.

“We were subjected to a political blackmail from the military council, which compelled us to accept government ministers and governors who have not lived up to the people’s aspirations,” he added without elaboration.

The military took over after Mubarak in February last year and ran a turbulent transitional period that ended with Mursi’s installation in office in June. He swore in the current government in August.