Cairo’s main metro station reopens, relieving Egyptian commuters

Published June 17th, 2015 - 11:16 GMT

Cairo's main central metro station, Sadat, came back into operation on Wednesday after almost two years of closure, in a move expected to allay pressure on millions of strap-hangers inconvenienced by the shutdown.

"I am so happy [with the reopening] that I wanted to go kiss the walls of the station," 20-year-old university student Omneya joked.

She is one of thousands of riders who have had 30 to 90 minutes, and sometimes extra cash, added to their daily commute because of the shutting down of Sadat — a major hub for switching between metro lines.

Lying under the iconic Tahrir Square--the epicenter of the 2011 uprising and a venue of many mass protests and clashes, Sadat has been closed by the police since August 2013 for "security reasons," on the back of nationwide unrest after the violent security dispersal of two Cairo protest camps by supporters of ousted president Mohamed Morsi.  

The long-awaited reopening is expected to ease severe congestion caused at other vital downtown stations, namely Al-Shohadaa – another switching stop three stations from Sadat.

"It was insane to merge the traffic of two stations into one, especially in an area as vital as central Cairo," middle-aged lawyer Sabry Sabry said.

"Now they will spare us not only the time but also the bumper crowds we suffered."

Security was beefed up at the station as Transport Minister Hani Dahi paid a visit in the early morning to ensure a smooth operation.

Around half a dozen policemen stood post at each platform, as policewomen were seen thoroughly searching passengers' handbags.  

Officials say metal detectors and x-ray machines have been installed as part of enhanced security measures.

Feeling a flicker of excitement, a woman ululated as she waited for the train and a man was seen waving national flags.

"We promised we would reopen the station before Ramadan and we have fulfilled the promise," Dahi said during his tour, in reference to the Islamic holy month of Ramadan that begins on Thursday.

He said the move was to "alleviate pressure on Egyptians" during the fasting month.

Over 3.5 million of Greater Cairo's 21 million inhabitants rely on the subway for their daily travel, according to official estimates by the country's national tunnels authority. 

It was believed that the authorities closed the station to thwart attempts by Morsi supporters to use the fast and cheap underground transport system to mobilise large protests in Tahrir.

But many tend to believe that the almost two-year shutdown was beyond the pale.

"[The authorities] could have tightened security and opened it at least a year ago," Mervat Mehanny, a civil servant, said. "Things have been pretty calm for quite a while, but [the government] often takes right decisions at the wrong time."

Omneya, the student, agrees.

"The step has come too late. Now our exams are finished and the universities have closed."

Even so, others are of the view that the closure was necessary to secure central Cairo, home to a large number of ministries and powerful state institutions which were occasionally targeted by a simmering insurgency launched by Islamist militants.

By Ayat al-Tawy

© Copyright Al-Ahram Publishing House

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