The Russian plane disaster and how to manage the crisis

Ahmed El-Sayed Al-Naggar
Monday 16 Nov 2015

The reaction of some Western states — especially Britain — to the Russian plane crash disaster in Egypt is bizarre and not a little hypocritical

Many a time airplane disasters happen, taking place due to technical faults or terrorist acts. However, flights are still the safest and the least vulnerable to accidents among other modes of transport. After every disaster in the field of aviation, life goes on.

Perhaps the most prominent terrorist attack in the aviation field is that of 11 September 2001. During this mega disaster, which included a number of synchronised disasters, terrorists were able to breach security measures in American airports, sneaking on large quantities of weapons and terrorists and hijacking a number of airplanes to use them in destroying the World Trade Centre's Twin Towers and the Pentagon.

Once the United States reopened its airports for operation, airplanes poured in from all over the world; flights were not suspended and tourism destined for America did not stop.

According to the World Bank's data reports regarding development indicators in the world, the tourists who went to the US in 2001 were about 45.5 million, constituting 6.5 percent of total world tourists. US revenue from foreign tourists was about $72.3 billion in the aforementioned year. In the following year, 2002, despite complexities concerning entering the US and the state of being on the lookout for, and bearing animosity towards, foreign tourists coming from Arab and Islamic countries, which lessened their numbers, the US received 41.9 million tourists, constituting 6.1 percent of total tourists in the world in that year. US revenue from foreign tourists in 2002 was about $66.6 billion.

The same thing happened when the Lockerbie crash occurred in Britain, the French airplane fell in Niger, or when the Malaysian airplane crashed in the Ukraine. Aviation and tourism traffic continued non-stop, for naturally life goes on.

The world works in a spontaneous and stubborn way in order to deprive terrorists of achieving their objectives. If they want to sow panic in taking down flights, harming this country or that, or damaging the tourism sector in it, the will to live and triumph over terrorism drives people and countries to continue using planes in traveling and visiting the countries targeted by terrorism. It goes without saying that if any accident revealed a weakness or a defect in security measures it is to be handled in order to protect the lives of passengers.

As for what is happening concerning the Russian airplane disaster in Egypt, it is really bizarre. Many in the West have jumped to conclusions before the end of investigations, asserting that the accident is a result of a terrorist act. Western statements and media, with some Arabian Gulf satellite channels, aim at directing minds to a terrorist act due to an implanted bomb, causing an explosion onboard the plane, not a missile launched towards it.

The probability of a missile would point an accusing finger at Israel and the US — standing behind it — because the terrorists do not have weapons capable of hitting civilian airplanes flying at high altitudes. Israel has a criminal precedent in destroying a civilian airplane over Sinai in February 1973, which included among its passengers the poet and distinguished media personality Salwa Hegazi.

British behaviour during the Egyptian president's visit was characterised by political tactlessness and uncouthness when it announced the evacuation of British tourists from Egypt and the likelihood that the plane crashed due to a terrorist act, without providing any evidence.

It would have been better if Britain had announced this before the president's visit, in order to give him a chance to take suitable action, whether to visit or delay the visit, without turning the matter into a crisis. In this case, it would have been more judicious that Egyptian diplomatic activity direct its eyes towards the East and not the West.

Egypt always tries to forget the thieving and criminal history of Britain that occupied and plundered Egypt and went on detaining, torturing and slaughtering its people for 72 years. This forgetting is for the purpose of building relations based on mutual benefits. In this context, the two parties achieved successes, for direct British investments top the list, equivalent to a quarter of all foreign direct investment in Egypt. It is natural because British companies have a historical familiarity with, and information concerning, Egypt's resources and investment opportunities, due to the colonial past.

This expression is quoted from our Algerian brothers and it is not written by mistake, but it is the most suitable expression for the occupation, plunder and exploitation.

Last year, 2014/2015, the foreign direct investment injected by British capitalists into Egypt was worth $5.4 billion, equivalent to 78.3 percent of all direct investment injected by EU countries combined to Egypt in the aforementioned year. Britain gains from these investments great benefits — more than that of Egypt.

As for British trade with Egypt, it is far less important, for it reached in the year 2013 around $2.3 billion, equivalent to approximately 2.5 percent of the whole of Egyptian external trade, according to the International Monetary Fund in its report titled "The Direction of Trade Statistics Yearbook 2014." In the field of tourism, Britain is far away from coming in a leading position, where Russia, Germany, Italy, France and Arab countries occupy these positions.

Despite these relations, which are based on an exchange of interests, Britain persists on creating unwanted and unacceptable sensitivities through attempting to direct a severe blow to Egypt, its tourism sector, millions working in it and industries associated with it. This is happening without giving any evidence to back its claims, which seem to be an attempt to sabotage and damage, not to discover and unveil the truth sought by experts from Egypt, Russia, Germany and France.

Even if the investigations revealed that the Russian plane accident was due to a terrorist act, what should be done is to achieve the world's solidarity, in order to confront terrorism and intensify measures to face it, not Schadenfreude and jumping over investigations with results of a slanderous and vengeful nature.

The truth is that Russia has proved in its campaign against ISIS (Islamic State in Iraq and Syria) and Al-Nusra Front and their ilk in Syria, which it hit them with effective strikes, that it is the biggest power confronting terrorism in a straightforward and serious manner, unlike the American campaign "against" ISIS, which extended for a year and several months and did not yield anything save that the terrorist organisation has become more widespread, as well as American military aircrafts airdropping weapons to its fighters on a repeated "by mistake" basis!

Towards that strong and straightforward Russian behaviour in confronting terrorist forces supported by regional and Western powers, and which is threatening the unity, stability and security of the Arab countries, it was natural for Egypt as a leading power in its region to support such Russian endeavours. Thus, it is supporting Syria in the face of terrorism that is backed by Turkey and some Arab Gulf and Western countries to destroy the Syrian state, setting it as a launchpad to sabotage the entire region.

This Egyptian stand, which influenced popular and formal attitudes in the Arab region, was not to the liking of the international and regional powers that created, financed, armed and backed terrorism.

Statements were scattered about the CIA intercepting communications regarding a large terrorist act in Sinai or, according to the site of a formal British channel, a plot to explode a Russian airplane. Then it intercepted afterwards communications between ISIS in Syria and Sinai celebrating the operation on the basis that what happened was of their own doing.

The coverage of the British channel was really astounding last Saturday when its report pointed out to that the airplane's explosion was a slap to Russia because of its bombing of ISIS in Syria. Also, that Britain was sending airplanes to return its citizens speedier than Russia was doing with its citizens. The Schadenfreude tone was lowly, as if it was demanded of Russia to stop bombing ISIS in Syria and to do as Western countries do, which is to collude with that contemptible, anti-humanity organisation in order not to be slapped. As for taunting Russia that Britain was faster in returning its citizens, inciting Russian citizens against their country's government, which they accuse implicitly of being slack in withdrawing its tourists from Egypt, and inciting all tourists to go out of Egypt, the least that can be said is that it is hostile to Egypt and its touristic sector.

Going beyond incitement to a vilifying degree were reports in British newspapers about how a passenger airplane evaded a missile over Sinai, as if this flying dinosaur had a chance to manoeuvre if a missile was actually targeting it! After the topic became a laughing matter, the story was adjusted that the passengers witnessed a flash closeby!

Britain realises that Egypt is facing an inherited problem from previous years that went unaddressed by not taking decisive measures — even if bitter ones — until now; that is the external balances deficit, leading to the depletion of reserves and debt. This requires a strict reduction in importing commodities, which have exceeded $65 billion annually. The same goes for imported services accompanied with activating foreign currency sources which are represented in exported commodities' revenues, which reached about $28 billion and Egyptian expatriate money transfers that reached $19.3 billion in the year 2014/2015. Suez Canal revenues, which move according to world trade traffic, are currently around $5.4 billion annually. Its movement is characterised by relatively slow change.

As for touristic revenues, it is characterised by fast change, upwardly and downwardly, in parallel to levels of security and political stability. Egypt was relying especially on the development of these revenues in the next period. Egypt succeeded, indeed, in increasing the number of tourists from eight million in 2013/2014 with touristic revenues reaching $5.1 billion to 10.24 million tourists with touristic revenues reaching $7.4 billion in the year 2014/2015. This means that the number of tourists increased by 28 percent and revenues increased by 45 percent in one year.

These indicators foreshadow the possibility of fast change in the tourism sector and the improvement of Egypt's revenues in this field, especially in light of the availability of an excellent touristic infrastructure and distinguished touristic services. There was much reliance on increasing touristic traffic coming from Russia, which 3.5 million of its citizens having visited Egypt in the last fiscal year. Thus, they constitute 34 percent of the total number of tourists who visited Egypt in the same year. They also continue to stay for longer periods, thus making the number of tourist nights bigger than that percentage.

The issue of the doomed Russian airplane, which has left behind painful human tragedies and deserves we send the warmest of condolences to the Russian people, is a most important issue. Thus, it is urgent to sift through all related probabilities. If there was a sound in the last minute in the recordings of the black boxes, it might be an explosion in the engine — i.e., a malfunction in the airplane itself. Or it might be because of a bomb planted by terrorists. It is hard to decide this matter swiftly, and investigations into the Malaysian airplane crash in the Ukraine did not reach conclusions that could be published before October 2015 — more than a year after it crashed on 17 July 2014.

Although security measures in Egyptian airports meet international criteria, even if the results say that the crash of the airplane was due to a terrorist act this would require a tightening of security measures, not appearing broken in front of the terrorists' will. It also means that Russia, which is facing terrorism and its main forces in Syria, and Egypt, which is supporting Russian efforts, are called upon to show more strength and fortitude in addressing terrorism and the international and regional powers backing it.

The government has done well when it allowed security delegations from the main tourist supplying countries to come and see the security measures. Because Russia is the world's real spearhead against terrorism, there is confidence that Russian tourism will return to Egypt quickly, especially in the light of the cooperation between the countries in all fields, which may include enhancing security measures.

In this critical moment, while it is working on regaining and enhancing its national decision-making independence and its leading regional role, Egypt has to take strict measures regarding the reduction of its imports, striking a balance concerning its external trade. It also has to let its real friends — whom it has known through crisis and historical moments, especially when it faced the treasonous Tripartite Aggression in 1956 and its defensive war in 1973 — help in tackling current problems through close cooperation without harming existing relations based on exchange of interest in a fair and free manner with any country respecting Egypt's dignity, sovereignty and independence as a leading state in the Arab region.


The writer is chairman of the board of Al-Ahram Establishment.

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