More than a week after a Russian flight disintegrated in mid-air over the Sinai Peninsula, killing all 224 on board, there are still more questions than answers – about this incident and also airport security in Egypt and how this will affect the country’s vital tourism industry.
Caught in the middle of this are tens of thousands of holidaymakers who have been stranded since Russia halted all flights to Egypt, while the UK, Ireland, Germany, the Netherlands, Turkey and Denmark have suspended flights to Sharm El Sheikh. The decision was made in light of security concerns, and since this incident, reports have emerged about breaches in airport security and an incident in August when a missile passed within 300m of a Thomson Airways plane from Britain as it approached the airport.
Although the US and the UK are increasingly certain the Metrojet flight was brought down by a bomb placed on board at Sharm El Sheikh airport, the Egyptian-led investigation has been hesitant to make such a pronouncement. While the probe into the crash obviously needs to be thorough, it also needs to be quick. Clarity is needed, especially if the cause turns out to be from a breach in airport security because it means such a tragedy could occur again.
With Russia’s incursion into the Syrian conflict and Egypt’s reliance on tourism to bring in foreign currency, it would not be surprising for a terror group to deliberately target a Russian aircraft full of tourists. As Egypt has seen before through terror attacks at its tourist sites – most recently in a thwarted strike at the Temple of Karnak in Luxor in June – targeting the tourism industry is designed to weaken the Egyptian state as a whole.
Tourism will always be a vulnerable industry because it relies on visitors’ perception of safety so Egypt will have to increase its vigilance to thwart those who seek to damage it. The UAE has been prominent in helping Egypt meet its many challenges since the start of the Arab Spring and in this sector, we have expertise in aviation security that can help in this latest test. Egyptian tourism recovered from the massacre in 1997 in which 62 people, mostly tourists, were slaughtered at Hatshepsut’s Temple near Luxor. It will recover from this incident too, but only if it can assure visitors they can visit the country in safety.