MIDDLE EAST

Why electronics ban is serious business

The US restrictions applying to flights originating from 10 airports in countries is going to impact major international carriers including Etihad, Emirates, Qatar Airways and Turkish Airlines but not US-based carriers. The assertion in the press that no US carrier originates from one of these countries (UAE) is simply false. One simply needs to look at United’s website.

Nevertheless, the US, quickly followed by the UK decision, to ban passengers from bringing their electronic devices including laptops and tablets in their carry-on luggage is viewed from two perspectives.

The first opinion is the decision is mostly exclusive to Middle Eastern and North African states. The countries targeted have state-of-the art planes flying nonstop to the US and many passengers prefer flying these jets to flying American or any other airline for their long-haul services.

However, Jordanian officers at the airport in Amman who inspect such devices have managed to scan a number of passengers’ devices and banned them from travelling because of “the stuff on their laptops which were considered a threat to other passengers’ safety”, according to a Jordanian security official.

Proactive action

Apparently, this threat is large enough when combined with other strands of information to force the US and UK to be take proactive action. Information from other sources including from the Gulf played a role in the final decision.

Last week, Saudi Deputy Crown Prince Mohammed bin Salman visited Washington DC and the Pentagon where a “meeting of the minds” occurred. Saudi Arabia is an able and committed partner in fighting terrorism and information from Riyadh has been extraordinarily helpful in stopping commercial airline plots in the past and now.

The ban applies to all devices larger than a mobile phone, including laptops, Kindles, cameras and portable DVD players. The decision came as a shock to many travelers to the US and the UK as many of them use such devices onboard. However, the reason as per American sources are security oriented, terrorist attempts were foiled in the past few weeks from countries in the Middle East, mainly Yemen, where al-Qaeda in the Arabian Peninsula is active.

There is no doubt that grumbling will occur over it but Middle East countries are willing to take a short term economic hit for the sake of security and warm relations with the Trump administration

Dr. Theodore Karasik

The precedent

There was a precedent three years ago when the US also banned passengers heading to the visit America, fearing bombs in battery compartments. This had led at that time to the issuing of directives that forced all airports to turn the power button “on and off” of such devices in order to be scanned.

Other directives issued in 2005 and 2006 regarding liquid, sharp tools and gels as well as perfumes and cosmetics. These directives are based on suspicions coming from the Middle East.

Now, the focus on electrical devices appears to be on the trigger. The bomb needs a trigger, which would be an electronic device such as a gadget, laptop, IPad and so forth. Once the perpetrator has no access to his device, he cannot give the signal to the bomb. This fact is why the “cargo hold” solution for electronics is the immediate solution.

The second point relates to protectionism. The security ban involving electronics appears to punish the Gulf airlines by sharply reducing their long-distance haul appeal. Emirates, Etihad and Qatar Airways have been battling lobbying from major US carriers, which have accused them of receiving unfair subsidies under the Open Skies agreement. This argument – allegedly to attack Gulf airlines – is simply not the case. There is no Trump/UK conspiracy regarding Gulf airlines.

Blessing in disguise

To be clear, security, which the Gulf recognizes as their supreme duty, is at stake for their own commercial airline industry. With recent talk of lower profits and the rise of low-cost carriers taking away Gulf airline business, the electronic security ban may be a blessing in disguise. Let us not forget that travelers will still pay top dollar for long-haul flights with no electronics.

The Gulf states recognized immediately the impact of the US and UK’s decision, rolling out quick information campaigns showing the benefits of no electronic devices. This brilliant response fits very neatly into Sheikh Mohammed bin Rashid’s 2016 reading program and the Mohammed bin Rashid Al Maktoum Library Foundation, the largest knowledge project in the world.

Other countries are likely to take note of the campaign given their own education and social awareness programs. If stakeholders are arguing that the airline proxy war between Gulf carriers versus American carriers is getting more pronounced, in the protectionist Trump era, take a second look.

Overall, the electronics ban is here and likely to stay for a long time. Airlines and passengers will adjust. Gulf Airlines are nimble enough to adjust to the new economic reality. There is no doubt that grumbling will occur over it but Middle East countries are willing to take a short term economic hit for the sake of security and warm relations with the Trump administration.
_______________________________
Dr. Theodore Karasik is a Washington DC-based analyst of regional geo-political affairs. He received his Ph.D in History from UCLA in Los Angeles, California in four fields: Middle East, Russia, Caucasus, and a specialized sub-field in Cultural Anthropology focusing on tribes and clans. He tweets @tkarasik.

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Last Update: Thursday, 23 March 2017 KSA 10:35 - GMT 07:35
Disclaimer: Views expressed by writers in this section are their own and do not reflect Al Arabiya English's point-of-view.
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