‘Bribe and prejudice:’ How paying $30 can ‘bypass’ Egypt airport security

Security in Sharm el-Sheikh airport came under scrutiny amid growing concerns the plane was downed by a bomb smuggled aboard

Shounaz Meky - Al Arabiya News
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Western media has gushed with anger following the Russian passenger plane crash in Sinai last week, with several outlets reporting on the lack of security and loop-holes inside Egyptian airports.

According to one report, a holidaymaker was spotted bypassing a security queue – unfathomable in other major airports – at a price tag of $30 at Sharm el-Sheikh airport.

The picture of the incident was initially tweeted by a BBC Arabic reporter, which was carried by Western press, but he later downplayed it as an defective “paid service” made available by the airport, rather than a bribe.

Egyptian aviation officials have also continued to deny several security shortcomings reported in the media, among them the denial of a claim that local authorities were preventing the flights landing.

However, Al Arabiya News spoke to our own witnesses who recounted what they believed to be recent security breaches at Egyptian airports.

An Egyptian citizen living in the Emirati city of Sharjah told Al Arabiya News law violations at Egyptian airports are not a rare scene.

The 24-year-old woman, who preferred not to be named, said there are cases in which staff at Cairo International Airport ask a passenger to pay a bribe to allow for extra luggage.

She had previously offered money to an airport employee to take an oversized bag.

“Given the low salaries earned by travel security staff, I understand why they could resort to breaching the laws,” she added.

Egypt’s airport authorities insisted the security measures are at their highest levels.

"All Egyptian airports apply international standards in airport security measures," civil aviation minister Hossam Kamal said in a statement, adding that the investigation was ongoing.

An Egyptian expat living in Dubai, who also preferred not to be named, recounted another experience, involving the attitude of staff at the Cairo airport during security checks.

She told Al Arabiya News: “I was passing through the body and baggage screening. One of the women security officers was joking with us, saying ‘got and any bombs? Any guns? Any knives?' This was after 9/11 – I didn’t find it funny.”

Meanwhile, "Abu Yazan" a Saudi tourist who used to go to Egypt every year during summer said that security measures at Cairo International were a joke.

"I used to go with my family, and we had lots of bags as we used to stay for the whole summer," said Abu Yazan, who is married with three children.

"When airport security used to see my green passport and veiled wife, they used to come to me and greet me like a king, the most senior would walk us to the baggage searching point and then would say in a cheeky way: so, shall we open all these bags... OR?"

The "or" usually means that if a tourist tips the security officer the bags didn't get searched and the procedure went by really quick, explained the Saudi tourist.

What Abu Yazan paid was not necessarily fixed at $30, however. The bribe would typically be anything from $10 - $50 depending on how much change he is carrying, he said.

According to Sky News, British holidaymaker Dale Parkyn -- who visited the Egyptian resort city with his wife earlier this year -- said he was approached by an official in “military uniform” who offered to help him jump the queue for a mere 20 pound bill.

“What we did is we discussed it and he then produced a £20 note and said, 'Have you one of these' and you can avoid the queue.

"We walked right through the security gates and security procedure, straight through the airport, avoided all the queues, and then he put the case on the conveyor belt and the girl checked us in. At no point did my luggage go through any scanner. When I think now it was bizarre.”

Another British tourist spoke of how lax the security measures were, saying: “I was shocked by the lack of airport security. The person manning the scanning machine was playing Candy Crush on his phone.”

Verna McKeich told Sky News: “Once we were through, my exact words to my husband were that I hoped nobody on our flight has a bomb today.”

Following the crash, Egypt promoted the airport chief at Sharm el-Sheikh, a resort popular with British, Russian and other European holidaymakers seeking winter sun, to deputy head of operations at the national airport operator.

The timing of that move, along with a steady string of security breaches, have stirred doubts about airport safety around Egypt.

British, German, French, Turkish and a few Arab airlines have all cut routes to Sharm el-Sheikh over growing security concerns.

The suspension is seen a heavy blow to Egypt’s vital tourism industry.

Al Arabiya News reached out for an official statement from the civil aviation ministry in response to the malpractices described in Western media, but was yet to receive a response at the time of writing.

General view showing an empty beach at the Red Sea resort of Sharm el Sheik, Egypt, Sunday, Dec.5, 2010. AP
General view showing an empty beach at the Red Sea resort of Sharm el Sheik, Egypt, Sunday, Dec.5, 2010. AP

(This article includes information from Reuters)

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