Egyptian, Russian missteps after Sinai plane crash
Banning all air travel to Egypt undermines trust between the Russian and Egyptian presidents and their countries
Egypt is launching the “Egypt is close” campaign to try to attract tourists from neighboring countries, as Russian vacationers leave after the Russian plane crash over the Sinai, which has become a tough test for bilateral relations. Despite speculation, misinformation and talkative British authorities, we still have little idea about what caused the crash.
From the outset, Egypt has been trying to persuade the world, and Russia in particular, that the cause was technical issues. Evidence of the bad state of the aircraft was revealed and widely shared.
This is a fact, but it is also true that North Sinai is still a security nightmare for the government, and that the police is as highly corrupt and unreliable as it was under former President Hosni Mubarak. As such, Egyptian airports are very lucky not to have become the target of terrorists long before this incident. However, instead of investigating all possible scenarios from the start, Cairo lost time defending its national pride.
When media anger started against Egypt after revelations from tourists about lax airport security, the government could have launched a strong campaign, thorough investigations and dismissals of all those responsible.
Banning all air travel to Egypt undermines trust between the Russian and Egyptian presidents and their countriesMaria Dubovikova
It could have asked for Russian and Western assistance to ensure security for tourists, because no matter what the cause of the crash, security should be the top priority for a country in which more than 11 percent of income is from tourism. Nothing was done in a timely fashion.
However, Egypt’s actions are understandable. It is difficult for it to acknowledge that the fight against the Islamic State of Iraq and Syria (ISIS) in the Sinai has been mostly a failure, because this would undermine the reputation of the Egyptian army in the eyes of Egyptians, and thus ruin the image of President Abdel Fattah al-Sisi.
To openly recognize the complete incompetence of the police would mean the Muslim Brotherhood getting thousands of sympathizers among police officers. This would increase the prospect of another revolution. which Egypt cannot afford.
Russia reacted unexpectedly, banning all air travel to Egypt and thereby making the situation for Cairo even worse. The ban was to protect Russia’s citizens from becoming hostages of its foreign policy in Syria, but the decision could not have been not easy because it undermines trust between the Russian and Egyptian presidents and their countries.
Moscow should help Egypt build reliable security systems in its airports, help Egyptian forces fight terrorists in the Sinai, let Russians travel where they want, and not to let anything spoil bilateral ties.
Maria Dubovikova is a President of IMESClub and CEO of MEPFoundation. Alumni of MGIMO (Moscow State Institute of International Relations [University] of Ministry of Foreign Affairs of Russia), now she is a PhD Candidate there. Her research fields are in Russian foreign policy in the Middle East, Euro-Arab dialogue, policy in France and the U.S. towards the Mediterranean, France-Russia bilateral relations, humanitarian cooperation and open diplomacy. She can be followed on Twitter: @politblogme
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