Local Egyptian outlets: Egypt is facing a Western conspiracy- via AP
Investigators of the Russian plane crash in Egypt are now “90 percent sure” the noise heard in the final seconds of a cockpit recording was an explosion caused by a bomb. The bomb “theory” has now become almost a scary reality. Russia’s Prime Minister, Dmitry Medvedev, admitted on Monday that a plane crash in Egypt’s Sinai could be a terrorist attack, a possibility the Egyptian authorities will have to accept. Bomb or not, Egypt has to face the risk in a way that convinces the outside world the country is a safe tourist destination. The complex challenge for Egypt is not only to uncover the depth of the Islamic State’s infiltration into Sharm el-Sheikh Airport, but also to prevent the group from executing more terror in both Sinai and mainland Egypt.
Many reports about a lack of security and loopholes inside Egyptian airports have emerged in several quarters. Even Al-Arabiya, supposedly friendly to Egypt, has published a report on how paying $30 is enough to “bypass” Egyptian airport security. Furthermore, according to ABC News, new evidence uncovered during the investigation of the Russian airliner that crashed in Egypt indicates that an inside man may have helped to plant an explosive device on board. Those reports, if true, are simply devastating. Not just because the reality could ruin Sharm El-Sheik as a tourist hotspot for many years, but it also cast doubts on Egypt’s remaining airports, including the main airport in Cairo.
Egyptians may still remember the bygone era of “innocent security breaches.” During the late President Sadat’s rule and the early years of Mubarak’s tenure, many luxury goods were not available on the Egyptian market. Some opportunists developed a trading career by illegally importing those good and smuggling them through Egyptian airports. A mixture of bribery or clever hidden pockets in hold luggage used to work wonders. That was, of course, before the current era of screening. Successful smuggling of electronic juice blenders or posh watches was an exotic goal for some. Airport security was later tightened during Mubarak’s last years in power, as his police state expanded extensively in Egypt.
As the Islamic State excels at recovering medieval religious doctrine, it also excels at digging deep in past memories looking for sick, “innovative” ideas to terrorize the public and weaken the Egyptian state. Some have suggested that tightening surveillance of passengers, hold luggage, and catering is the answer to the Sharm El-Sheikh Airport disaster. However, like any advanced technology, that alone cannot prevent problems as long as human factors exist.
By resorting to bribes or acting under the influence of ideological indoctrination, any airport worker can plant a bomb or turn a blind eye to a planted bomb. Is Egypt ready to handle those scenarios? Some patriotic Egyptians have rightly pointed out that IS has tried to breach other international airports in the past. That is, however, not the point. It is not about the Islamic State’s desire to breach airport safety measures. It is about the vulnerability of our airports to security breaches. Head of Cairo airport announced that new x-ray security scanners have been installed in the departure hall of the airport. Good decision, but more still needs to be done, and in all Egyptian airports. There also reports that bomb detectors being used by some hotel staff in Sharm El-Sheikh have been exposed as fake. Such reports should be taken seriously and investigated properly.
Many local media outlets are indulging in conspiracy theories about what happened to the Russian plane and blame the Western media for their ruthless criticism of Egypt. Others are confused, and not sure what is going on. Egyptians, however, deserve to know the truth about what happened in Sharm El-Sheikh on October 31; establishing the truth is also essential for Egypt’s counter-insurgency strategy. Facing the public with facts undercuts the militants’ chances of abusing safety measures and will help restore global confidence in Egypt’s airports.
It is also important to think a few steps ahead of the militants. By attacking south Sinai, the Islamic State is trying to escape from the army’s increasingly tight grip in the northern part of the Peninsula. Such a successful attack may entice the group to target other destinations, particularly ones that are considered safe and remote, such as those in the Red Sea resort of Hurghada. After any major attack, terrorists usually look for the authorities’ response and adapt or modify their responses accordingly. Raising the alarm level in other destinations, again, is not a sign of panic, but an indication of a proactive counter-terrorism policy.
All eyes, from friends and foes, are on Egypt, and how it will handle this crisis. The Russian plane crash is not just Egypt’s version of 9/11; its impact could be as devastating as the loss of Sinai in the 1967 war. Yes the IS affiliate has failed to carve a state in Sinai, but if the group manages to deter the outside world from visiting the Peninsula or starts to attack other parts of Egypt, then it can quickly plunge the country into unchartered territory of economic and political uncertainty. Behaving like a blindfold person, trussed up in the wilderness, is not the way forward; Egypt needs to get a grip, recompose, and move fast to face its ruthless enemies.