Less than 24 hours after Russia’s security chief announced that traces of foreign explosives were found in the debris from the Airbus plan that crashed in Egypt’s Sinai, the terror group Islamic State released a photo of a Schweppes drink that was allegedly used to make an improvised bomb, which the group claims brought down the plane.
Where is Egypt in all the news?
Well, the Egyptian Prime Minister Sherif Ismail is currently discussing Tuesday’s announcement by Russia. Later, Egyptian President Abdel-Fattah El-Sisi spoke with Russia’s President Vladimir Putin on a telephone call, where both leaders discussed cooperation in fighting terrorism.
Meetings, and phone calls, but still no formal address from the president to the public about what exactly is going on. Egypt opted for a muted crisis management that keeps the public in the dark, leaving plenty of room for rumors, speculations, and conspiracy theories. Meanwhile, a meeting was scheduled for Wednesday afternoon between the UK’s National Security Advisor John Jenkins and Egypt’s Foreign Minister Sameh Shoukry was cancelled.This means that British tourists might not return to Sharm El-Sheikh any time soon, and Egypt’s tourist industry continues to pay the price for an indefinite future.
Historically, Egypt has a very long record of poor crisis management. When Sadat was assassinated in 1981, the Egyptian public was the last to know the details of what happened. Worldwide, the last images of Sadat life were broadcast with the only exception, of course, being Egypt’s State Television. In 1986, around 25,000 Egyptian conscripts of the Central Security Forces (CSF) and Egyptian Paramilitary Force staged violent protests in and around Cairo. Still, most Egyptians did not know exactly what was happening. I remember how I was forced to walk for miles, among thousands of other Cairo residents, as all public transports suddenly stopped working without warning. We all understood that there were some “troubles,” but no details. Some speculated a coup; others claimed that Mubarak was attacked. We later heard “rumors” of the CSF revolts.
Those flashbacks were from the pre-Internet era. Now, Egyptians have satellites, social media, and full access to foreign reports about their country. Still though, the leadership suffers from the hangover of the bygone era of information control.
Some Egyptians argue that silence is a good policy. They believe that the waves of terror attacks in Beirut and Paris, which followed the Russian plane crash, have distracted attention from Egypt and highlighted a global vulnerability—not just Egypt. Others resorted to more conspiracy theories, blaming Russian President Putin for exploiting the crisis to legitimize his intervention in Syria.
Indeed, Russia is trying to capitalize on the tragedy. On one hand, President Putin wants to look as though he is taking maximal security measures to protect Russian citizens, even if that means taking unnecessary steps like banning Egypt Air from landing in Moscow. On the other hand, he wants to garner more international support for his intervention in Syria and strengthen his position that backs the Assad regime in Syria.
The problem for Egypt is the alarming inability of the Egyptian leadership to understand that silence also loses any international credibility. Now the Islamic State, the world’s most barbaric terror group, has gained more credibility than the State of Egypt. If that’s not bad enough, Egypt seems incapable of understanding that its tourist industry and economy in general rely on global trust, and without transparency, there will be no trust, even if all Egyptian airports were to become the most secure airports on earth.
It’s about time for the Egyptian leadership to cut its losses, address the public, share all the facts and provide some answers about the Russian plane crash. A muted crisis management is a failed crisis management.Egypt cannot afford further failures.