It is almost impossible to write about an incident that involves the loss of human life without first expressing grief and condolences for the lives lost in such unfortunate events. Almost two weeks have now passed since the Russian passenger plane crashed over Sinai and all we know so far from the Egyptian government officials is that a plane did indeed crash. All other relevant information, according to Egyptian officials, is still pending investigation.
The one common aspect in all official statements about the incident from various state institutions in Egypt is that no one can positively affirm that the plane was brought down by an act of terrorism. Sometimes I think that the Egyptian government is more interested in denying that an act of terrorism took place than it is interested in uncovering the truth.
Despite the growing possibility of an act of terrorism, the definite cause of that plane crash remains unknown so far. What I believe to be the most alarming aspect of the crash is how the Egyptian government prioritised refuting claims of terrorism over addressing the main issues that have to do with both the threat of terrorism and the challenges facing the tourism sector.
In other words, if an investigation proved that the Russian plane crashed due to technical reasons, will that result change the fact that Egypt is facing a serious terrorist threat or the fact that Egypt’s tourism sector is suffering significantly due to a variety of reasons other than terrorism?
I do not know if the government is deliberately denying what almost all other participants in the investigation are pointing to. But what I do know is that Egypt has been facing serious terrorism threats in the past two years and that Sinai witnessed numerous attacks over the course of this time period.
What I also know is that acts of terrorism are not focused only in Sinai but are diffused all over Egypt. In addition to that, I know that the Egyptian state declared an open war on terrorism since July 2013, when then-minister of defence Abdel Fattah Al-Sisi asked for the public’s mandate to fight terrorism.
Throughout the course of this “war”, the state in Egypt focused solely on hardcore security, while ignoring other aspects related to countering terrorism like economic development, human security, and openness of the public sphere. It seems that the more appropriate question is not whether the Russian plane was brought down by an act of terrorism or not; the appropriate question is how effective are the strategies of the Egyptian state in countering terrorism?
The other point is whether we think the results of the investigation will actually matter to the tourism sector in Egypt? I am not trying to undermine how vital or crucial this sector is to the Egyptian economy and I truly sympathise with thousands (if not millions) of Egyptians who make a living out of tourism and tourism-related activities.
But these people will clearly tell you that the problems of the tourism industry in Egypt are far more than the reasons why the Russian plane crashed. Our tourism infrastructure is extremely underdeveloped and inefficiently utilised and potential outgoing tourism is poorly marketed. Reforming our tourism industry will require a lot more than a reassuring statement from Russian President Vladimir Putin or a nationalist song by popular Egyptian singer Amr Diab or even a media orchestrated campaign to disclose the hidden dimensions of the international conspiracy targeting the Egyptian economy.
It seems that the way the state is handling the Russian plane crash over Sinai is the very same way it handled several issues recently; it focuses on the symptoms and ignores the causes. Regardless of the results of the ongoing investigation, Egypt is in dire need of evaluating its counter-terrorism policies and designing effective strategies to develop its tourism sector. These are the only solid facts we know about the Russian plane crash so far.
Ziad A. Akl is senior researcher and webpage managing editor of the Ahram Center for Political and Strategic Studies