Saturday 7 November 2015

Opinion: Thoughts on the Sharm el-Sheikh situation

A subjective view at first
One cannot help but notice a sense of unfortunate karma in the downing of the Russian Metrojet Airbus A321 – Flight 9268 over the Sinai Peninsula having just taken off from the Sharm el-Sheikh Egyptian tourist resort.
On my hearing of that air crash last week, my mind quickly turned to an earlier to the alleged shooting down of the Malaysian Airlines Flight MH17 over rebel Ukrainian territory, purported perpetrated with Russian weaponry with the loss of 298 souls.
One somewhat dominant view in this discourse that Russia is much implicated in that unfortunate Ukrainian incident by the way it has supported and aided the rebels, the chickens have now come home to roost in the sad loss of 224 souls in Egypt.
Exploring the situation
Yet, one cannot entirely eliminate the Russian intervention in Syria from the equation in terms of the desire of the Islamic State to avenge the drubbing attacks from Russian air strikes. Then, either by coincidence of sheer numbers, it had it be that it was a Russian airline that was targeted, but we must not ignore the fact that Russians make up about 60% of the tourists that visit Sharm el-Sheikh every year.
Daily as the news comes in, I watch how an unfortunate disaster is being turned into a diplomatic mess. Everyone is now coming to the agreement that a bomb went off on the flight, probably in the cargo hold. It can only have been put there either stealthily in someone’s baggage or some agent of the Islamic State had infiltrated the ground crew and secreted a bomb onto the plane.
Using intelligence without intelligence
The UK apparently intercepted some chatter well after the fact that it might have been a bomb days ago and rather than inform Egypt and Russia at the very least, they unilaterally suspended all flights to and from Sharm el-Sheikh precipitating a diplomatic crisis just as the President of Egypt was airborne on his way to the UK.
Whilst the price of having intelligence and the knowledge to use it can be valuable, this was one piece of intelligence any fool, talk less of a government should have been willing to share with other governments who in the end would have been saddled with the responsibility of how to deal with that information with regards to the safety of their citizens.
It makes you wonder what the harvesting of communications will achieve as a means to preventing criminality and terrorism if it only really matters for investigatory activities after the crime or terrorist act has happened.
The reprehensible politicisation of our humanity
I find it utterly disgraceful and amateurish that Her Majesty’s Government found political expediency instead of a greater service to humanity in this matter. It goes without saying that the UK government is responsible first for British lives abroad, but it does not make the lives of people of other nationalities any less worthy of given cover and safety to prevent another air disaster brought on by terrorist bombs.
How, the UK dealt with Egypt in unilaterally withdrawing flights is colonial imperialism in the extreme with a clear lack of respect for the government and people of Egypt. That it has not degenerated into a full diplomatic spat is one of providence rather than agency. In these days of modern communication, it would not have been impossible to get word to President Al-Sisi wherever he might be, even if we would not be dissuaded from our intentions.
Can the airport be safe?
However, it brings into the sharp relief the question of security at Sharm el-Sheikh International Airport, the staff on the ground are poor, poorly paid, corrupt or easily suborned; we have heard of people being fast tracked through security for a fee, there is no telling that there might well be a syndicate given to receiving bribes or inducements to completely short-circuit the security procedures for the convenience of some and invariably someone who intends to have a bomb placed in the cargo hold of a departing aircraft.
It is sad that only a few weeks ago when a friend told me of his booking a very affordable holiday to Sharm el-Sheikh, I opined that it was probably the safest place to go in the Middle East. The resort itself appears to be safe, the problem appears to be at the airport and the security procedures therein.
Egypt’s loss
If Egypt cannot win back the confidence of tourists that visitors can arrive safely and return home without mishap, Sharm el-Sheikh is at risk of losing its tourism draw and as a greater net contributor to the Egyptian tourism purse as well as a huge employer in a country that is still in political turmoil, the resultant effect will be dire for the Egyptian population at large.
Now that Russia has also suspended all flights to and from Egypt at large, along with a few other countries, the about 60,000 tourists from Russia and the many more that would have presented a bumper tourism season at the advent of Winter in Europe will find cancellations and bookings for other resorts that do not seem to be under threat presently.
It is a mess
Beyond that, it will be a logistical nightmare to evacuate the tourists from Sharm el-Sheikh, like yesterday, 21 out of the flights that would have been UK bound were cancelled at the behest of the Egyptian authorities that averred that the airport could not manage the traffic apart from the fact that tourists will only be able to return with their hand baggage, their luggage will follow sometime after.
Whilst Egypt denies this is a diplomatic situation, one can only give them the benefit of the doubt amidst the suspicion of ulterior motive. They have been dealt with quite shabbily and the resultant mess is partly of our own making, we are capable of better than this.
I reserve the greatest excoriation for the people who planned and planted the bomb on Flight 9268 and a close second to whom there must be opprobrium and contempt is Her Majesty’s Government with their absence of tact or diplomacy for ends that might look reasonable at face value but does not broach the very least that can be expected of good English manners, that I am appalled does not begin to describe my feelings.

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