Egypt copes with fallout of likely plane bombing

Friday 13/11/2015
Damage might be difficult to reverse

CAIRO - Egypt is taking measures to raise security at its air­ports to prevent terrorists from further crippling the country’s crucial tourism industry.
Egypt initially denied the crash of a Russian passenger plane en route to St Petersburg from the Red Sea resort of Sharm el-Sheikh on October 31st was caused by a ter­rorist attack.
Egypt seems, however, to have mostly abandoned its posture of denial and is moving to remedy security problems at its airports. Experts from various countries, including Russia, have arrived in Egypt to offer advice and Cairo is reportedly preparing to receive modern security equipment from abroad.
Soon after the Russian plane broke apart in flight, causing the death of all 224 people on board, a Sinai-based affiliate of the Islamic State (ISIS) claimed responsibility for downing the aircraft.
Cairo is investigating the pos­sibility that a bomb was placed in the luggage of one of the plane’s passengers, causing an explosion inside the aircraft 23 minutes after take-off from Sharm el-Sheikh.
Staff members at hotels where the flight’s passengers stayed in Sharm el-Sheikh are being ques­tioned.
As the investigation into the likely bombing continued, Egypt worked to cushion the devastating effects of the plane crash and the subsequent flight suspensions by Britain and Russia on its tourism industry. Tourism is the source of almost 11% of Egypt’s national in­come.
Economist Heba Zahran said the government should open the door to private airlines and “invest more heavily in the tourism sector by creating more tourist-interest spots away from Sharm el-Sheikh and Hurghada”.
But the damage caused by the downing of the Russian plane might be difficult to reverse.
Tourists are standing in long queues at the airports of the two resort towns to return home. About 25,000 Russian tourists — out of a total of 80,000 Russians who have been holidaying in Sharm el-Sheikh and Hurghada — have returned to Russia since the plane crash.
Initiatives have been popping up to encourage Egyptians and other Arabs to visit Sharm el-Sheikh to compensate for the absence of Eu­ropeans but tourism workers do not pin high hopes on the propos­als to make up for potential losses.
Security experts, meanwhile, expect the purported bombing to affect Egypt’s war against militants in the Sinai, saying the army will likely crack down more fiercely on the militants in the days to come.
Egypt has been fighting militan­cy in the Sinai for more than two years, as terrorist acts there have caused the deaths of scores of army troops and policemen.