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Interview with Marco Pinfari – Egypt after the plane crash

Par Marco Pinfari, Mathilde Rouxel
Publié le 26/11/2015 • modifié le 11/06/2020 • Durée de lecture : 3 minutes

Marco Pinfari

How do the Egyptian media cover British and US claims that this Russian jet was downed by a bomb?

The Egyptian government and government-controlled media are obviously keen to avoid the negative backlash that such discovery would have on tourism to Egypt, and Sharm el-Sheikh in particular, even if the evidence suggesting that the plane has actually been downed by a bomb now appears overwhelming. This is particularly worrying as Russians make up the largest percentage of incoming tourists, and Sharm el-Sheikh is by far Egypt’s main tourist destination.
The two main alternatives to the bomb scenario that have been considered are a structural problem in the aircraft and some kind of weather event that might have affected it during the flight. The structural problem hypothesis remains on the table but the evidence suggesting that the plane was downed by a bomb is now difficult to dispute.

What is the cost of terrorism fears on Egypt’s tourist industry?

Tourism to Egypt is in general very exposed to events like this one, for two main reasons. First, there is now a rather long history of violence and attacks against tourists in the country at least since the 1990s, so evidence suggests that Egypt is associated in the mind of many tourists with a high “risk perception” compared to other destinations, even within the same region – such as Dubai. Secondly, and relatedly, since the 1990s Egypt has increasingly relied on leisure tourism on the Sinai and Red Sea coast as such tourism, in contrast to heritage tourism that often requires visiting sites in inhabited areas, relies on facilities that are easier to protect and, if necessary, fence off from the rest of the country. Yet tourists who travel to Egypt just to sit on the beaches are also more likely to change their holiday plans, as opposed to those who want to visit Egypt’s heritage sites.

Money-wise, tourism is one of the main industries in Egypt (1) and, together with the Suez Canal, one of the main sources of foreign currency. Tourist arrivals are already down by around 30% compared to before the 2011 Revolution, and any further reduction would heavily impact on Egypt’s economy.

How are the diplomatic relations between Russia and Egypt?

El-Sisi worked hard since his election to strengthen his relations with Russia, partly to diversify Egypt’s foreign policy alignments, and Putin has overall supported this. The choice of Russian authorities to go stop flights to Egypt and Egyptair flight to Russia unilaterally, together with the – equally unilateral – decision to go public on the fact that the plane might have been downed by a bomb, are likely to impact negatively on bilateral relations. Yet Egypt needs Russia and has signed with it few days ago a memorandum for the construction of a nuclear power plant. The relation will remain very asymmetrical, though.

How is the prevention of terrorism on the territory?

There is no easy solution to Egypt’s problems with terrorism, especially in the Sinai. Surely el-Sisi’s regime is suffering from its decision not to engage Islamist movements in the political process, especially in the immediate aftermath of the 2013 coup, when the political space was more open and fluid than now. At this stage, with the Muslim Brotherhood outlawed and declared as a terrorist group, it has engaged in an outright military confrontation with no space for dialogue or negotiation. The military campaigns waged by the Egyptian army in the Sinai and elsewhere in the country, especially in the Western desert, may succeed in defeating the groups that wage guerrilla-like operations against security forces; however, terrorist attacks like the one that is likely to have downed the Russian plane are comparatively easy to arrange and cannot be “fought against” through large-scale military operations alone.

Note :
(1) Direct and Total Contribution of Travel And Tourism were respectively 5.6% and 12.6% of 2014 GDP according to the World Travel & Tourism Council

Publié le 26/11/2015

Marco Pinfari is assistant Professor of International Relations at American University in Caro. He holds a PhD in international relations from the London School of Economics and Political Science (LSE), a MA from the School of Oriental and African Studies (SOAS) and a Laurea Magistralis from the University of Bologna, Italy. 

His research focuses on a number of sub-debates in international relations and security studies. His recent work centres specifically on peace negotiations, interregional security cooperation and multiparty mediation in persistent conflicts, with a regional specialization in the Middle East and Arab Africa.

He holds a Postgraduate Certificate in Higher Education (PGCertHE) and, before joining American University in Cairo, taught in six different institutions in four countries. He has received a number of teaching awards, including the student-nominated LSE Teaching Excellence Award in 2012.

Suite à des études en philosophie et en histoire de l’art et archéologie, Mathilde Rouxel a obtenu un master en études cinématographiques, qu’elle a suivi à l’ENS de Lyon et à l’Université Saint-Joseph de Beyrouth, Liban.
Aujourd’hui doctorante en études cinématographiques à l’Université Paris 3 – Sorbonne Nouvelle sur le thème : « Femmes, identité et révoltes politiques : créer l’image (Liban, Egypte, Tunisie, 1953-2012) », elle s’intéresse aux enjeux politiques qui lient ces trois pays et à leur position face aux révoltes des peuples qui les entourent.
Mathilde Rouxel a été et est engagée dans plusieurs actions culturelles au Liban, parmi lesquelles le Festival International du Film de la Résistance Culturelle (CRIFFL), sous la direction de Jocelyne Saab. Elle est également l’une des premières à avoir travaillé en profondeur l’œuvre de Jocelyne Saab dans sa globalité.