In the wake of yesterday’s EgyptAir plane hijacking event, and the subsequent end of the standoff with no casualties, Foreign Minister Sameh Shoukry called his Cypriot counterpart to express his gratitude for the enormous help provided by Cyprus in the matter. The Cypriot Minister’s response was reassuring: “That’s what friends are for”. Indeed, it is times like these that distinguish between friends and those who hold ill will towards you.
There is no doubt that yesterday’s events were frightening for as long as they lasted. However, it is also undeniable that it was an entirely unique and unforeseeable set of events which thankfully resulted in no casualties, as it was later revealed that the hijacker was never in possession of any actual explosives. In this context, The Independent’s claim that the incident will place Egypt’s aviation security “under increased scrutiny” is absolutely bewildering. The newspaper decided to publish a list of EgyptAir plane hijackings throughout history, claiming that this was an important reminder in light of yesterday’s (exceptional) incident, as well as the tragic Metrojet flight bombing of last October (an event which involved no hijacking and occurred on an entirely different airline of different nationality).
The article lists seven ‘hijackings’ that supposedly raise concerns regarding Egyptian aviation security. The most recent five of these seven incidents, however, resulted in no casualties. Two involved individuals carrying no more than knives; the other three involved bluffs with no actual weapons at all (much like yesterday’s incident). In the most recent two, the so-called hijackers were dealt with by the crew and the planes were not even diverted. In fact, the only two incidents listed where hijackers actually managed to board planes while armed occurred before 1990. Consequently, it is difficult to understand how incidents of passengers issuing empty threats, occurring sporadically over two decades, necessitate scrutiny of Egypt’s aviation security.
Failed hijackings and false alarms on airplanes are not an uncommon occurrence, nor are they unique to Egypt or its airlines. In February 2014, a Pegasus Airlines plane was diverted after an allegedly intoxicated passenger falsely claimed there was a bomb on board. In March 2015, a United Airlines passenger was stopped and restrained after allegedly claiming to have a bomb and attempting to storm the cockpit of the plane during a flight from Denver to Dulles. In December 2015, an Air France plane made an emergency landing in Montreal after an anonymous bomb threat.
None of these incidents resulted in demands for scrutiny of aviation security in these airlines or countries, and rightly so. Countries and airlines must do their utmost to ensure passenger security and prevent armaments or dangerous materials from being snuck on board flights. If there is a security measure that can be taken to prevent unstable passengers from making empty threats, however, only The Independent’s writers are aware of it. During yesterday’s incident, much like in the abovementioned incidents, the cabin crew worked on the assumption that the threat was real in order to guarantee the safety of all of those on board, until the situation could be defused. It is clear that this was the most sensible course of action given the circumstances, and that there is nothing that could have been done to prevent the hijacker from claiming to have explosives. And yet newspapers such as The Independent again and again continue to portray any notable event involving the word “Egypt” as further proof of the country’s ‘instability’ and alleged lack of security.
Citing an isolated, exceptional, and ultimately unavoidable incident as evidence of questionable security in Egypt is insincere and harmful, particularly in light of the current struggles of Egypt’s tourism industry and the concerted efforts being exerted by the government to establish the strongest possible aviation security measures. It is a blatant double-standard that is simply not applied to other countries and airlines who witness similar incidents, and sadly the only discernible motive behind such an approach would seem to be the intentional defamation of Egypt. Needlessly stoking fears regarding aviation security is not only unfair to Egypt, which constantly finds itself the subject of criticism and derision rather than solidarity in the wake of notable incidents including terrorist attacks; it is also irresponsible in light of the current prevalence of alarm and concern regarding security in general throughout the world. In a global atmosphere of overriding fear and an ever-present terrorist threat, it seems wildly inappropriate and unprofessional to encourage needless panic.