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Michael Jansen: Terrorised by terrorism
May 27, 2016
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Ahead of the recent May 1 holiday my pharmacist asked me if it is safe to fly from Cyprus to Jordan where she and her teacher husband planned to visit their son who works in Amman. Fearful of bombs and hijackers they did not go but went instead to Greece.

Whenever I am about to board a plane for the region, she expresses misgivings. This mild-mannered Greek Cypriot couple have been “terrorised by terrorism,” as have tens of thousands of people of many nationalities.

The May 19 crash into the Mediterranean sea of EgyptAir flight 840 with the loss of 66 passengers and crew is certain to exacerbate the fears of many people, making them less and less enthusiastic about air travel even though the cause of this disaster could be an electrical fault rather than “terrorist” sabotage. After all, one is just as deadly as the other.

EgyptAir has a relatively good safety record. However, the airline’s most recent accident in July 2011 involved a cockpit fire caused by an electrical problem. The accident fortunately took place on the tarmac at Cairo airport. Seven injuries occurred during evacuation. This incident will ensure investigators will focus on the electrical systems of flight 840 as well as search for explosion, fire and chemical residues.

When the ill-fated Egyptian aircraft went down last week, it was on a sequential journey involving flights between Cairo and Asmara in Eritrea, Cairo and Tunis in Tunisia, and Cairo and Paris. All four cities and countries have seen recent “terrorist” attacks by radical elements, eliciting suspicions that an explosive or incendiary device could have been placed in the plane at any of these locations. Indeed, the Egyptian authorities initially suggested the crash was a result of “terrorism” but later said the cause was yet to be ascertained. Experts say this could take a month or more.

Cairo’s approach to the EgyptAir disaster contrasted sharply with its initial refusal to agree a bomb had brought down a Russian civilian aircraft, killing 224 people while flying over Sinai last October. The Sinai branch of Daesh claimed the bombing. Investigators found the explosion that pierced the skin of the plane was caused by an airport worker who had placed explosives in a soft drink tin under a seat. Lax security at Sharm al-Shaikh and other Egyptian airports was blamed for the disaster. Since then Egypt has stepped up vetting of cleaners and loaders and intensified searches of passengers and luggage. Security, however thorough, can never be perfect.

People fearful of air travel may not know that the 21st century has had few aircraft bombings in comparison with the number of incidents during the last century. The 1970s and 1980s experienced spikes in such operations, with many casualties.

The rise of “terrorism” in this century is a consequence of the “war on terror” proclaimed by the US following the 2001 strikes by hijacked airliners on New York and Washington. The first US targets in this “war” were Afghanistan and Iraq, prompting anti-US militants to join radical factions, thereby increasing the threat of “terrorism.”

Most governments have joined the US campaign, making high profile sites and ordinary citizens targets of radicals. The media has hyped the threat of “terrorism.” Institutes and think-tanks have been established to study “terrorism” and suggest ways of combating the scourge. A heavy airport security regime has been imposed around the globe and become a major industry and employer. “Terrorism” prevention has boosted lagging economies.

Uniformed officers and scanners at airports create an atmosphere of tension and, even, fear among passengers as well as force them to arrive at airports early and stand in long lines for security procedures.

Constant harping on “terrorism” makes groups like al-Shabaab and Daesh bolder and more inventive with the aim of foiling security measures. Daesh, in particular, but also al-Qaeda’s Jabhat al-Nusra, have increased the “terror by terrorism” by publically parading and beheading foreign captives and shooting and blowing up people in European as well as regional capitals. This means they have taken their fight to the level of hapless individuals, people all the more frightened of becoming caught up in their operations.

Security measures adopted by governments and the media’s focus on “terrorism” could very well inspire radicalised individuals to act on their own in the name of Daesh, making it all the more difficult to identify possible perpetrators and pre-empt operations. With recruitment of individuals in mind, Daesh spokesman Abu Muhammad al-Adani has called on supporters everywhere and anywhere to mount “lone wolf” operations during Ramadan, promising “martyrdom” and arguing there “are no innocents in the heart of the lands of the crusaders.”

For Egypt, the crash of the airliner is a disaster, dealing a fresh blow to the country’s rapidly declining tourism industry where revenues fell dramatically after the 2011 uprising. The decline was accelerated with the unrest which began in July 2013 when President Muhammad Morsi, a Muslim Brotherhood stalwart, was ousted by the army following massive popular protests calling for his resignation. Brotherhood supporters launched demonstrations, marches and a campaign against the military and police. The authorities responded by jailing senior members of the Brotherhood and any supporters taking part in rallies or assaults on officers. Daesh responded by mounting a rebellion in northern Sinai, a region already lawless and restive.

The bombing of the Russian airliner in early 2015 led to a 46.3 per cent reduction in this season’s foreign tourist arrivals in Sharm al-Shaikh, once a popular holiday resort. This came on top of a fall in tourist visits in Egypt from 15 million a year to nine million since 2011. In peak years tourism provided $14 billion (Dhs51.4b) in foreign revenue essential to purchase goods, fuel, and food for Egypt’s 83 million people. Tourism revenue is now $5.9 billion (Dhs21.6b) due to insecurity.

Since 2011, the Egyptian economy has been in free fall, its collapse staved off by Saudi Arabia, the UAE, and Kuwait which have deposited billions of dollars in Egypt’s central bank to boost foreign exchange reserves, prop up the sinking currency and enable Egypt to import fuel, medical supplies, food and commercial goods.
____________________________________________
The author, a well-respected observer of Middle East
affairs, has three books on the Arab-Israeli conflict

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