14 - 20 September 2000
Issue No. 499
|Published in Cairo by AL-AHRAM established in 1875|
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Managing a tragedyBy Nadia Abou El-Magd
After observing a minute's silence to mourn the 65 Egyptians who died in the 23 August Gulf Air crash, Mustafa Tageddin, head of the cabinet's nascent Crisis Management Centre, and representatives of the various ministries met last week to evaluate their reaction to the crisis.
"Our meeting takes place within the context of transparency and candour, to document, discuss and learn from the lessons of handling this crisis," Tageddin told the representatives, numbering 30 or so.
The centre was established in April at the orders of Prime Minister Atef Ebeid. Its strategy revolves around three axes: firstly, prediction, prevention and protection from crises, if possible; secondly, central administration of crises and finally, documentation as part of preparing for future crises.
The first crisis to confront the centre was the crash into the sea of a Gulf Air Airbus A320, a few miles away from its destination in Manama, Bahrain, killing all 143 people on board, including 65 Egyptians.
Tageddin's appointment as the centre's head has been met with scepticism because he lived abroad for more than 30 years -- a fact that could curtail his awareness of domestic issues -- and also because he carries a Swedish passport in addition to his Egyptian nationality.
Taking into consideration the criticism and sensitivities, Tageddin told the ministry representatives: "I spent 30 years abroad and came back to provide my experience to Egypt. My ideas are not necessarily Western. In order to be able to coordinate, we have to meet and get to know each other. We are not competing, we are cooperating."
Over cake, tea and coffee, the Crisis Management Centre distributed evaluation questionnaires to the representatives. They had to answer questions such as: "How did you learn about the accident and what did you do?" and "Did you wait for orders from your superiors before taking action?"
Raafat Radwan, director of the cabinet's Information and Decision Support Centre, also affiliated to the Prime Minister's office, said the government acted speedily to address this crisis and did its best to minimise the sufferings of the victims' relatives. "Although coordination has not reached the point of perfection yet, the 1,000-mile trip has started and the first step has been taken," Radwan told the seminar. "The Gulf Air tragedy rang the alarm bell and showed the importance of crisis management."
Before the centre's establishment, in times of major crises or catastrophes, a ministerial committee headed by the Prime Minister and including the ministers of defence, interior and the other concerned ministries, would meet immediately.
The first seminar on crisis management was organised in 1988 by the Defense Ministry. After the earthquake that rocked Egypt in October 1992, the need for crisis management science became more evident.
"Crisis management is becoming part and parcel of modernising Egypt," El-Sayed Eleiwa, a professor of political science and director of Al-Qarar (Decision), a crisis consultancy office, told Al-Ahram Weekly.
Tageddin, 54, graduated as a construction engineer from Cairo University and obtained his PhD from Sweden in Engineering Sciences. When floods hit Upper Egypt in 1979, Tageddin came back as chief technical adviser to a UN relief mission, staying in Upper Egypt for eight months. Tageddin is the president of Swedish Consultants for Disaster Management and Civilian Protection. Since April, he has spent most of his time in Egypt.
Tageddin's office is made up of five persons who meet and analyse information in an attempt to predict and, if possible, prevent disasters, and be alert and ready to handle them as soon as they occur. The centre is one of the achievements of the Ebeid government and "aims to create an immunity system against disasters and crises that is also capable of handling them efficiently. But we are still at the very beginning," Tageddin told the Weekly. He hopes to transform the centre into a supreme council for crisis management.
Although Tageddin complained at the seminar that, at the time of the Gulf Air crash, he was not able to reach officials at Cairo Airport for two hours, he described the response to the crisis as "excellent". He attributed the mistakes that took place to the lack of knowledge on the part of some officials of the nature of the centre's job. "The attitude of some was: "Who are you? And what is crisis management?" he said.
Tageddin concluded that all ministries and the sectors and committees within them should be thoroughly informed about the centre. He also wants to establish a national committee for crisis management, with a "crisis spokesman" for each ministry, "because we are not an executive agency; we are a coordinating body."
Eleiwa believes that although the Gulf Air seminar is a good start, the ministry representatives still lack the necessary training and need "to break from the bureaucratic legacy that impedes swift decisions and actions."
"I'm going to do my job," Tageddin said. "I promised Ebeid to make this mission a big success and develop it into an overall system. I'm going to keep my promise. I have never failed in any project in my life. I'm not going to fail in my own homeland."