Thursday,19 July, 2018
Current issue | Issue 1315, (13 -19 October 2016)
Thursday,19 July, 2018
Issue 1315, (13 -19 October 2016)

Ahram Weekly

Routine alerts

Foreign embassies’ warnings of security threats to their nationals in Cairo were unjustifiable says the Foreign Ministry, reports Ahmed Morsy 

Al-Ahram Weekly

Last week the US, German, British and Canadian embassies in Egypt issued warnings to their citizens to avoid crowds and public spaces on Sunday because of potential security threats. None of the embassies specified what the “potential security concerns” were or gave reasons for the warnings. And, the day passed peacefully.

On Friday the Foreign Ministry called the US embassy’s warning “unjustifiable”. Foreign Ministry spokesperson Ahmed Abu Zeid said the US embassy had not coordinated with the Ministry of Interior or notified any official security body in Egypt about the reasons behind its warning.

According to Abu Zeid when the Foreign Ministry contacted the US embassy directly to ask about the reasons behind the warning the embassy said there was nothing specific. It was simply a precautionary measure routinely taken ahead of public holidays.

Drawing attention to the negative implications such “routine” warnings can have on the economy, particularly tourism, Abu Zeid urged foreign embassies in Egypt to desist from issuing unjustified or ambiguous statements.

The US embassy warning advised US nationals in Egypt to avoid “large gatherings and public spaces such as concert halls, movie theatres, museums, shopping malls, and sports venues in Cairo through Sunday, 9 October, due to potential security concerns”.

On Friday, the same day the US embassy issued its warning, the Canadian Embassy in Cairo told its citizens to exercise caution around government and security buildings, places of worship and crowds.  It warned against unnecessary travel to Egypt “due to the unpredictable security situation”, with the exception of the Red Sea coastal cities of Hurghada, Sharm El-Sheikh and the tourist cities of Luxor and Aswan in Upper Egypt.

The German and UK embassies then echoed the message.

Speculation on what had prompted the warnings was rife on social media and TV talk shows.

The 6 October, the anniversary of the 1973 Arab-Israeli war, is a public holiday in Egypt, this year it fell on Thursday. The Egyptian weekend is Friday and Saturday. Though Sunday was not a public holiday, it was the fifth anniversary of the Maspero carnage which took place on 9 October 2011. Sunday also saw a celebration in the Sinai resort of Sharm El-Sheikh marking the 150th anniversary of parliamentary life in Egypt.

An official source in the Interior Ministry told Al-Ahram Weekly that he ruled out the anniversary of Maspero incident as a possible reason for the warnings. The Maspero Youth Union had planned a peaceful demonstration, including the lighting of candles and laying of wreaths, to commemorate the anniversary but permission was refused by the Ministry of Interior. Sunday passed without any protests marking the clashes with the Egyptian military that led to the deaths of 28 protesters.

Khaled Okasha, director of the National Centre for Security Studies, says such alerts are “understandable” and countries issue them based on the information they receive.

“The latest alert should be considered routine because of the US administration’s continued concerns over possible attacks and the safety of its citizens abroad,” he said. He added it is perfectly possible that there had been coordination between the American and Egyptian sides ahead of the warning.

Okasha also noted that court hearings scheduled on Sunday in cases against two Islamist militant groups may also have played a part.

During the Sharm El-Sheikh celebration on Sunday Mohamed Al-Orabi, chairman of parliament's Foreign Relations Committee, said the “successful holding of the 150-year anniversary celebrations on Sunday refutes Western claims about security threats in Egypt”.

The celebration in Sharm El-Sheikh was attended by President Abdel-Fattah Al-Sisi, head of the Arab Parliamentary Union Ahmed Al-Garwan, Head of the African Parliamentary Union Roger Nkodo Dang, Secretary- General of the International Parliamentary Union Martin Chungong alongside Egyptian ministers and MPs. Several of the latter denounced the foreign embassies’ alerts.

“The fact that the event was held in Sharm El-Sheikh sends a message that the major Red Sea resort is completely safe and Western embassies should help deliver this message to their citizens,” said Al-Orabi.

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