Friday,18 August, 2017
Current issue | Issue 1336, (16 - 22 March 2017)
Friday,18 August, 2017
Issue 1336, (16 - 22 March 2017)

Ahram Weekly

Russia’s ultimatum

This editorial is primarily addressed to our honourable members of the Egyptian House of Representatives who will be asked to ratify the protocol for Egyptian-Russian cooperation in civil aviation safety. The protocol, when it goes into effect, will pave the way for the resumption of Russian tourism to Egypt after a year and a half in which flights to and from Russia have been suspended. Up to now, Russian authorities concerned with this issue have given no specific date for when they will lift the ban on flights to Egypt, confining themselves to vague statements to the effect that Russian tourism will be returning “soon”. However, during her official visit to Egypt recently, Valentina Matviyenko, the chairperson of the Russian Federation Council, revealed information that the Egyptian public opinion is probably unaware of. In a press conference, 4 March, she said that “necessary measures have been taken for flights to resume” and that “only four points still need to be implemented for a roadmap for the resumption of flights [to Egypt] to be completed.”

It is unclear what these four remaining points are; however, she noted that the Egyptian side had been notified of the need to implement them and that once this is done a team of Russian experts will come to Egypt to furnish the necessary facilities for the resumption of flights.

The implication, of course, is that the “four points” are non-negotiable. Russia expects the Egyptians to fulfil them and, once they do, Moscow will dispatch a team of experts to assess whether the Egyptians performed the tasks as required. Then, once the experts signal their approval, Moscow will give the go-ahead for the resumption of flights to Egypt.

Again, it is not known what Egypt is expected to do. Or, more accurately, the Egyptian people do not know what their government is expected to do in order for Russian officials to give their “Okay” for Russian-Egyptian air traffic to return to normal. Obviously there are some unpleasant facts behind this mystery, or so we understand from remarks by MP Alaa Abed, chairman of the parliament’s Human Rights Committee. “Egypt is studying the bill of the civil aviation safety protocol agreement with Russia and it needs a compromise solution on this matter,” he said. The implication is that the Russians are making demands that are difficult to meet and that hopefully some middle road can be found.

Yet, the Russian Federation Council chairperson explicitly stated that the protocol between the Russian Federal Air Transport Agency (Rosaviatsia) and the Egyptian Ministry of Civil Aviation has already been signed and is awaiting ratification in order to clear the way for Russia “to provide the facilities for the resumption of flights”. In other words, even though the protocol is signed and awaiting ratification, once ratified further measures need to be taken before flights can resume.

When viewed in this manner, one feels mystified. Evidently, Egyptian officials realise that the Russians are making hard-to-meet or sensitive demands, which is why they do not talk about them openly. They do not want to shock the general Egyptian public which thinks well of the Russian people. But the demands are, in fact, excessive and fly in the face of the principle of Egyptian national sovereignty. If we accept the conditions in any form, it will give the whole world a negative impression regarding the state of security in the country and Egypt’s ability to secure the safety of its own airports.

As for the many details of these excessive demands, clarification is to be found in the Russian press from February and, specifically, the Kommersant news website and the RIA Novosti news agency of 19 February, and in a statement issued by the Russian cabinet regarding its decree approving the protocol for civil aviation safety. From these and other sources, we learn that the protocol requires complete submission to an array of harsh obligations. For example, Egypt would have to agree to the deployment of Russian security experts in Cairo, Hurghada and Sharm El-Sheikh airports. They would be entitled to search and monitor everything: airport staff, halls and restaurants, airport traffic and passenger movement, luggage, the food offered onboard flights, as well as the hangars where planes scheduled for flights to Russia are housed and maintained. The security experts, according to the abovementioned sources, would have the broadest authorities enabling them to search passengers and their belongings or to monitor closed-circuit surveillance systems. The Russian staff “will take care of loading the luggage and servicing the aircraft in the airports in Egypt,” the statement said.

It is interesting to note the wording of the statement: “The protocol provides for the supervision by Russian official of the Egyptian security measures in international airports and calls for cooperation in civil aviation safety and the provision of the stringent security measures needed to confront the increasing threats due to the impact of international terrorist organisations on civil aviation.”

Otherwise put, the protocol is a technical-security-political agreement all in one.

As for costs, which come to about a billion rubles — or $200 million — per year, the Russians think that Egypt should shoulder them. This entails paying for the Russian experts who are to be permanently posted in Egyptian airports in Cairo, Sharm El-Sheikh and Hurghada, plus their accommodation costs, protection and assorted equipment and hardware.

A statement released by Rosaviatsia said that, according to the protocol, the Russian side can set up a separate legal entity to track aviation safety. “The entity directly responsible for the implementation of the protocol’s provisions from the Russian side may authorise experts of the Russian legal entity to exert control in international airports of the Arab Republic of Egypt, from which airlines of the states involved perform flights to the Russian Federation,” the protocol added. Or more bluntly put, the protocol is a comprehensive bilateral agreement that grants Russian security control over Egyptian airports.

Just imagine the reaction of all the countries that had come to the conviction during recent months that Egypt has succeeded in putting into place all security measures necessary to safeguard flights and protect passengers and their goods, only to learn that Egypt signed an agreement with Russia signifying that all those procedures and arrangements mean nothing. Imagine how their eyebrows would shoot up further when they read that airport security in Egypt is to be undertaken by Russian experts for whom Egypt is to foot the bill.

Connecting all the dots above we realise the following: firstly, Matviyenko was here to issue an ultimatum, not to deliver news that the Egyptians have been looking forward to hearing. Secondly, the Russians think that Egypt’s eagerness to see Russian tourists return to our beaches presents an opportunity and that they should seize this to the fullest in order to intervene in security affairs in Egyptian airports. Thirdly, the Russians took our yielding to their every demand to perform inspections and evaluations of Egyptian airports for a year and a half, and our welcome to all and sundry to say whatever they pleased about our security procedures, as proof of the weakness of the Egyptian position. This enticed them into increasing their demands and setting their sights on full control of Egyptian airports, as though Egypt was just taking its first steps in the world of civil aviation.

In light of the foregoing, we appeal to the parliamentary representatives of the Egyptian people to reject this shameful protocol so as to safeguard the dignity of our nation.

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