Egypt’s Sisi tries to reassure business after airline crash

President visits Red Sea resort saying ‘lights will not be going out in Sharm el-Sheikh’

A  policeman inspects a car at a checkpoint at Sharm el-Sheikh airport yesterday. Egypt said it stood to lose $280 million a month from the halt in Russian and British flights. Photograph: AFP/Getty Images

A policeman inspects a car at a checkpoint at Sharm el-Sheikh airport yesterday. Egypt said it stood to lose $280 million a month from the halt in Russian and British flights. Photograph: AFP/Getty Images

 

Egypt’s president Abdel Fattah al-Sisi declared on Wednesday that the “lights will not be going out in Sharm el-Sheikh”, as he visited the Red Sea resort hit by suspension of foreign flights after a Russian airliner crash western states suspect was caused by a bomb.

Mr Sisi said his visit was a message of support for investors and businesses in Sharm el-Sheikh and Egypt’s other main Red Sea resort of Hurghada.

Egypt said it stood to lose $280 million a month from the halt in Russian and British flights to Sharm el-Sheikh, the two countries accounting for two-thirds of foreign visitors to the beach and diving holiday destination.

Thousands of Russian and British tourists have already left, and several other European countries also suspended flights following the crash which killed all 224 people on board on October 31st. The plane broke up at high altitude and some national authorities have said it may have been hit by a bomb explosion.

“The lights will not be going out in Sharm el-Sheikh or Hurghada while we are here,” Mr Sisi told reporters. “We will support them in facing [the situation] we are in.”

Egypt’s tourism revenue is a vital source of foreign currency in a country which has seen its foreign cash reserves dwindle sharply during years of political instability following the 2011 uprising which overthrew president Hosni Mubarak.

Last year, nearly 10 million tourists visited, far less than the 14.7 million in 2010. Officials had hoped for modest growth this year but the Sinai plane crash, coming at the start of the peak Red Sea winter holiday season, is likely to reverse that.

Islamic State

Alarmed at the potential scale of losses, Egyptian officials have expressed frustration with western governments for suggesting the Airbus A321 had been targeted by Sinai-based militants before crash investigators reached their findings.

“So far there is no proof of anything,” Mr Sisi said.

A senior Russian official said Moscow’s decision to suspend flights was unlikely to be reversed soon.

“It’s for a long time. For how long – I cannot really say, but I think that for several months, minimum,” Sergei Ivanov, the head of the presidential administration, was quoted as saying by RIA news agency on Tuesday.

Tourism minister Hisham Zaazou said he would seek to make up for the loss of international business by encouraging domestic tourism, as well as encouraging Gulf Arab visitors and easing visa requirements for tourists from North Africa.

He said he planned a $5 million public relations campaign to promote Egypt in Britain and Russia and win back tourism from those countries.

Mr Sisi echoed that message during his visit.

“Egypt is secure, stable and safe and welcomes your people,” he said. “They will come to Egypt peacefully and leave peacefully and we will do all we can to protect and look after them.” – (Reuters)