Can foreign consultancy salvage Egypt’s airports?

Following the Cabinet meeting held in Sharm el-Sheikh last month to discuss ways to boost tourism to the city, ministers underwent rigorous security measures as they departed from Sharm el-Sheikh Airport. Four of them were frisked by security personnel and were required to remove their shoes and other loose clothing.

However, despite the introduction of tighter security measures, regular passengers have felt little to no change in Egypt’s airport security procedures since the Russian plane crash over Sinai on October 31. Some have noted the usual slackness in security procedures, whereby passengers can pay to avoid going through security checks, carry forbidden items onboard and walk into the airport buildings without being checked.

On Tuesday, the Egyptian government announced that it was appointing the British security firm Control Risks to review and assess airport security in both Cairo and Sharm el-Sheikh airports. Minister of Tourism Hisham Zaazou stated during a press conference that the decision was in response to a general increase in terrorist operations worldwide, denying any link to the Russian plane disaster.

Following the crash, official investigation reports from Russia, the United States and the United Kingdom declared that the crash was likely caused by an explosive device onboard. Egypt came under fire for its lack of proper airport security measures, while Russia and the UK suspended flights to and from Egypt, delivering a major blow to the tourism industry right around the time of the peak holiday season.

Earlier in December, Control Risks released a Travel Risk Map for the year 2016, evaluating the travel risks to each country around the world.

Sudan, Mali, Niger, Libya and Chad were declared severe-risk countries, while Egypt and Algeria were described as high-risk, citing terrorism as Egypt’s “main peril.”

“At a time of heightened global security concerns, the Egyptian government is appropriately reviewing airport security,” Control Risks CEO for Middle East and North Africa Andreas Carleton-Smith is quoted as saying in the firm’s press release.

He added that Control Risks’ role would be to “assist the Egyptian government in ensuring that security at these airports meets international best practice and governance standards.”

The firm provides consultancy on political and security risks, as well as analysis and investigation support for “sensitive political issues,” according to the company’s website. Countries covered by Control Risks include Turkey, Iran, India, Mexico and Russia, among others.

Ihab Youssef, a former Interior Ministry official who now owns his own private security and risk-management company, Risk Free, says that local private security companies were unjustifiably snubbed for the job.

Risk Free happens to be Control Risks’ local representative, and while Youssef strongly vouches for Control Risks and its ability to get the job done properly, he criticizes the government for not consulting with the private security companies division at the Egyptian Chamber of Commerce.

“The government did not look at the local market at all,” says Youssef.

According to Youssef, Control Risks will first audit airports’ security in order to identify gaps in security measures before presenting recommendations, which will include a security plan, equipment purchases, new policies and procedures, as well as personnel training.

However, Youssef says that it would have been better if Egypt had already developed its security systems and then brought in Control Risks to evaluate it accordingly, instead of starting from the very beginning.

“If they brought in this company to say that Egypt’s security is at 100 percent, that won’t happen,” says Youssef. “They need to understand that the final product will not be 100 percent secure and there will still be gaps.”

Additionally, Control Risks will conduct periodical reviews of Egypt’s airport security and assess whether recommendations have been implemented or not.

Youssef, who has worked at the Ministry of Interior for over 20 years, wonders whether Egyptian policemen employed at the airport will accept a foreign company imposing certain requirements on their work.

As a result, he expects local private security companies to be hired as airport security instead.

“There are many vital areas in Egypt where we must resort to private security companies,” says Youssef.

He adds that while hiring Control Risks was a delayed reaction by the government to the tourism crisis, it should not wait for a crisis to occur before taking action in the future.

Mostafa Khalil, the chairman and managing director of Royal Manta Travel, a local travel agency, agrees. “As long as we have a system that is able to deal with each crisis properly, then we can cross over each one.”

Khalil believes that hiring a foreign company is a “very positive decision,” adding that this will help improve Egypt’s image as a secure country to the rest of the world. A local company would have not been taken seriously, he explains.

“We are at a point where we do not have the capabilities to do such a job,” he says.

Passant Rabie 

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