The US government introduced last week a ban that affects all direct flights to the US originating from certain Middle Eastern and North African (MENA) countries. It came into effect March 21, and covers flights from major MENA countries including Saudi Arabia, Turkey, Egypt, Jordan, Kuwait, Qatar, the UAE and Morocco.
The information provided by US officials on condition of anonymity claims the ban is being introduced for security reasons. It will be temporary but for an indefinite period. The instruments covered by the ban are laptops, iPads, cameras and most other electronics carried in airplane cabins. Cell phones and medical devices are excluded from the ban.
Cameras are not that important, but a laptop is for a trans-Atlantic traveler because flights from MENA to the US take 10 to 15 hours. Many passengers want to use their laptops for work. A businessman or academic may use these 10-15 hours productively. It is unfair to deprive them of that opportunity. Whichever way you look at it, the justification for the ban fails the test of logic from several standpoints.
First, one of the reasons for the ban is that such devices may explode in the cabin, but the same device is allowed in the luggage department of the same plane. If it explodes in the cabin, it is easier to control the effects of the explosion. It will probably slightly hurt the person who carries the device, and if it causes a small fire it can be extinguished easily without putting at risk the entire plane.
But if the device explodes in the luggage department, it may cause a fire that cannot be extinguished because there is nobody to do so in that department, so the plane will crash with all its passengers. The ban fails to explain why this comparison was not taken into account.
Second, similar explosions may occur in flights originating from countries that are not covered by the ban. Some, not all, US airports are equipped with computer tomography scanners that can detect better than x-ray machines whether there is a hazardous electronic device. So a potential terrorist could carry out his ominous plan by boarding a plane in a US airport that is not equipped with a computer tomography scanner.
It is consistent with President Donald Trump’s policy to prioritize the protection of US interests. It will definitely contribute to achieving this goal, but its compatibility with ethics is questionable.
Third, if the ban is introduced because MENA airports are not equipped with these scanners, the US could have asked these countries to install them. I do not think the relevant authorities would oppose this because it is an added safety measure for their national carriers.
Fourth, what if a passenger who carries an electronic device that could explode during the flight goes first from a MENA country to a European city, and continues his flight from there to the US? The ban ignores the fact that such a passenger is still a security risk for the US, but he or she is allowed to travel when the flight is split into two parts.
The UK introduced in 2006 a similar ban on electronic equipment, which caused a steep increase in luggage thefts.
All these inconsistencies indicate that a more important reason behind the ban is commercial rather than security. For several years, many US and European airlines have complained about the decline of their MENA market share. Airports such as Dubai, Istanbul and Cairo have become major hubs for long-haul flights, and these countries’ national carriers have developed very fast, to the detriment of US and European competitors.
So European airlines may have encouraged the US to take such a measure, in the hope that many passengers would then prefer to split their flight. MENA airports that have become a regional hub will suffer.
The ban is consistent with President Donald Trump’s policy to prioritize the protection of US interests. It will definitely contribute to achieving this goal, but its compatibility with ethics is questionable.
• Yasar Yakis is a former foreign minister of Turkey and founding member of the ruling AK Party.