Terrorist attacks over the past few years in major cities such as London, Paris and New York certainly exceed (in number and magnitude) those that have occurred in Cairo. Nevertheless, tourists and business people are quick to turn the page on these tragic incidents and to resume their tourism activities or business trips to Western destinations. In Egypt, however, the entire nation suffers for years in the wake of a terrorist incident, as the number of visitors drops substantially and tourists desert many Egyptian cities completely.
The rapid recovery from terrorist incidents in Western nations can probably be associated with a single word — trust. Most people believe that, as a rule, Western governments do their utmost to secure their citizens and visitors to their countries. Conversely, they perceive the governments of developing nations as having a laid-back attitude that does little to inspire their confidence. Moreover, people nowadays associate terrorism with developing nations, convinced that the deformed environments in these countries give rise to the emergence of terrorism (although the fact that many terrorists come from Western nations contradicts this).
When a terrorist attack occurs in Egypt, the government’s initial reaction is to deny any responsibility — a typically Egyptian “it wasn’t me” bureaucratic attitude. The government then tends to release information (often a mix of facts and fiction) bit by bit. The denial factor, combined with the refusal to admit responsibility for the emergence of terrorists on Egyptian soil or to acknowledge the shortcomings of its security measures, gives a negative impression to developed nations and their citizens, who refrain from visiting the country.
In Western nations, on the other hand, governments tend to recognize the deficiencies related to their security measures and, to some extent, to the emergence of native terrorists. After each tragic incident, a government team is assigned with various tasks that address the crisis from different angles. This kind of openness and transparency strengthens the trust that binds developed nations and their citizens.
Furthermore, in advanced nations, where the international media are allowed to provide full coverage of terrorist events, people are able to learn exactly what has happened. In developing nations, journalists are kept away from terrorist crime scenes and pressurized into publishing accounts that the government believes won’t hurt its position. Not surprisingly, this type of policy prompts many to speculate about the true story.
The effects of terrorist attacks in developing countries last longer than in the West because there is a lack of openness, transparency and trust.
Sadly, many developed Western nations, such as the US and the UK, are overusing their travel alert policies to discourage their citizens from visiting countries viewed as terrorism targets. This is a political tool rather than a genuine effort to protect citizens. Politics should not play any role in combating terrorism, a threat that the entire world is confronting.
In my view, neither advanced nations nor developing ones are tackling the core of the terrorism challenge. Most of the targeted countries are not working on reducing potential terrorists’ motivation to kill innocent civilians and engage in more terrorist activity. Nevertheless, the openness of the developed countries in dealing with this tragedy helps to strengthen the trust factor that they already have and that is lacking in developing nations.
Terrorism is a universal threat; it has the capacity to strike any nation, irrespective of its political position. Its proponents claim success when they expand their attacks and kill greater numbers of innocent civilians, no matter where their victims happen to live. Terrorists tend to target our political shortcomings; we therefore need to unite to address this challenge in a professional manner, independently of politics. Developing nations such as Egypt must adopt an attitude of openness and transparency in tackling this threat, thereby generating and developing the trust factor that we currently lack.
• Mohammed Nosseir, a liberal politician from Egypt, is a strong advocate of political participation and economic freedom. Twitter: @MohammedNosseir