In a letter published by Egypt’s Ministry of Foreign Affairs Tuesday, Foreign Minister Sameh Shoukry called for Egyptian-Mexican solidarity as both governments face violent domestic struggles.
However the letter, re-published in leading Mexican papers on Wednesday, has done little to appease critical opinions of the Latin American country’s press over the Egyptian army’s killings of eight of their nationals on Sunday.
Shoukry expressed his condolences over the deaths, but said Egyptians have experienced the loss of many innocent lives to violence in the past decades, including many law enforcement agents. These people “are the most cautious and careful when it comes to preserving the lives of others”, Shoukry said, although he offered no apology, and suggested that Egypt is working with “emerging facts”.
He also called out those who have “exploit[ed] the tragic event, to allege that Egyptian law enforcement officials… act indiscriminately”, referring to criticism of a shoot-first ask-questions-later policy amongst Egypt’s security forces. “This could not be farther from the truth,” the foreign minister said.
In Wednesday’s edition of leading Mexican newspaper El Universal, the editorial maintains that while there are “still many unknowns”, it is clear that a military “regardless of the circumstances, should never fire at a group of people if you are not absolutely certain that they are violent criminals. Everything indicates that this was not the case”.
The editorial acknowledges that there are similarities between the two countries, with Mexico also having to face the dilemma of collateral victims in their war against organised crime. “However, when tragedies have occurred and innocent civilians have been wrongly affected, the government faces responsibility and compensates the victims,” El Universal writes. “The Egyptian government has tried to blame the travel agency and even the Mexicans, to divert attention from their failure in following the protocols of military procedure.”
The editorial finishes by taking an even stronger aim at Egypt’s government, saying that it is run by a “military elite”, and that the “last time their authority was challenged, they undertook a coup against an elected government”. In light of this, the newspaper argues that justice will be difficult to achieve, with no punishment meted out. ~Nonetheless “Mexico, and the Egyptian people, must demand it”, it said.
In a fiery letter in the Milenio, columnist Jairo Calixto Albarran rejected outright Shoukry’s attempt to draw parallels between the two countries, saying any similarity is “pure coincidence”.
“Egyptians, who went from the Arab Spring to another set of dictators, the first thing they did was deny everything. Then they blamed the Mexicans and ultimately have held back as much information as they could so that no-one would blame the military for the tragic event,” he wrote.
“This is the effect of having a strategy of damage control the same as the Chinese police,” Albarran wrote.
In an article published in El Universal Wednesday, former Mexican ambassador to Egypt Hector Cardenas also spoke frankly, saying that Egyptian authorities “have been unable or unwilling to provide a satisfactory explanation for this tragedy”.
Cardenas disagreed with Egypt’s line, as the wrongs of the incident are clearer he said, also nothing the convoy had permissions and a police escort. “All this leads us to think that if, as claimed by the Egyptian authorities, it was an unfortunate confusion, the problem lies in the lack of coordination between three entities, the Egyptian Ministry of Tourism, the army and the tourist police,” he wrote.
For Cardenas, this failing is indicative of the wider structural failures of the Egyptian state. The tourist police, created after the terrorist attack in 1997 at Luxor’s Hatshepsut Temple, were criticised from the beginning because they carried the risk of “a lack of coordination between two police forces under different commands and with different functions”.
He wrote that the tourist police does not have sufficient intelligence, mainly as “such information is jealously guarded by the police and the army”. This kind of institutional failure gives rise to “conspiracy theories and urban legends”, because the concealment of truth is so widespread in the Egyptian government.
Writing in the Informador, Ivabelle Arroyo says that the killing has revealed a lack of common sympathy and solidarity within Mexico itself. Of the eight dead Mexicans, six of them are understood to have originated from the affluent state of Jalisco, Arroyo suggests that many in Mexico were unmoved by the deaths of the eight nationals and argued the “irrelevance of a group of middle and upper-class who died in an exotic journey… They do not identify with a group of tourists from Jalisco who dined on the sand in the Middle East”.
However, Arroyo sees that whilst these kinds of events have the ability to shine a light on social divisions within a country, they also serve to bring people together, and “reinforce the bonds of community identity”.