Recently, a tragedy occurred within Egypt when security forces fired on and killed a group of Mexican tourists within the nation.
Tourists killed by Egyptian security forces
The purpose of the present sample essay provided by Ultius is to investigate this situation in a more thorough way. The essay will begin with a summary of the actual event itself. Then, the essay will proceed to consider the context within which the event occurred. After this, the essay will describe the responses international stakeholders to the event. Finally, the essay will reflect, from a broader perspective, on what could perhaps be done in the future in order to prevent tragedies like this one from happening again.
Summary of the killings
Stack has succinctly summarized the event under consideration here in the following way:
“Egyptian security forces opened fire on a caravan of tourist vehicles in the country’s Western Desert late Sunday night, killing at least 12 people visiting from Mexico and injuring 10 others, among them Mexican tourists and their Egyptian tour guides” (paragraph 1).
In the simplest terms, then, the main cause of this tragedy consisted of nothing other than a case of mistaken identity. This happened on the 13th of September, 2015. The Egyptian security forces were attempting to stop a group of terrorists; they mistook the group of Mexican tourists for those terrorists; and they thus responded to the group with lethal force. This incident occurred in the middle of the desert:
“The tourists were traveling in a group of four sports utility vehicles in an area roughly 30 miles from Bahariya Oasis, security officials said. The oasis, a verdant desert outpost, is about 230 miles south of Cairo, and is a popular stop for groups on desert tours” (Stack, paragraph 6).
The tourists and guides were thus killed or injured by the Egyptian security forces.
The attack itself happened from a helicopter. When the attack happened, the tourists had pulled over in order to enjoy a picnic; and from their perspective, it probably seemed as though the helicopter was primarily present in order to provide them (that is, the tourists themselves) with additional security. However, tragedy then struck: the helicopter began to fire on the tourists, thereby bringing about the event presently under discussion here (Thomas and Kirkpatrick).
Part of the reason that this story has garnered so much attention in the news possibly has to do with the basic pathos present within it: one gets the impression that there is a fundamental disproportion or misrelation between what the tourists were doing on the one hand (having a picnic) and have they were treated on the other (getting shot). The tourists were expecting to have a good time out on the desert tour, just like countless other tourists have done for a long time; but unfortunately, the story of this particular group of tourists was not fated to have a happy ending.
The specific event of this tragedy, though, opens up onto certain broader questions. For example, the fact that the tourists were mistaken for terrorists by the Egyptian security force begs the question: why is the Egyptian security force looking for terrorists in the middle of the desert? Answering this question will require an excursion into the broader historical and political situation that is currently being confronted by Egypt. This question will be taken up by the following section of the present essay.
Context of the event of the killings
Regarding the matter of terrorism in Egypt, Stack has indicated the following:
“Egypt has battled an Islamist militant insurgency that emerged after the July 2013 military ouster of President Mohamed Morsi. The insurgents, largely based in the Sinai Peninsula in the east, have killed hundreds of soldiers and civilians, set off bombs in the capital, attacked Western targets and aligned themselves with the Islamic State” (paragraphs 11-12).
The Islamic State is, of course, a reference to the terrorist organization known as ISIS. This dangerous organization is currently in control of much of Iraq, and it has made a name for itself through the ruthlessness, barbarity, and downright moral depravity of several of its practices—for example, the beheading of hostages. It would seem that there are at least some groups within the nation of Egypt who are sympathetic to the aims and objectives of Egypt and would like to see the brand of Islam propagated by ISIS to take hold within Egypt as well.
These are the groups that the Egyptian security forces seem to have been hunting; and these are the groups for which the innocent group of Mexican tourists and Egyptian tour guides was tragically mistaken.
There seems to have been some basis of circumstantial evidence that catalyzed this case of mistaken identity. As El-Ghobashy has written:
“The incident occurred the same day an Islamic State affiliate operating in the Western Desert area, according to the SITE Intelligence group, which cited social-media postings accompanied by photos. An Islamic State affiliate has had a firm presence in Egypt’s Northern Sinai Peninsula since last year” (paragraphs 5-6).
The threat of terrorism that the Egyptian security force was combatting, then, was in fact very real. The only real question is: why exactly was the group of Mexican tourists mistaken for a cell of terrorists? It would seem that it is too soon to reach a conclusion in this regard, with the relevant stakeholders still seeking to piece together a coherent narrative of what exactly happened on the 13th of September (Safi). It is possible that the tourist group just simply had the bad luck of being at the wrong place at the wrong time; but it is also possible that there was actually some kind of gross and avoidable error on the part of the Egyptian security forces that caused them to make this deadly mistake.
International responses to the murdered tourists
The government of Mexico has, naturally, expressed outrage over the fact that their nationals were killed within Egypt. McTighe has quoted the Mexican President as stating the following:
“Mexico condemns these acts against our citizens and has demanded that the Egyptian government conduct an exhaustive investigation of what happened” (paragraph 4).
This is exactly the kind of response that any given nation could be expected to make when its nationals are killed, apparently by accident, within the borders and by the governmental forces of another nation during the Arab Spring. Egypt, just as naturally, has indicated that it will in fact seek to get to the bottom of what exactly happened and to whom moral and practical accountability for the tragedy should be assigned.
On the other hand, though, Egypt has also adopted the stance of arguing that it has probably done nothing especially wrong, and that its actions have been in general congruence with its broader counterterrorism campaign. As Egyptian Foreign Minister Shoukry has written in an open letter to the people of Mexico:
“These people [the critics of Egypt] forget that terrorism in Egypt has targeted tourists in the most despicable of ways. Controlling this huge threat in order to make the country safe for its citizens and visitors has cost Egypt the blood of many of its sons and daughters” (paragraph 5).
Within the context of the open letter, this statement primarily serves as a justification of the policies adopted by the Egyptian security force: the idea is that Egypt must conduct itself in the way it does due to the concrete terrorist threat that it has experienced over the past few years. Obviously, this makes the death of innocents no less regrettable; but the point would be that these casualties must be considered within the context of the much larger number of casualties caused by the ongoing struggle against terrorism.
Not all people, though, agree with Shoukry’s assessment or justification of the situation. As Malsin has pointed out, for example:
“Human rights groups said the attack [on the Mexican tourists] reinforced concerns about the rules of engagement used by Egyptian security forces in operations against insurgents. During a two-year campaign to crush an Islamist insurgency in the North Sinai, for example, residents and rights groups have often accused the security forces of destroying homes and killing civilians” (paragraph 12).
From this perspective, then, the recent tragedy regarding the tourist group cannot be simply written off as a regrettable but unavoidable form of collateral damage that emerges as part of the struggle against terrorism; rather, it must be considered as a consequence of the fact that the Egyptian security force itself sometimes has a penchant for acting like just another terrorist organization.
Reflection on the killings
Reflecting on the accidental killing of tourists by the Egyptian security force, two main points can be made regarding how it may become possible to stop events like this one from happening again in the future. The first one is long-term in nature: this consists of working toward eliminating terrorism altogether, and thereby also eliminating the need for violent counterterrorism operations.
Obviously, if there was no terrorist activity within Egypt, then the group of Mexican tourists could not have been accidentally mistaken for terrorists by the Egyptian security forces. Conceptually, the final goal of counterterrorism efforts, in any nation, would be to create a space within which all citizens and visitors can feel safe, and within which there would no longer be any risk of civilians being randomly killed, either by terrorists or by anyone else.
In the shorter term, though, a narrower point can perhaps be made regarding the accountability of the Egyptian security force itself. As has been suggested above, several human rights groups seem to have concerns about the way in which the force conducts itself and deals with situations of potential conflict: namely, with excessive and unnecessarily lethal force. Moreover, Malsin has quoted Human Rights Watch Director Whitson has stating the following:
“The track record of Egyptian authorities in investigating the killings of their own citizens is extremely poor, and there is absolutely no indication based on this past record that there will be any real accountability for this incident” (paragraph 17).
Such a conclusion is disconcerting, to say the least; and it gives one the impression not only that the recent killing of the tourist group was potentially avoidable, but also that more such potentially avoidable tragedies are likely to occur in the future insofar as the Egyptian security force continues to adhere to its current code of conduct.
In summary, this essay has discussed the recent tragedy of the accidental killing of tourists by security forces within Egypt. After a careful consideration of the situation, an important conclusion that has been reached. Although there is probably some truth to the idea that collateral damage of this kind is sometimes inevitable when engaging in rigorous counterterrorism operations, it is probably also true that the policies followed by security forces within Egypt create a culture of unaccountability and excessive violence.
That violence makes it more likely than not that tragedies of this kind will unnecessarily occur. In the long term, then, the only way to guarantee true security within Egypt would be to abolish the threat of terrorism altogether. In the shorter term, though, progress could surely be made through efforts to reform the Egyptian government and security forces themselves.
El-Ghobashy, Tamer. “Tourists in Egypt Accidentally Killed by Security Forces.” Wall Street Journal. 13 Sep. 2015. Web. 18 Sep. 2015. .
Malsin, Jared. “Egypt Rejects Criticism over Airstrike that Killed Mexican Tourists.” New York Times. 15 Sep. 2015. Web. 18 Sep. 2015. .
McTighe, Kristen. “Mexico Condemns Egypt for the Mistaken Airstrike on a Tourist Convoy.” USA Today. 14 Sep. 2015. Web. 18 Sep. 2015. .
Safi, Michael. “Egyptian Security Forces Accidentally Kill 12 Tourists and Guides.” Guardian. 14 Sep. 2015. Web. 18 Sep. 2015. .
Shoukry, Samesh. “An Open Letter from Egypt to the People of Mexico by Egyptian Foreign Minister.” Egyptian Streets. 16 Sep. 2015. Web. 18 Sep. 2015.
Stack, Liam. “Egypt Security Forces Accidentally Kill Mexican Tourists.” New York Times. 13 Sep. 2015. Web. 18 Sep. 2015. .
Thomas, Merna, and David D. Kirkpatrick. “Egyptian Military Fires on Mexican Tourists during Picnic.” New York Times. 14 Sep. 2015. Web. 18 Sep. 2015. .