"Our tourist industry has been sufficiently damaged. And the Egyptian people bear the brunt," Sameh Shoukry says on DW's Conflict Zone. But is Cairo doing enough to protect Egypt and tourists from terrorism?
Confronted with a ravaged tourism sector in the country and the latest attacks from the so-called 'Islamic State' (IS) on a resort in Hurghada and a Cairo tourist spot last week, Shoukry told Tim Sebastian on Conflict Zone that there has nevertheless been a "great deal of ability to restrict the potential impact [of the attacks]."
When a Russian passenger plane crashed in the Sinai peninsula on October 31, 224 people - mostly tourists returning home from the Red Sea - were killed. Although Western governments believe the airliner was brought down by explosives that IS had smuggled on board, the Egyptian government says it is withholding judgment, pending an investigation. Shoukry said he "cannot rule in or rule out" what the cause might have been: "There's a lot of speculation, and a lot of hearsay."
Tourism in Egypt "sufficiently damaged"
Shoukry admitted that the tourism industry and the Egyptian people have been "sufficiently damaged" by the attacks carried out in the Sinai peninsula and other parts of the country: "We are victims here and we should be treated as victims as others have been treated as victims."
"We are victims here and we should be treated as victims as others have been treated as victims," Shoukry said on Conflict Zone.
But he told Conflict Zone’s Tim Sebastian that he could not accept that the security situation in Egypt is steadily worsening.
Tim Sebastian: Egypt is a war zone, isn't it?
Shoukry: No, hardly. I think if you were to come to Egypt, if you were to ask the normal Egyptian, [they would be] much more confident of the ability of the government to provide security.
But "normal Egyptians", as Shoukry put it, are facing repression, censorship and possible stiff prison sentences for criticism of the government.
Moving away from democracy
The majority of political activists are in jail, making it difficult for remaining political groups to demonstrate against the government. Members of the April 6 pro-democracy movement were imprisoned as a security precaution ahead of the fifth anniversary of the Arab Spring uprising in the country.
Just six months ago the White House stated that Egypt is in effect moving away from democracy ("The overall trajectory of rights and democracy has been negative"), while Human Rights Watch (HRW) found that more than 3,200 families were forcibly evicted from their homes in the Sinai peninsula, the area that borders the Gaza Strip and has been a breeding ground for militant terrorists affiliated with IS.
Is Cairo in denial?
Yet Shoukry, who formerly served as Egyptian ambassador to the US, dismissed the White House report as "not authoritative" and said he didn't take "everything HRW says as sacred". When asked whether he is in denial about the gravity of the threat posed in Egypt, Shoukry merely said he prefers to view the glass as "half full".
Born in 1952, Sameh Hassan Shoukry obtained a law degree from Ain Shams University in Cairo in 1975. A career diplomat, Shoukry served as Cairo's ambassador to the US from 2008 until 2012. Since 2014, he has served as the Foreign Minister in Egyptian President Abdel Fattah el-Sissi's government. He is married and has two sons.
Is Shoukry's apparent dismissal of the threat facing Egypt damaging his country’s national security? Judge for yourself on January 20 - on DW's Conflict Zone with Tim Sebastian.