December 6, 1999 Special Dispatch No. 62

Egyptian Reactions to the EgyptAir Crash Investigation

December 6, 1999
Egypt | Special Dispatch No. 62

The assumption in the American press that the crash of EgyptAir flight 990 was caused by the suicide of the co-pilot, Jamil Al-Batuti, evoked fury in the Egyptian press. The claim that Batuti's words in the last moments ["In Allah I trust"] are evidence of his suicidal intentions exacerbated Egyptian reactions. The Egyptian media presented alternatives to the suicide theory.

The Conspiracy Theory

Egyptian media and officials developed a conspiracy theory in their attempt to explain both the crash and the way in which the investigation was handled. The Head of the Arab Research Center in Egypt, Dr. Ahmad Yussef Ahmad, for example, claimed that the common opinion of the Egyptian public is that there was a conspiracy to conceal the truth about the disaster in order to maintain the reputation of Boeing or to protect Israel, America's ally, because "many in Egypt believe that Israeli intelligence was involved in what happened, since Egyptian officers were on board the airplane."[1]

Members of the Parliament from all political parties, reports the daily Al-Jumhuriya expressed the public's feeling that there was a conspiracy. The Egyptian parliament's session on this subject began with a moment of silence in memory of the victims who were declared Shahids [Martyrs]. Parliament Member, Amin Hamed, from President Mubarak's National Democratic Party, said he believed, "the Israeli 'Mossad' infiltrated the American control tower and shifted the airplane from its course so it would be hit [by a missile]"[2] Many parliament members supported this position.[3] Member of Parliament, 'Omar Barakat, from the opposition Al-Wafd party, said, "There was an American - Zionist conspiracy. I blame the CIA and the Mossad, because 33 Egyptian officers were on board the airplane."[4]

Journalist Ibrahim Qau'd of the daily A'kher Sa'a claimed that the Jewish lobby, "which controls the American media," is responsible for the fierce onslaught of the American media [against Egypt].[5]

The opposition weekly, Al-Sha'ab claimed it had received "documents in English stating that a German pilot in a small airplane carrying a delegation of German businessmen saw a strange body passing next to him, before changing its direction to the Egyptian airplane which exploded."[6]

The famous columnist, Makram Muhammad Ahmad, criticized the American investigators' exclusion of the possibility that "a misguided missile from a nearby American base" hit flight 990. This, the writer claims, "despite the fact that in the case of the TWA [flight 800 crash], many people in Long Island witnessed a missile hitting the airplane."[7]

Egyptian Transportation Minister, Ibrahim Al-Demiri, told the Egyptian press that he had received a Swedish-American study on the possibility of electromagnetic signals transmitted from the ground or from the sea, fusing the metal wires of the airplane [and causing its crash]. He added: "We will take this study into consideration as one of the factors being investigated in the case of airplane crash.

Failures by JFK Security

A second theory was that a bomb was planted in the airplane while it was in JFK Airport. EgyptAir Senior Pilot, Captain Tariq Salim, supported this claim testifying that he "knows the security procedures in JFK very well" and that "anyone who wears a pilot suit can board any plane." He further claimed that in the cargo area at the airport, "employees take Heroin, Cocaine, and Morphine and they are doped all the time."[8]

Parliament Member, Sameh 'Ashur also claimed "there is strong evidence for sabotage, which means the Americans bear responsibility for the security failure in both JFK and LA airports [from which the flight originated]."[9]

Blaming Boeing

There was almost a consensus in the Egyptian media that the American investigators are not objective and that their goal is to clear all responsibility for the crash from Boeing, "the symbol of the military industry's control of the US."[10] The Egyptian press views Boeing as an American government branch and one newspaper even stated that the President of the US is "a salesman for the company"[11] The Egyptian press explained that the goal of the investigation team is to save Boeing the compensation money and shift the blame to the Egyptian airline.[12]

Investigation Failures

The claims of investigative failures in the Egyptian press focused on the "inadequate" translation of the cockpit recordings. A senior EgyptAir pilot criticized the use of Jewish translators by the American investigators when they could have used an Egyptian [airline] crew which would have been better qualified to separate the different voices and decide what the pilots were talking about in the last moments.[13] The weekly Ruz Al-Yussef thought it was wrong for the CIA to use Lebanese translators, "one of whom was a Shiite."[14]

The Chief Editor of Ruz Al-Yussef, Muhammad Abd Al-Muni'm, writes: "It is well known among men of culture that 'a translator is [bound to be] a traitor,' because no one can transfer to another language the original meaning of a thought or an expression, let alone statements relating to the words of Allah."[15]

Dr. Hassan Muhammad Wajih, an International Negotiations expert at Al-Azhar University, doubted that the investigators even understood the meaning of Al-Batuti's words. He wrote about "language crimes" and the difficulties in understanding a recorded speech without understanding the context in which things were said.[16]

The Chief Editor of Ruz Al-Yussef, Muhammad Abd Al-Mun'im, described the investigation as evidence of "the clash of civilizations." He compared the instinctive reactions of Egyptian and American pilots in a crisis situation. The American pilot would react by saying 'damn,' while the Egyptian pilot would recite verses from the Koran. This derives from the different culture and tradition [of both pilots]. Abd Mun'im concludes that there is a cultural abyss between the Egyptian and American personality structures.[17]

[1] Al-Quds (PA), November 30, 1999.

[2] Al-Ahram (Egypt), November 23, 1999.

[3] Al-Ahram (Egypt), November 23, 1999.

[4] Al-Ahram (Egypt), November 23, 1999.

[5] 'Akher Sa'a (Egypt), November 12, 1999.

[6] Al-Istiqlal (PA), December 2, 1999.

[7] Al-Musawar (Egypt), November 26, 1999.

[8] Al-Ahali (PA), November 24, 1999.

[9] Al-Jumhuriya (Egypt), November 23, 1999.

[10] Al-Ahali (Egypt), November 24, 1999.

[11] Al-Ahali (Egypt), November 24, 1999.

[12] 'Akher Sa'a (Egypt), November 24, 1999.

[13] Al-Musawar (Egypt), November 19, 1999.

[14] Ruz Al-Yussuf (Egypt), November 26, 1999.

[15] Ruz Al-Yussuf (Egypt), November 26, 1999.

[16] Al-Ahram (Egypt), November 23, 1999.

[17] Ruz Al-Yussuf (Egypt), November 26, 1999.

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