Britain's foreign minister said on Monday it is highly likely that a bomb planted by an ISIS militant downed the Russian passenger jet lost over Egypt. Arriving for talks at the U.S. State Department with his American counterpart John Kerry, Philip Hammond said the definitive cause of the crash would be determined by Egyptian-Russian investigation of the wreckage. But in the meantime, he warned, the British government had received information about the Oct. 31 disaster that had caused it to suspend flights to the Egyptian resort of Sharm el-Sheikh and to order the evacuation of British tourists there. Speaking alongside Kerry, Hammond said the pair would discuss "the possibility that the airliner in Sinai was brought down by an explosive device placed on board." Earlier, in an interview with CNN, he had gone further. "We think it was more likely than not an explosive device on the aircraft," Hammond said of the cause of the crash, which killed all 224 people on board the Russia-bound flight. "There's got to be a high probability that ISIS was involved," he added.
Egyptian media have reacted with fury as Britain and the United States increasingly point to a bomb as the cause of the Oct. 31 Russian plane crash in Sinai, with many outlets hammering home the same message: Egypt is facing a Western conspiracy that seeks to scare off tourists and destroy the country's economy. The warnings of a plot have been widely promoted by opinion-makers in print, online, and on TV, sometimes hinting and sometimes saying flat-out that the West has restricted flights to Egypt not purely out of safety concerns for its citizens but because it wants to undermine the country or prevent President Abdel-Fattah el-Sissi from making Egypt too strong. And though they seem wild, these conspiracy theories have apparently tapped into the Egyptian mindset so much so that when Russia last Friday grounded all flights to Egypt, some media speculated that Moscow had fallen victim to British pressure and manipulation. "The people defy the conspiracy Egypt will not cave in to pressures," the state-owned Al-Gomhuria newspaper proclaimed in a front-page headline this week. "Egypt stands up to 'the West's terrorism,'" an independent daily, El-Watan, headlined. The rhetoric reflects in part the deep reluctance in the press to level serious criticism or suggestion of shortcomings by el-Sissi's government.
Government and independent media alike have constantly lionized el-Sissi and depicted him as Egypt's savior ever since as head of the military he led the army's 2013 ouster of Egypt's first democratically elected President Mohammed Morsi.
Conspiracy theories often run rampant in the Middle East for a variety of reasons poor education, suspicion of others, a lack of government transparency, limitations on speech, and the historical fact that powers inside and outside the region do often work behind the scenes to sway events and conflicts. Often, the theories are politically fueled. Egypt's media often point to "foreign hands" amid crises.
Egyptian authorities have said they are looking at all possible scenarios in the crash. They say speculation should stop until the conclusion of the investigation, which el-Sissi has said could take months. They have bristled at what they call a rush to judgment by British and U.S. officials, who say intelligence suggests the ISIS branch in Sinai planted a bomb on the Metrojet plane, causing it to break apart in the air, killing all 224 on board.
In the Egyptian media, the flight suspensions and calls for better airport security were seen as unfair and malicious. Even if the cause was a bomb, "it doesn't require an instant and large-scale punishment and criminal defamation against Egypt," wrote the editor-in-chief of the Al-Maqal newspaper and one of Egypt's most prominent TV commentators, Ibrahim Eissa. British Prime Minister David Cameron has gotten the brunt of the criticism. Some saw it as particularly insulting that Britain's suspension of flights last week came the same day el-Sissi began his first official trip to London and that Cameron said at a press conference with el-Sissi that it was "more like than not" that a bomb downed the plane.
Moscow's decision to suspend its flights as well threw some of the conspiracy theories into confusion, since Russian President Vladimir Putin is always depicted as a strong supporter of el-Sissi. "Even you, Putin?" the newspaper Al-Masry Al-Youm's front page proclaimed. In the largest state newspaper, Al-Ahram, Taha Abdel-Aleem wrote that British and Americans statements on the crash were part of pressure "aiming to empower the Brotherhood and humiliate Egypt, as well as turn public opinion in Russia against its war on terror in Syria" referring to Moscow's air campaign there.