Neither the Defense Ministry nor the Interior Ministry have been forthcoming with details on the accidental military airstrike on a convoy of Mexican tourists that killed 12 people. And despite the foreign minister’s promise of transparency, Egypt’s official investigation into the tragedy will not be reported on because of a media gag.
With minimal acknowledgment of military error, the Egyptian government has struck a defensive tone and emphasized its ongoing war on terror in communications with the press. The Mexican government, on the other hand, has issued regular detailed statements amid a flurry of muddled accounts and reserved comments from the Egyptian foreign ministry, while immediately taking concrete steps to help the victims and their families.
Mada Masr has reconstructed a day-by-day account of official statements from both countries as the events unfolded.
The Interior Ministry issues a statement on its Facebook page saying a joint operation by police and Armed Forces in the Western Desert resulted in the accidental death of 12 people and injured 10 others. The casualties included Mexican tourists and Egyptian tour guides. The statement claims the tourist convoy of four jeeps was accidentally targeted because “they headed to a restricted area.” No statement is made by the military spokesperson that day, or at any later time.
Within hours, and before the Egyptian government releases any follow-up information, Mexican President Enrique Peña Nieto tweets: “Mexico condemns these events against our citizens and has demanded that the Egyptian government launch an exhaustive investigation into what happened.” Mexico’s foreign minister then tweets emergency hotline numbers to call for 24/7 updated information on the victims of the attack and their wellbeing.
Egypt’s Foreign Affairs Ministry posts a statement on its webpage reporting that Foreign Affairs Minister Sameh Shoukry called his Mexican counterpart, Claudia Ruiz Massieu, to offer his condolences. Shoukry reportedly insists that the tourists were accidentally targeted because they were in a restricted zone during an armed operation against terrorists in that area.
“This incident has nothing to do with the army even if the army and police carried out the operation together. This is the system of this country, and you don’t have the right to question it,” Egypt’s military spokesperson Mohamed Samir tells the New York Times.
The Tourism Ministry issues a statement saying that the convoy was in a restricted area.
While both the Defense Ministry and the military have yet to release an official statement on the deaths, the Armed Forces spokesperson posts a laudatory account of Major General Sedky Sobhy’s visit to the military’s Western Division, praising the division’s morale and determination.
The president’s office, also yet to make a statement on the attack, sends a delegation to the Mexican Embassy in Cairo to offer congratulations on Mexico’s upcoming independence day.
Outgoing Prime Minister Ibrahim Mehleb heads an official diplomatic delegation to the Dar al-Fouad Hospital near Cairo to check up on the condition of the Mexican and Egyptian survivors.
A press release from Mexico’s foreign affairs ministry details all the information currently available on the incident, including confirmation of the deaths of two Mexican citizens, and outlining the diplomatic staff’s actions to support the victims and their families. The statement promises to keep both relatives and the general public informed.
Ruiz Massieu updates the public on actions taken by diplomatic staff in a statement published by the ministry. She notes the ambassador to Egypt’s visit to the hospital to interview survivors, and the temporary transfer of staff from nearby Mexican diplomatic missions to Cairo. Ruiz Massieu also says that she met with Egypt’s ambassador to Mexico to express the Mexican government’s “deep consternation for these deplorable events,” and to demand “a prompt, thorough investigation and an objective explanation that clarifies without delay the events and determines who was responsible.” That evening, Ruiz Massieu departs for Cairo, traveling with seven family members of the victims.
Shoukry publishes an open letter to the Mexican people on the Foreign Affairs Ministry Facebook page in Arabic, English and Spanish. He promises an investigation into the attack, but contends that the facts are confusing, and he is “deeply troubled that some people have chosen to exploit this tragic event to allege that Egyptian law enforcement officials have no strict rules of engagement, act indiscriminately or do not take the necessary precautions during their operations. These people forget that terrorism in Egypt has targeted tourists in the most despicable of ways.”
President Abdel Fattah al-Sisi phones the president of Mexico, promising to support the victims and to personally follow up on the investigations.
Mexico’s foreign ministry announces that six more Mexicans have been confirmed dead, bringing the total to eight. “The Foreign Ministry obtained access to the remains of the victims of the attack and were able to confirm that they correspond to the six Mexicans who were part of the tour group and whose status had not yet been confirmed,” the press release says.
Sisi meets with Ruiz Massieu in Cairo, promising to keep Mexican officials up to date on the latest developments in the ongoing investigation.
Shoukry also meets with Ruiz Massieu, and “reaffirms the commitment of the Egyptian government to carry out a prompt, thorough and transparent investigation.”
At a joint press conference with the Egyptian and Mexican foreign ministers, Shoukry promises to push ahead with the local investigation into the killings. He offers his condolences on behalf of Egypt and speaks of possible errors, including the bad timing of the tourists’ visit to Egypt. He praises the Egyptian police and Armed Forces, claiming they are “most cautious” when it comes to protecting innocent lives.
The prosecutor general imposes a gag order on all Egyptian and international media coverage of the official investigations, including print, audio, video and online news.
As the survivors and relatives of the victims depart Egypt, Mexico issues a statement demanding they be compensated. “The Mexican government demands the necessary guarantees so that the victims of the tragic and regrettable attack perpetrated on September 13, all of them innocent civilians and their families, receive full reparations for the damage, including compensation,” the statement says.
Then late that night, Egypt’s Foreign Affairs Ministry publishes an open letter lambasting “disingenuous and misleading” coverage of the attack published in the New York Times. “But this does not come as a surprise to us,” the letter says. “We are now accustomed to the New York Times’ biased and partial reporting. Responsible and ethical reporting requires the media to report facts, not pass judgment and baseless accusations in the absence of any evidence.” The ministry accuses the US-based paper of manipulating the facts to incite the ire of the Mexican people as part of its larger plot to stir sympathies for the Muslim Brotherhood, and to tarnish the reputation of Egypt’s post-Brotherhood government.