President Sisi of Egypt faces the press. Well, almost… – Telegraph


President Sisi of Egypt faces the press. Well, almost…

POLITICAL SKETCH: David Cameron collects the award for Parliamentarian of the Year –

then pops back to No10 for a news conference with a twist

Just as the UK Government was barring its citizens from making the same trip,

the president of Egypt flew into London. He’d come to see David Cameron.

He must have felt honoured to be squeezed into the Prime Minister’s busy diary.

After an hour or so of talks over lunch, Mr Cameron popped to the Savoy for

the Spectator’s Parliamentarian

of the Year awards, collected the main prize, made fun of Boris Johnson

(“Sorry I’m late – thanks to Boris’s cycle lines, it was impossible to get here quicker”),

then returned to his guest in Number 10. I don’t know what the president found

to do during this absence. Perhaps he has a book on the go.

Anyway: there seemed to be some confusion as to whether the two leaders would take questions

– about Sharm el-Sheikh airport, the Russian plane crash, or indeed anything at all.

(The regime of Abdel Fattah al-Sisi is not widely celebrated as a beacon of press freedom.

In August, three journalists were jailed for, in the authorities’ estimation, “spreading false news”.)


Debris from crashed Russian jet (Photo: EPA)

1. A technical fault

The plane suffered a tail strike in 2001. If cracks were not properly repaired,

they could have grown over time and led to a tear under pressure.

It has been reported in Russian media the co-pilot of the plane rang his family

before the flight and said that the condition of the plane “left much to be desired”.

2. A missile

A US defence official told NBC that an American satellite picked up heat flashes

around the time of the plane crash in the Sinai. However,

there was no missile trail and the plane was flying at 33,000 feet when the incident took place

– well above the range of any surface-to-air missiles thought to be owned by Isil.

3. A bomb

Some theorise that a bomb could have been placed on the plane at Sharm El-Sheikh,

which would explain the lack of any distress signal. Foreign secretary Phillip Hammond

has said there is a “significant” possibility there was an explosive device onboard,

but a Russian news agency reported that tests on bodies recovered from the crash site

have not revealed any traces of explosives.

4. Something else

There could have been a massive explosion inside the jet from a spark

in the fuel tanks or a rapid fire of something in the cargo hold.

President Sisi of Egypt faces the press. Well, almost… – Telegraph

At lunchtime, though, I happened to bump into a Downing Street aide.

Was there going to be a press conference?

He gave me a reassuring look. The talks were just starting, he said;

but afterwards, there would definitely be “a press moment”.

A press moment?

Yes, he said smoothly. A “gathering”.

Intrigued by these unfamiliar terms, I awaited my invitation. Sadly,

it never arrived. Then again, I suppose I shouldn’t feel too offended,

because it turned out none of my colleagues received an invitation either.

Suddenly, on the TV, up flashed pictures of Mr Cameron and President Sisi,

standing behind lecterns in Number 10. They each made a brief statement,

then took a question from ITV’s deputy political editor. As it happened,

he and a man from PA were the sole UK journalists there.

Ah, so that was what a press moment was. It was like a press conference,

without any press.

Still, I’m sure there was a perfectly good reason for it.

After all, given President Sisi’s treatment of journalists,

perhaps Mr Cameron was simply putting our safety first.

The press moment, as its name perhaps suggests, proved brief.

Our man from ITV asked President Sisi how he felt about the British implying

that Egypt was incapable of running an airport. (Mr Cameron shook his head sternly at this,

as if he’d never heard such an extraordinary suggestion.)

The president noted that 10 months earlier the British had pronounced themselves satisfied

with security at Sharm el-Shiekh. But he was “completely ready” to “cooperate with all our friends”

. Again and again he referred to Mr Cameron as “his excellency”, I couldn’t tell how sincerely.

Mr Cameron answered a question about UK intelligence.

A token Egyptian journalist asked him a peculiar question about whether the UK

was to blame for the rise of Isil. (Abridged reply: no.)

And that was that. The moment, so to speak, had passed.

The Telegraph

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