As a domestic EgyptAir flight was hijacked and forced to land in Cyprus, Egyptians took to social media on Tuesday and made light of the situation, saying they wished they were on board to escape the country’s woes.
On Twitter, the Arabic hashtag “I wish I was with them” received strong traction online, becoming a top trending topic in Egypt.
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Seif el-Din Mustafa, an Egyptian passenger, stands accused of hijacking the flight headed to the Egyptian capital from Alexandria, but that ended up at Cyprus’ Larnaca airport instead.
|EgyptAir hijacking ends|
Mustafa allegedly threatened the crew with what he said was a suicide vest, which later was found to be fake.
Following the news, social media users in Egypt expressed their envy over how a domestic flight managed to land in Europe. Strict visa requirements imposed on Egyptian passport holders have long been a subject of ridicule.
Many Egyptians also complain of high unemployment, the deteriorating economy, and poor government services.
“This plane hijacking incident can’t take any more jokes. Imagine the fear of these passengers when they found out that there’s another plane that’s going to take them back to Egypt,” wrote Mohamed Elsawy sarcastically on Facebook.
Some Twitter users jokingly encouraged Egyptians to book more domestic flights.
“Book a flight to Hurghada on April 7th and you could be hijacked and find yourself in Cyprus instead for only 180 Egyptian pounds,” one popular tweet said.
“Who knows, the dice could roll and you could be in France or Italy.”
Photo shared on fbook in Egypt w/caption "Egyptian passengers upon hearing they're disembarking in Cyprus not Cairo" pic.twitter.com/QShKmGP4b1
— Timothy E Kaldas (@tekaldas) March 29, 2016
Cypriot police said the hijacker was trying to communicate with his ex-wife who lives in Cyprus, saying that Mustafa wanted to deliver a letter to her.
These reports caused other users on social media to satirically contextualise the incident in a romantic manner.
— أيتانا 🦋 (@aitanabanana96) March 29, 2016
While making light of the hijacking, the incident also highlighted concerns about airline security measures.
Samer Shehata, associate professor of Middle East studies at the University of Oklahoma, said Egypt may have different security policies for domestic flights.
“My assumption is that security measures for domestic flights in Egypt, unfortunately, are not as serious as those for international flights,” he told Al Jazeera.
Egypt’s minister of civil aviation, Sherif Fathi, acknowledged that Egypt can still improve in terms of airport security.
“Over the last while we’ve seen a lot of efforts in securing airports. We don’t have the wide gaps that some may perceive, but we do get chances to improve on a lot of things,” he told reporters.
“We’re trying to take advantage of these chances.”
Egyptian authorities released footage that allegedly showed Mustafa passing through a security scanner and receiving a pat-down before boarding the plane.
Sajjan Gohel, international security director for the London-based Asia Pacific Foundation, told Al Jazeera that people are “very hyper” about security threats.
“Especially that it’s been one week since the Brussels attacks, a few days since the attacks in Lahore – terrorism is on people’s minds,” he said.
Late last year, a Russian airliner was brought down in Egypt’s Sinai, killing all 224 people onboard. The crash was claimed by the Islamic State of Iraq and the Levant (ISIL, also known as ISIS).
The crash dealt a heavy blow to Egypt’s struggling tourism industry with revenues declining by $1.3bn.
“I remember in the 1990s when terrorism was really high in Egypt. The dark joke was that there were more waiters than tourists in hotels,” said Gohel.
“One really hopes we don’t get to that stage again.”
Follow Mohamed Hashem on Twitter: @mhashem_