News / Economy

Egypt Tourism Workers Pine for Stability, Security

Tourists at the beach of the Red Sea tourist resort of Sharm el-Sheik, Egypt, Feb. 21, 2011.
Tourists at the beach of the Red Sea tourist resort of Sharm el-Sheik, Egypt, Feb. 21, 2011.
Reuters
At a cafe in the Red Sea resort of Sharm el-Sheik, Mohamed was lamenting to a foreign journalist how Egypt's 2011 uprising had hurt his business because law and order had broken down.

The reporter never got to ask the tour guide whether he thought things would get better now the army is back in charge; before Mohamed had finished speaking, two plainclothes policemen detained the Reuters correspondent, ending their conversation.

Foreign journalists may chafe at such unwelcome attention, but millions of Egyptians have shrugged or cheered the renewed zeal of security services since the army ousted Islamist President Mohamed Morsi last month, a dramatic milestone in two and a half years of political upheaval.

It may seem an irony that Egyptians should welcome the re-emergence of a police state whose reputation for brutality and venality drove them to revolution. But in Sharm el-Sheik the logic is obvious to those whose living depends on promising a sunny, and safe, holiday in an area with a history of violence.

Egypt's generals have used popular demands for security to justify a crackdown on the Muslim Brotherhood in which more than 1,000 people have died since they toppled President Mohamed Morsi on July 3. The Islamists mismanaged the country, they say, and failed to contain militants, especially in the Sinai desert.

In Sharm el-Sheik, in the south of the Sinai peninsula, the army's argument resonates with the guides, shopkeepers and waiters of an industry that, nationwide, used to account for one in eight jobs in Egypt. For all the timeless appeal of pyramids and beach resorts, that employment depends too on the country being perceived as a safe, open place to visit.

“The Brotherhood weren't interested in security. They were interested in getting their organization into political positions. That's it. They didn't care about tourism,” said Ibrahim Kandil, a 27-year-old watch-seller. “The situation was better before; there used to be security,” he added.

Like many other local vendors, Kandil has put up a poster of General Abdel Fattah al-Sisi, the military chief, at his store.

The heavy presence of security forces in the resort town - built on land Israel returned to Egypt after they signed a U.S.-brokered peace treaty in 1979 - is partly a response to the upsurge of violence in northern Sinai since Morsi's overthrow.

Militant Islamist groups have found safe haven in the peninsula's rugged interior and have used it to launch attacks on Egyptian army and police and launch rockets at Israel.

Tourism workers play down the threat of violence spreading south, but Islamist militants set off bombs in the town as recently as 2005. A similar attack could further devastate tourism, one of Egypt's main sources of foreign currency.

With that in mind, many workers in the industry now openly pine for the days of Hosni Mubarak, an autocrat who ruled for three decades until the 2011 uprising unseated him.

Like many in the town, watch-seller Kandil seemed unfazed by the deaths of hundreds of his compatriots when security forces smashed two pro-Morsi sit-ins in Cairo this month.

“There were weapons at the sit-in. They were attacking the police, and so the police had to defend themselves,” he said, flipping through Al Masry Al Youm, a widely read newspaper that has reviled the Brotherhood in recent coverage.

The government has framed the deaths as the inevitable consequence of fighting a group it says resorted to terrorism after its political aims were frustrated.

The Brotherhood says a Mubarak-era establishment is simply trying to justify its crackdown as it restores itself to power.

Tidy Sanctuary

Sharm el-Sheik makes for a surreal contrast to the urban grit, poverty and social conservatism of the cities of the Nile valley, where most of Egypt's 85 million people live.

It is a sanctuary of casinos, nightclubs, scuba diving schools, luxury hotels and English-style pubs set amid immaculate avenues, manicured lawns, date palms, purple flowers and Sinai's distant mountains.

Tanned and tattooed Europeans wade into crystal blue waters in tight shorts or bikinis, and drink beer on the streets. At night, dance music thuds from beachside bars. It is a lifestyle far from that embraced by leaders of the Muslim Brotherhood - though the movement's ministers insisted they would not curb it.

For many, Sharm el-Sheik became an emblem of the late Mubarak era: the aging autocrat spent more and more time at his villa here near the end of his reign - a sign, critics said, of his growing isolation from a country straining under his rule.

It also symbolized the economic solutions his government offered its swiftly growing population. The town and other resorts along the desert Red Sea coast gave jobs to young men trying to escape dead-end lives on the distant Nile, where corruption and mismanagement hollowed out industry and farming.

The jobs were never quite enough, but for many like Kandil, who travels between Sharm el-Sheik and his family home in the teeming Delta town of Tanta, Brotherhood rule represented the contraction of even those slim opportunities.

Sensing that the Islamists were unwilling or unable to represent their immediate economic interests - security, stability and a spirit of cosmopolitan tolerance - many turned to the army as the best alternative.

“The Brotherhood was the reason for all of this. They didn't know how to manage the country,” Kandil said. He pointed to the 30-percent discount his store was offering to try to sell watches, advertised in English, Italian and Russian.

His co-worker, Mohamed Bedawy, agreed. He recalled that Morsi appointed as governor of Luxor a member of Gamaa Islamiya, a former militant group that was behind an attack that killed 58 tourists in the province's capital just 16 years ago.

“Is that reasonable?” Bedawy said. “Of course that can't happen.”

Safe and Stable

The tourist industry will be one barometer of whether authorities are able to convince foreigners Egypt is safe and stable enough to visit after they overthrew the country's first freely elected president and began hunting down his supporters.

So far, Sinai has been struck hard. While Sharm el-Sheik is located in the quiet southern part of the peninsula, the northern regions near Israel and the Gaza Strip have been hit by a string of attacks on army and police by Islamist gunmen.

Workers in Sharm el-Sheik say they see little chance of the militancy spreading south, but the town is still haunted by the memory of the 2005 bombing that killed scores of people.

Like many other tourism workers, Mohamed Galal, a 22-year-old from the Delta town of Munifiya wearing sunglasses and shorts, said he expected the authorities would be able to handle any security threats, and that business would soon improve.

“Everything will be all right now, because the police have caught all the big bosses of the Muslim Brotherhood,” the cafe manager said as Russians and Britons in swimsuits and tank tops strolled past. “They were frightening people.”

Asked whether he thought it would have been better if the 2011 uprising had never happened, Galal thought for a moment and said the revolt had, overall, been a good thing: “It brought the people together,” he said. “But, you know, the work... “

Galal could not finish his thought. Another police officer turned up, interrupting him, and marched the Reuters journalist to a local police station for his second detention in two hours. As before, there was no explanation.

You May Like

Australia Knights Prince Philip, Sparking National Outrage

Abbott's surprise reintroduction of knights and dames in the country's honors system last year drew criticism that he was out of touch with national sentiment More

SAG Award Boosts 'Birdman' Oscar Hopes

Individual acting Oscars appear to be sewn up: SAG awards went to artists who won Golden Globes: Julianne Moore, Eddie Redmayne, Patricia Arquette, J.K. Simmons More

Katy Perry Lights Way for Super Bowl's Girl Power Moment

Pop star's selection to headline US football championship's halftime show extends NFL's trend of selecting artists who appeal to younger viewers More

This forum has been closed.
Comments
     
There are no comments in this forum. Be first and add one

Featured Videos

Your JavaScript is turned off or you have an old version of Adobe's Flash Player. Get the latest Flash player.
Zoo Animals Show Their Artistic Sidesi
X
June Soh
January 23, 2015 10:03 PM
The pursuit of happiness is so important, America's founding fathers put it in the Declaration of Independence. Any zookeeper will tell you animals need enrichment, just like humans do. So painting, even music are part of the Smithsonian National Zoo's program to keep the animals happy. Faith Lapidus narrates a report from VOA’s June Soh.
Video

Video Zoo Animals Show Their Artistic Sides

The pursuit of happiness is so important, America's founding fathers put it in the Declaration of Independence. Any zookeeper will tell you animals need enrichment, just like humans do. So painting, even music are part of the Smithsonian National Zoo's program to keep the animals happy. Faith Lapidus narrates a report from VOA’s June Soh.
Video

Video Progress, Some Areas of Disagreement in Cuba Talks

U.S. and Cuban officials are reporting progress from initial talks in Havana on re-establishing diplomatic ties. U.S. Assistant Secretary of State (for Western Hemisphere Affairs) Roberta Jacobson said while there was agreement on a broad range of issues, there also are some “profound disagreements” between Washington and Havana. VOA State Department correspondent Pam Dockins has the story.
Video

Video Worldwide Photo Workshops Empower Youth

Last September, 20 young adults from South Sudan took part in a National Geographic Photo Camp. They are among hundreds of students from around the world who have learned how to use a camera to tell the stories of the people in their communities through the powerful medium of photography. Three camp participants talked about their experiences recently on a visit to Washington. VOA’s Julie Taboh reports.
Video

Video US, Japan Offer Lessons as Eurozone Launches Huge Stimulus

The Euro currency has fallen sharply after the European Central Bank announced a bigger-than-expected $67 billion-a-month quantitative easing program Thursday - commonly seen as a form of printing new money. Henry Ridgwell reports for VOA from London on whether the move might rescue the eurozone economy -- and what lessons have been learned from similar programs around the world.
Video

Video Nigerian Elections Pose Concern of Potential Conflict in 'Middle Belt'

Nigeria’s north-central state of Kaduna has long been the site of fighting between Muslims and Christians as well as between people of different ethnic groups. As the February elections approach, community and religious leaders are making plans they hope will keep the streets calm after results are announced. Chris Stein reports from the state capital, Kaduna.
Video

Video As Viewership Drops, Obama Puts His Message on YouTube

Ratings reports show President Obama’s State of the Union address this week drew the lowest number of viewers for this annual speech in 15 years. White House officials anticipated this, and the president has decided to take a non-traditional approach to getting his message out. VOA White House correspondent Luis Ramirez reports.
Video

Video S. Korean Businesses Want to End Trade Restrictions With North

Business leaders in South Korea are calling for President Park Geun-hye to ease trade restrictions with North Korea that were put in place in 2010 after the sinking of a South Korean warship.Pro-business groups argue that expanding trade and investment is not only good for business, it is also good for long-term regional peace and security. VOA’s Brian Padden reports.
Video

Video US Marching Bands Grow Into a Show of Their Own

The 2014 Super Bowl halftime show was the most-watched in history - attracting an estimated 115 million viewers. That event featured pop star Bruno Mars. But the halftime show tradition started with marching bands, which still dominate the entertainment at U.S. high school and college American football games. But as Enming Liu reports in this story narrated by Adrianna Zhang, marching bands have grown into a show of their own.

Circumventing Censorship

An Internet Primer for Healthy Web Habits

As surveillance and censoring technologies advance, so, too, do new tools for your computer or mobile device that help protect your privacy and break through Internet censorship.
More

All About America

AppleAndroid

World Currencies

EUR
USD
0.8930
JPY
USD
117.98
GBP
USD
0.6673
CAD
USD
1.2445
INR
USD
61.498

Rates may not be current.