Egypt's police state resurgent in Sinai tourist haven

Mon Aug 26, 2013 1:25pm EDT
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By Alexander Dziadosz

SHARM EL-SHEIKH, Egypt (Reuters) - At a cafe in the Red Sea resort of Sharm el-Sheikh, 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 Mursi 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-Sheikh 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 Mursi on July 3. The Islamists mismanaged the country, they say, and failed to contain militants, especially in the Sinai desert.

In Sharm el-Sheikh, 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.   Continued...

People walk at the beach at the Red Sea resort of Sharm el-Sheikh in the South Sinai governorate, about 550 km (342 miles) south of Cairo, July 12, 2012. REUTERS/Amr Abdallah Dalsh