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French Version

Egypt bombings threaten tourism bonanza

Many tourists to Sharm al-Sheikh vow never to return to Red Sea resort

Multiple bombings that killed at least 83 people in Egypt's largest Red Sea resort Saturday could deal a fatal blow to Egypt's vital tourism industry, as thousands of shell-shocked holidaymakers fled the resort vowing never to return.

The bombers struck Sharm al-Sheikh at the height of the summer tourist season only eight months after triple bombings on two other popular resorts further north killed at least 34.

Authorities were swift to issue statements aimed at reassuring the industry by claiming they were already on the trail of the perpetrators and stressing that holidaymakers had not cancelled their trips.

General Mohammad Zamzam, who heads the Egyptian airport authority, said more than 6,000 tourists had flown in to Sharm al-Sheikh Saturday despite the deadly blasts and added that no flights to Egypt were cancelled.

"Of course, these attacks will have a negative impact on the industry but it is still too early to say what impact," Tourism ministry spokeswoman Hala al-Khatib told AFP.

"In the light of what is happening in the world - in London, Lebanon or Spain - we are sure that people are not willing to give in to terrorism, to give their freedom away," she said.

But many tourists in the devastated resort were taking no chances and holidaymakers mainly from the Gulf, Europe and Russia were scrambling to get on the first bus out of the Red Sea resort.

"We were here last year. It's so nice here and the people are very friendly. Now the feeling has completely changed. We will be scared to come here again, after such a chilling experience," Scotsman Jimmy Hayes told AFP on the scene.

Barely four hours after the blasts, groups of tourists could be seen dragging their luggage among the debris in the middle of the night to board the first outgoing coaches.

Issam Ibrahim, who runs a cafe near the site of Saturday's explosions, had no illusions on the effect the devastating attacks would have on the resort and the rest of Egypt as a tourist destination.

"(The bombers) really struck at the peak of the tourist season and in the most crowded areas. What they have achieved is that everybody is going to say: 'All these Muslims are terrorists, we're not going to visit them anymore.'"

October 7 bombings on nearby Taba and Nuweiba killed scores of people, including several Israelis. Tourists had started trickling back to the area lately, after travel agencies cleverly advertised Taba - which is adjacent to the Israeli border - as an enclave almost separated from the rest of Egypt.

But Sharm al-Sheikh has grown into an internationally renowned holiday spot and is now the flagship of the national tourism industry - a key source of income for the country's ailing economy - and Saturday's bombings were the deadliest to target foreigners in Egypt.

"It's rare to see cancellations on the same day but there is no doubt bookings will be very slow in the next few days," said Hisham, who works with a Cairo-based tour operator.

"Sharm al-Sheikh is a top destination in Egypt and the attacks will have serious consequences on tourists' decisions but with such violence going off in all parts of the globe, it's difficult to anticipate people's reactions," he added.

The element perhaps the most damaging to the sector is the succession of attacks targeting tourist sites in Egypt which raises questions on the security services' ability to contain extremist organizations.

Since the October attacks in Sinai, two smaller attacks took place in some of Cairo's most touristic areas.

Israel made an indicting assessment of the Egyptian services' performance, charging that they had not responded adequately to the October bombings in Taba and Nuweiba.

"At first sight, it looks like a failure on the intelligence and security front of the first degree," the head of the Israeli Parliament's foreign affairs and defense committee Yuval Steinitz said.

"There was a terrible attack less than a year ago in similar circumstances and all the red lights should have been flashing," he added.

Cairo,07 25 2005
The Daily Star
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