SHARM EL-SHEIKH, Egypt - 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.
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
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.
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.
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.
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 organisation 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
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 Mursi'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.
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
Like many in the town, watch-seller Kandil seemed unfazed
by the deaths of hundreds of his compatriots when security forces smashed two
pro-Mursi 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.A TIDY SANCTUARY
Sharm el-Sheikh 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
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.
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.
many, Sharm el-Sheikh became an emblem of the late Mubarak era: the ageing
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
It also symbolised 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
The jobs were never quite enough, but for many like Kandil, who
travels between Sharm el-Sheikh and his family home in the teeming Delta town of
Tanta, Brotherhood rule represented the contraction of even those slim
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
"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 Mursi 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-Sheikh 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
Workers in Sharm el-Sheikh 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.
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.