- Yesterday's terrorist attacks on the Egyptian holiday resort Dahab mainly aims at destroying the important national tourism industry. This fourth attack on an Egyptian resort since October 2004 is set to hurt the industry temporarily, but not for long. Western countries demonstrate solidarity and will not change their travel advices for Egypt.
Thirty persons died and more than 150 were injured last night when three bombs shook the Egyptian holiday resort Dahab, an idyllic and peaceful Sinai Peninsula destination at the Red Sea coast. The blasts were directed at two restaurants popular with charter tourists and a supermarket, aimed at killing as many foreigners as possible.
There are so far no proofs into who placed the bombs, but Egyptian police assume that militant Islamist groups stood behind the terrorist attack, as has happened several times before in the North African country. Islamist terrorists aim at destabilising the pro-Western and secular Egyptian government by ruining one of the country's economic backbones; the tourism industry.
The large numbers of Western tourists gathered in the centre of Dahab at the time of the terrorist attack in itself was a sign that the Islamists' aims are far from fulfilling. Since October 2004, three large terrorist attacks have shaken Egypt's popular tourist resorts, but damages on Egypt's popularity have only been short-lived after each attack.
Islamist terrorists launched their first attacks against tourists in Egypt in the late 1990s at a time when Cairo authorities were unaware of and unprepared for the attacks. In 1996, 19 Greek tourists were killed outside a Cairo hotel, while nine Germans lost their lives in a Cairo bomb the year after.
The most serious attack on Egypt's tourism industry came on 17 November 1997, when terrorists dressed up as police officers and tourists massacred a group of more than 70 visitors to a famous temple outside Luxor. This incident led to a three-year collapse of the Egyptian tourism industry, but also to a clampdown on Islamists and rigorous security measures at tourist destinations. For almost seven years, security forces managed to hinder new terrorist attacks.
With a renewed boom of tourism to Egypt since 2000 and a regrouping of international Islamists, the last two years have seen the resurfacing of some terrorist attack at Egyptian holiday resorts. In October 2004, more than 30 mostly Israeli tourists were killed in two bomb attacks in Taba and Ras Shitan on the Sinai Peninsula. In April last year, four persons were killed after a bomb was thrown at tourists gathering at a Cairo market. July last year, more than 80 tourists and local residents were killed by several bombs at the popular Read Sea resort Sharm el Sheikh.
The three last terrorist attacks on Egyptian soil each led to temporary setbacks in the national tourism industry. Reactions from European and American travellers have however been less dramatic than in the 1990s, given the fact that terrorism has been internationalised during the last five years, with cities like New York, Madrid and London not proving to be safer than Egyptian resorts.
Nevertheless, each attack has had economic consequences for the Egyptian tourism industry, a sector in which Cairo authorities have invested large amounts during the last decades. Large European tour operators have cancelled their Egypt programmes for several months, reacting to official government travel advices and local markets. Popular Egyptian resorts however always have returned quickly to the operators' programmes, given their unique qualities. Besides the Canary Islands, Egypt's Read Sea is the only destination close to Europe providing sun and bathing temperatures all year round.
It is widely assessed that yesterday's terrorist attack will affect potential Egypt-bound tourists for the next few months. It is nevertheless not probable that the attack will largely influence charter tours to Egypt's Red Sea resorts in the main season; the northern winter.
European governments, several having experienced the effects of terrorism lately, also demonstrated an immediate solidarity with their Cairo partners. The British Foreign Office today issued a statement, emphasising it had "not changed the level of its [travel] advice, nor is it advising against travel to Egypt."
British Foreign Secretary Jack Straw today said his government would not assist terrorists by advising against travelling to Egypt. "We must make sure we do not do the terrorists' work for them by causing too much of the very disruption which the terrorists want," Mr Straw noted. He added: "The government and people of Egypt stood firmly with us when the terrorists attacked in London last year. We now stand equally in solidarity with Egypt."
Also among the local population in Dahab and among Egyptians at large, the continuous terrorist attacks on Western tourists cause outrage and less support for the Islamist movement. Egyptian civilians are the most numerous victims of these bomb attacks and are also heavily dependent on revenues from the tourism industry. No one wants to see the terrorists succeed.
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