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Tourist attack in Egypt may be a turning point: Analysts

The first terrorist attack on tourists in Egypt in over a decade raises fear of escalation, as critics point to a police force in need of restructuring

Randa Ali , Sunday 16 Feb 2014
People and security officials walk and look as smoke rises from a tourist bus in the Red Sea resort town of Taba in the south Sinai, February 16, 2014 (Photo: Reuters)
Views: 9615
Views: 9615

Sunday's bomb blast on a bus carrying 33 tourists in the Red Sea resort town of Taba, which killed three South Koreans and the Egyptian bus driver, marked the first major attack on visitors to Egypt since 2006.

The attack represents a "new phase" in Egypt's ongoing battle against terrorist attacks growing since the ouster of Islamist president Mohamed Morsi in July 2013, according to Iman Ragab, a researcher at Al-Ahram Centre for Political and Strategic Studies Centre,

Until Sunday, all of the bomb attacks in recent months had targeted only security installations and personnel. 

Rageb expressed fear that Sunday’s attack might open the door for a wave of terrorism similar to the one that took place in the 1990s, when Egypt was rocked by recurrent militant attacks on tourist sites across the country, which severely crippled tourism and threatened security.

In 1997, at least 58 foreigners and four Egyptians were killed by Islamic militants in Upper Egypt’s Luxor, a city that boasts a wealth of pharaonic-era sites. 

For Major General Fouad Allam, former deputy head of state security, Sunday's attack was no surprise. Allam explained that militants groups are willing to target “whatever helps them achieve their goal in destroying the Egyptian state, which includes targeting its economy."

He added that the attack on civilians is not an escalation by militants but rather a mere opportunity that terrorists managed to seize.

“Secret organisations don't have one coherent path that they abide to," Allam said. "Whenever there is a chance for making a terrorist operation, they do it. It's not necessarily targeting tourism or police all the way."

Unlike Allam, Ragab sees the attack as a clear change of strategy by militants in Egypt: they are now trying to increase the cost of damages caused by their attacks, she says.

“When security buildings were attacked, this was an indicator of a security vacuum in Egypt," Ragab said. "Now when tourism is attacked as well, this would be an indicator that Egypt is not a place for tourists at the moment.”

David Barnett, a research associate at the Foundation for Defense of Democracies who focuses on Salafi jihadists in Sinai and Gaza, told Ahram Online that it remains too early to decide whether Sunday’s attack is a start of a new trend targeting tourists. 

However, Barnett said that if the attack were to be claimed by Ansar Beit Al-Maqdis, the Sinai-based militant group responsible for most of the attacks since Morsi's ouster, then it would signify a shift in its target selection.

The group considers Egyptian troops as infidels and has frequently urged civilians to avoid venue linked to the police or the army.

All of the attacks it has since claimed have been on security personnel.

No group has yet claimed responsibility for Sunday's attack in Taba.

Security incompetence?

Mahmoud Kotri, a former brigadier general, accused the incompetence of the police for allowing such an attack to take place.

Kotri has been an outspoken critic of Egypt's security forces. He made the same arguments after Sunday's attack, insisting that the police apparatus is collapsing as a result of poor leadership and is in desperate need of restructuring.

“What happened today is a gross and self-evident mistake," he said. "How could professional security forces accompanying these tourists not think of checking the bus for explosives beforehand?”

South Sinai governor Khaled Fouda told private satellite channel CBC TV that the blast resulted from an explosive device planted on the bus. 

Allam said that he expects militant attacks to continue, but maintained his certainty that security forces, national security and military intelligence have the upper hand in the fight against militants, which will soon be completely crushed, he said.

Comments like this are, for Qotri, merely compliments for the police and ineffective in the long run.

“Whoever says that terrorism is getting weaker is being silly," Kotri said. "These groups are highly trained and funded.

“Egypt will never succeed without rebuilding the police apparatus once again. If Egypt’s leaders continue to depend on Interior Minister Mohamed Ibrahim and his aides, Egypt will fail.”

Fragile tourism

The Egyptian tourism industry, once worth more than a tenth of the country's economic output, has been struggling to recover since the 2011 revolution.

It further deteriorated following last summer’s political upheaval that saw the removal of Morsi.

Egypt welcomed around 8.7 million tourists in the first eleven months of 2013, compared with 10.5 million in the same period of 2012.

Tourism minister Hisham Zaazou said in late January that 2013 was one of the worst years in tourism, with the ongoing political unrest and security concerns keeping visitors away.

In October 2013, Zaazou said that Egypt aimed to attract 13.5 million visitors in 2014, a number which would bring in around $11 billion in tourism revenue.

The last major attack on tourists in Egypt took place in 2006, when a bomb killed 23 people, mostly foreigners, in the laid-back beach town of Dahab in South Sinai.

In 2005, 88 people died in a bomb attack in Sharm El-Sheikh, an hour drive from Dahab and a staple of most package holidays to the country.

In 2004, 34 people died and 135 were injured in a bomb blast in Taba.

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20-02-2014 08:41pm
where is the point....
where is the point to talk about a reform of the interior ministry,if the people themselfs dont trust this police at all? thats the first question,the second would be,how to build in this country and culture a bribe free force,which also would not be inclinged in family/tribal or village loyalities...on the soil and earth in egypt today it simply will never happen third question,how you want to errase the religious impact on a force? if every brother-muslem is somewhat a friend,even if heis a thief,how you expect fair and most important fast action? sorry to say it here aloud, you would have been happy,if rommel would have made it some hundred kilometers further on in 1942, cause this would have been ruling just and fair and without any obligations
Comment's Title

The motivating factor
17-02-2014 04:34pm
Why reform is blocked
Qotri is definitely correct but the problems is that some do not care at all about the victims. Instead, what they really care about is defending the positions of certain government officials at any price. No matter how badly these officials fail, they want to keep them on out of spite toward other political movements. Some really do not know what police reform is or what counterinsurgency is; all they want to talk about are fighting political factions and invading other countries.
Comment's Title

17-02-2014 02:02pm
Fight corruption!
I agree fully with Kotri. As long as the army will keep a blind eye on the police corruption in Sinai, and on the tribal sheikhs involved in drug-trafficking, there will be no progress. Check-points are efficiently managed only when the army is around. As soon as the police is in charge, it is either sleeping or begging for bribes, be it cigarettes or money to let a truck pass without being properly searched. A way to fight corruption in the police would be to open a hotline and ask citizens to report any attempt of bribe they have been victims of. Of course, not every complain will be real, but given the number of security apparatuses, inside enquiries should be possible.
Comment's Title

Hesham Tawfik
17-02-2014 12:09pm
Complete incompetence
I am so sorry for the victims who were killed in Egypt wether they are holidaymakers or Egyptians. I totally agree with Mr Qotri that depeding on the current interior affairs minster is abig mistake Alsisy enjoys some support because he is considered the hero who will bring stability and safety .If so he failed ,it is time now to hold the ruling figures in Egypt to be accountable or questioned It a MUST need to address the security problems of Egypt otherwise our debate will be much ado about nothing
Comment's Title

16-02-2014 11:24pm
you brought it upon your own,dear egyptian government
Who invited in the 80th the saudhi teachers and preachers? Who did let them spread the salafeen poison,which is now and was already ripe in the 90th? Who thought,he can control the missionary fever,which goes out from the heartland saudhi arabia,while taking their money? this will not stop,untill somebody like attatürk cuts back the islamist rule in every mosque,in every school and most important in every governmental office
Comment's Title
18-02-2014 11:06am
nearly right
well,farouk, you are nearly right,the only wrong is,that since 2001 the nicely supporter of the ikhwan,khatar,has taken over from saudhi arabia the part of sponsoring all extremistic groups,as saudhia became under pressure from the rest of the world for its already spread poison. They stopped and gave that part to the khatar ruler....who is financing your Sisi.hating group? and who are you then? think,if you can
Farouk Alwyni
17-02-2014 04:50pm
Who is the backer of al-Sisi ? You tell me.
Do not dream about stopping the Saudi influence if you still depend on their money. Saudi is the 'main boss' of al-Sisi, al-Sisi is now the facto ruler of Egypt, so as long as al-Sisi is still running the government using Saudi money, how could he say something to his boss. Egypt is now experiencing all time great relationship with the house of al-Saud, then, no wonder the ultra conservative al-Nour is supporting al-Sisi, but there is no free lunch al-Sisi should not something that will invite the wrath of the Saudis. Otherwise, the money will stop, and al-Sisi will be in the dustbin of history.

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