A Blog by the Editor of The Middle East Journal

Putting Middle Eastern Events in Cultural and Historical Context

Friday, November 6, 2015

The News Keeps Getting Worse for Egyptian Tourism

I haven't commented so far about the speculation around the downed Russian airliner because there seemed to be too little evidence and it seemed wise to wait until more was known, despite the various talking heads on all-news channels speculating wildly. But today was stunning. As recently as yesterday Russia, the most interested party, was urging caution and warning that speculation was premature. Egypt was clearly annoyed at Britain's suspension of flights from Sharm al-Sheikh, which coincided with President Sisi's visit to 10 Downing Street. But today Russia not only reversed field completely but raised the stakes: suspending all Russian flights not just to Sharm but to all of Egypt, once it evacuates some 50,000 Russian visitors. And it was the Federal Security Service (FSB), Russian Intelligence, chief who urged Putin to do so. Clearly the US, Britain, and now Russian intelligence agencies are privy to information that, at least today, Egypt claimed had not been shared with them.

The sheer numbers mentioned (20,000+ Britons, 50,000+ Russians) give some sense of what's at stake. Though tourism in Egypt has never fully recovered from the 2011 Revolution, the resorts on Sinai and the Red Sea Coast have remained popular, especially for northern Europeans in the winter months. If it is confirmed that a bomb was used, it could be a body blow to tourism, at least for this season.

It's far from clear why Russia is cutting off all of Egypt and not just Sinai, but their dramatic reversal of position in just 24 hours clearly suggests they do not see this as an isolated incident. Egypt has promised a press conference for tomorrow: will it still be in denial?

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