There were more than one thousand deaths as a result of Islamic insurgency in Upper Egypt during the early to mid 1990s. Most were militants or policemen, but sometimes a few tourists got caught up in this mess. Egypt’s extreme Islamic groups’ anger is more of a response to the current bad economic times the citizens face here on a daily basis. Failed government promises and policies have not kept up with the exploding population and many of the citizens live in overcrowded, crumbling buildings in filth and squalor.
Some groups such as the Muslim Brotherhood (from which grew the 1987-formed Islamic resistance movement Hamas – one of the most violent Palestinian militant groups) were denied recognition by the state as a legal political group and they eventually turned to violence to get attention. A culmination of bitterness unfortunately resulted in brutal attacks against tourists through the 1990s including a fire bomb attack outside the Egyptian Museum in Cairo (where I recently saw amazing artifacts from King Tutankhamen’s tomb and other ancient Egyptian marvels) and a massacre of several tourists in Luxor’s Valley of the Kings. Here six assailants, armed with automatic weapons and knives, killed 62 people (mom: stop reading now) by beheading and disembowelment. The attackers then hijacked a bus, but the Egyptian tourist police and military forces engaged in a gun battle with the terrorists, who were later killed or committed suicide. In 2004, 31 people were killed in a bombing at the Hilton hotel in tourist hotspot, Taba (near the Israeli border), on the beach in the Sinai Peninsula.
The deadliest attack in Egypt’s recent history was just about four years ago when eighty-eight people were killed and over 150 were wounded by bomb blasts. Also on the Sinai Peninsula, the attacks occurred in Egypt’s most popular resort city of Sharm el-Sheikh. The attacks took place in the early morning hours, at a time when many tourists and locals were still out at restaurants, cafés and bars. The majority of dead and wounded casualties were Egyptians. Among the others killed were 11 Brits, 6 Italians, 2 Germans, 1 Czech, 1 Israeli, and 1 American. There were conflicting claims of responsibility. Several hours after the attacks, a group citing ties to Al Qaeda issued a claim on an Islamic Web site.
Things have been relatively quiet since, now that Egypt’s president, Hosni Mubarak, has caved a bit to international pressure by leaning more toward a Western style democracy and introducing direct and competitive presidential elections so tourism continues at a steady clip.
But some major security measures are still in place. Police convoys were introduced by the Egyptian government after these attacks as a way to give tourists a (false) sense of security. I rode in one of these ridiculous convoys from Aswan south to the temples of Abu Simbel, just a mere 40 kilometers from the Sudanese border (I so wanted to make a run for the border). We had to get up around 3am and join the convoy at 4am (why so early? We have no idea, but some say so the police can finish the day early). The convoy is one long line of taxis and tourist buses driving dangerously fast on poor roads to keep up with the speed demon police vehicle in front. The convoy moves at the same time every day all week long.
To me, not only was it an accident waiting to happen as bus drivers sped along the desert landscape just to keep up, it couldn’t have been a more obvious moving target of loads of tourists in one place if anyone wanted to mess with us. So, in other words, if any terrorist group wanted to attack tourists… now it knows exactly when and where they are – seems to defeat the purpose, no?