|CAIRO: Sharm El-Sheikh is starting to see a return of tourists amid an increased security presence in the Red Sea resort where ousted president Hosni Mubarak is under house arrest.
Measures have been taken to increase security in and around Sharm El-Sheikh. Security forces in the South Sinai city recently increased in order to “boost and protect tourism,” Egyptian-state owned satellite channel Nile News reported on Monday.
“During the revolution and up until recently, the number of visitors we saw was very low,” said Nathalie Renaud, assistant manager of the Four Seasons Resort in Sharm El-Sheikh. “Little by little when the media started reporting on the situation here, movement picked up and now we’re actually quite busy.”
Tourism, one of the top three revenue earners for the country’s economy, was cut by more than half after unrest that followed the 18-day popular revolt that pushed Mubarak out of power after three decades.
Ahmed Al-Nahas, chairman of the Egyptian Tourism Federation also confirmed that tourism in Sharm El-Sheikh is “coming back” with the reappearance of police and security in the streets.
Al-Nahas emphasized that while some people will feel more comfortable with a heavier security presence, others will think it’s a “bit too much.”
Some Sharm El-Sheikh residents on the other hand feel that the increased army presence is not necessarily all over the city but rather in certain areas.
“The only new thing is the army’s presence in Sharm, it of course wasn’t allowed before and their presence is not like Cairo where you see tanks,” said Rania Barakat, editor in chief of Sinai Weekly and long-term resident of Sharm El-Sheikh. “Here it’s just a lot of army officers guarding certain areas around the city, such as where the former president is under house arrest for example.”
Barakat sees that increased army presence in Sinai, where the Egyptian military presence violates the Camp David treaty, could have various meanings.
“It could be because Egypt’s general prosecutor recently asked the army to bring in Mubarak for questioning, or it could be General Tantawy protecting his friend,” she added. “Either way, it’s not right for Mubarak to be here.”
Renaud, on the other hand, who has been living and working in Sharm El-Sheikh for over a year, says the city started to see more security presence by the army just shortly before Mubarak gave his first voice-recorded speech since his overthrow, which was exclusively aired on Al Arabiya news channel.
“About two days before Mubarak’s speech, military personnel was increasing,” she said. “Right now they are still very present, I believe that they would do anything to make sure the situation is secure,” she said.
A high–ranking official from the Ministry of Interior who asked to remain anonymous told Daily News Egypt that police forces have returned back to work in Sharm El-Sheikh just like any other city in Egypt.
“We are distributing police officials just like they were before in order to protect the people, so let’s say if Cairo has 10 officers, for example, Sharm El-Sheikh will have five since it’s a smaller city,” he said.
He also emphasized “certain areas in Sharm El-Sheikh, like where the former president is staying or the presidential palace are the responsibility of the army to secure, not police forces.”
Sharm El-Sheikh is the largest and most important city in the Sinai Peninsula on the coast of the Red Sea. The former Egyptian president often received guests and held conferences and summits in the resort city, where he also owns a villa.