For many in Egypt, a nervous resolve

Aftermath: As some tourists flee, others refuse to let bombings interfere with their vacations.

July 25, 2005|By John Murphy | John Murphy,SUN FOREIGN STAFF

SHARM EL-SHEIK, Egypt - Timothy Mowforth and his girlfriend, Julie Flannery, planned to spend their two-week vacation at this Red Sea resort snorkeling among some of the most beautiful coral reefs on earth, sunning themselves by the hotel pool and visiting some of Egypt's ancient sites.

Instead, the couple from York, England, found themselves drawn yesterday to Sharm el-Sheik's newest attraction: the shattered remains of the Ghazala Gardens Hotel, where a suicide bomber plowed a car carrying explosives into the lobby early Saturday in one of three coordinated bombing attacks.

Like hundreds of tourists here, Mowforth and Flannery felt compelled to see the wreckage, many arriving with video recorders and cameras to take home images of the destruction.

And almost everyone talked of feeling vulnerable, darkly confident that the bombings were but a prelude to more attacks, if not here then elsewhere.

At Sharm el-Sheik hotels, workers were installing new barriers at entrances. Security workers were taking extra care inspecting vehicles entering hotel parking lots, looking through backpacks and handbags, asking guests to empty their pockets and step through metal detectors. But no one seemed sure that such measures would stop attacks.

"There's no way of stopping this," Flannery said. "They are just going to carry on doing what they are doing."

Egyptian authorities said yesterday that they had detained about 70 people for questioning in the bombings. However, no one has been charged in the attack, wire services said, quoting security officials.

Similar roundups occurred after attacks in October at the Sinai resorts of Taba and Ras Shitan, when 3,000 people were detained and many complained of torture, human rights groups say. About 200 of the detainees are believed to still be in custody.

Meanwhile, authorities revised the death toll here, saying the official count as of yesterday was 64, but hospital officials said the figure was in the 80s. Officials said the dead included seven Westerners - one an American - and 26 Egyptians, but most of the victims had not been identified.

Fear and defiance

Some tourists here were frightened by the danger and decided to cut short their holidays and return home. Others remained defiant, or perhaps oblivious, refusing to let the attacks disrupt vacation plans.

Families returned yesterday to hotel pools and beaches, lugging suntan lotion, books and inflatable pool toys. Sunburned Europeans waded into the sea for diving and snorkeling lessons. Laughter could be heard in hotel bars and restaurants.

Many of the Egyptians showed a collective defiance not to allow the bombings to destroy their community. At sunset, a group of hotel workers, joined later by tourists, marched down Sharm el-Sheik's main thoroughfare, Peace Road, waving giant banners saying, "We are against terrorism."

Mowforth, 43, and Flannery, 40, had worked long hours to pay for their two-week holiday. He labored at his maintenance job in a British prison; she toiled at a local supermarket.

They debated going to South Africa or Vietnam, but both were too expensive for them. A package tour to Egypt seemed a bargain. Compared with Great Britain, where two sets of bombings targeted the London transit system, Egypt seemed a safe, placid destination.

Then early Saturday, Mowforth and Flannery were jarred awake by a noise Mowforth said sounded as though someone had thrown "a lot of earth against the window." By sunrise, the scale of the destruction had become painfully clear. The couple messaged their families back home and without much discussion decided to stay.

Karaoke and guilt

At first they were nervous venturing out. The day after the blast, they chose to stay close to the hotel, as did most who stayed. Their hotel canceled plans for a visit to Luxor and other ancient ruins on the Upper Nile.

The bar was open. And while television news reported a rising death toll, guests gathered inside to drink and drop coins in the karaoke machine. But as soon as they started having a good time, they couldn't help but feel guilty.

"It seemed a bit ghoulish," Mowforth said.

`Risks you have to take'

At Jolieville golf resort, the Russian guests who had booked 15 rooms were determined to make the most of their holiday. All of them stayed.

"Nothing scares them," said Olga Dukanich, a guest relations worker at the resort. "Nothing surprises them."

Art Bernstein, 54, of Louisiana shared their resolve. In the middle of a two-week vacation in Egypt, he was determined to continue his touring.

"I just came from seeing the Valley of the Kings," he said yesterday. "If you want to see these places, these are the risks you have to take.

"Before I left I had a choice between visiting here or Turkey. In Turkey a few weeks ago there was a bombing, so I went to Sharm el-Sheik," he said. "Then I wake up in the morning and there is a bombing. It's scary. How can anyone feel they are safe anymore?"

`I am not scared of this'

No one can, said Mazin Al Suleimani, a 28-year-old teacher visiting from Saudi Arabia, standing across the street from the Ghazala Gardens Hotel and panning his video recorder from one end of the rubble to the other.

"All the Arabs have this happen to them. I am not scared of this," he shrugged. "I love Sharm el-Sheik, and I would come here a second time, God willing."

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