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Egypt building Sharm El-Sheikh wall to protect tourists

Sharm el-Sheikh is an Egyptian resort town between the desert of the Sinai Peninsula and the Red Sea.
Sharm el-Sheikh is an Egyptian resort town between the desert of the Sinai Peninsula and the Red Sea [Yessica da silva esteves/Flickr]

Egypt has started the construction of a six metre wall around the popular tourist hotspot Sharm El-Sheikh, in a bid to protect foreign tourists from the ongoing conflict in the Sinai Peninsula.

Despite Egyptian officials denying the existence of the project, the Guardian shared verified pictures and videos of the wall taken by local residents showing completed and unfinished parts of the barrier.

“It’s not a wall, who told you it’s a wall. We don’t have a wall,” General Khaled Fouda said of project, describing it instead as a mix of high concrete barriers and at least 37 kilometre of razor-wire fence, with “four very beautiful doors” to access the town.

It was intended to “beautify and secure Sharm El-Sheikh”, he said. “We are doing this for the future. The project will help Sharm El-Sheikh recoup lost tourism revenues.”

However local residents decried the construction, saying that it was destroying the region’s natural beauty.

“This security barrier isn’t going to make a difference, it will just annoy people more and it won’t stop terrorism. It’s a joke. Any tourist coming out of the city will be worried they’re not safe,” one local told reporters.

Similar plans for a wall around the popular tourist destination were briefly considered by the South Sinai authorities in 2005. Whilst Fouda declined to state why the project had been revived, it is believed to be one of many measures aimed at reviving tourism, which has fallen in recent years due to ongoing conflict in the region.

READ: 15 Egyptian troops killed or wounded in North Sinai

Egypt has been conducting a long-running campaign in the Sinai governorate, allegedly against Daesh militants. However the operation has witnessed thousands of human rights violations, with the military accused of indiscriminately bombing civilian areas and conducting thousands of extra-judicial killings of residents, regardless of their affiliation.

Nearly 420,000 people in four north-eastern cities are in urgent need for humanitarian assistance due to the ongoing battle, according to Human Rights Watch, with the military also known to be using US-manufactured cluster bombs in civilian areas.

The operation also cut off Bedouin communities in the surrounding desert area, many of whom have been enlisted to aid Egyptian forces in their manoeuvres in the Sinai.

“This wall tells the Bedouin that they’re not part of the community – it sends the message that they’re not worth protecting from terrorism,” said the resident.

Many tourists have also stopped travelling to Egypt’s Red Sea and Sinai resorts since militants brought down a Russian passenger jet over the Peninsula in 2015. Moscow suspended flights in the aftermath of the attack, which killed all 224 people on board and was claimed by Daesh. Russian officials said a homemade explosive device was detonated on board the plane, which had taken off from Sharm El-Sheikh.

Flights between the beach resorts and several destinations, including Russia and the UK are still yet to resume.

Egypt has been trying to attract tourists, an important source of foreign currency, since visitors fled after the 2011 uprising.  Last year, Egypt moved to establish tourist only beaches in Alexandria and approve a law which fined Egyptian vendors for “pestering tourists”, in a bid to encourage travel to the country.

Tourism revenues had begun to rebound, jumping 77 per cent in the first half of 2018 to $4.8 billion, before a deadly attack on a bus in December killed three Vietnamese tourists and their Egyptian guide. The targeting of the bus was the first attack against foreign tourists in Egypt for over a year.

READ: Egypt’s Pyramids turned into marathon venue

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