Beyond the sun loungers is that Mubarak we see?

Tourists believe he is in Sharm el-Sheikh, but armed guards are saying nothing. Donald Macintyre goes in search of the dictator

There is something a little surreal about moving in next door to Hosni Mubarak. Walking the extensive grounds of Sharm el-Sheikh's Maritim Jolie Ville Golf resort, adjacent to the winter palace where nobody is very keen to admit the ex-dictator is ensconced, is eerily reminiscent of Patrick McGoohan's 1960's TV series The Prisoner.

True, the resort is a much kitscher version of Portmeirion, where the cult series about a captive secret agent was set: palm trees, astroturf, poolside loungers, and nondescript sub-Arabesque bungalows replacing the rhododendrons and quirky 1920s villas of Clough Williams Ellis. But the combination of mystery, an imposing police presence and a sprawling seaside holiday village is irresistibly similar, down to the navy blue-sweatered hotel security man who frequently follows at a not-so-discreet distance when you venture to and from your room.

At the main gate from Peace Road, uniformed police armed with pistols and plain clothes men have set up a mobile checkpoint where they painstakingly examine passports, and question incoming guests. Where the road bends left and towards the hotel, a right fork is blocked off by multiple steel barriers – moveable only for essential goods and the lucky few allowed in – and another contingent of taciturn police. It's obvious that this is the private road to Casa Mubarak.

Go down to the jetty nearest to where the 84-year-old Hosni Mubarak has his sea view, look up to the rocks on the right, and there in the middle distance is another official group of men, with an umbrella to protect them from the sun, and what looks suspiciously like a machine gun on a tripod. Having been followed down to shore by one of the hotel's own security men, I was moved on by a tracksuited member of the Jolie Ville "Recreation Team" who explained this jetty was closed for "engineering".

Nor was there much hope of swimming out beyond the warning rope a few metres from the beach and taking a look from the ocean. "Sharks," I was firmly told. When I made a vain attempt last night to check out a hotel guest's report that another machine gun emplacement was to be found on the roof of one of the hotel complex's own buildings, it was a mere minute before another of its security men purred up to me in a golf buggy. Security seems to have been tightened in the last 24 hours and a policeman at the barrier to the private road, asked yesterday afternoon whether the President – who has taken ill since his fall from office, according to some reports – was there, said "No", but in a tone which strongly suggested his true meaning was "Don't go there".

For there is no-one in Sharm el Sheikh, including the small minority of residents, most of them Britons, not put off by travel warnings over the Egyptian uprising and who went ahead with their holidays at the Jolie Ville, who is not convinced that he is here. All have been put in the Royal Wing, where the lavish rooms have been heavily discounted to $160 a night; and all are equally convinced that the mushroom-like dome visible behind the tastefully beige painted concrete wall, perhaps six metres high, not to mention the ring of high sodium lights inside it visible at night across the asymmetrical swimming pool, is part of his retreat.

Not so, I was assured by Natalya, the hotel's nice customer relations person from Belarus. "You will not see Mr Mubarak's place from any part of the hotel." What was behind the wall then? "I think it is another hotel." Did it have a name? Not one Natalya chose to share. Instead she added, just a little more chillily: "I think you are a reporter. I don't know why reporters would come here." Then she repeated that any hopes of seeing the Mubarak residence were utterly misplaced.

But Norman Bailey, from Manchester, who runs a newsagent's business, and is here with his wife on his fourth trip to the resort, presumes, as do all the other guests, that it is behind the wall. He says he has seen what looks like men guarding it from his second floor window. "There's always security, of course, but there's more of it when he is here," he said. Mr Bailey said he hadn't been aware of the President's arrival until it was reported on television, and hadn't been perturbed by it either. But then he loves the place. "There's been absolutely no problem over the last week, and the only difference is that it's been quieter."

Here Mr Bailey puts his finger on why Sharm is such a haven for Mr Mubarak. For though tourist traffic here is down from its usual February level of 65-70 per cent occupancy to 8-15 per cent, the revolution barely touched Sharm. Indeed police, off the streets of Cairo, functioned normally here. "Everyone likes to work here, thinks about his business and for tourism you need calm," explains Sharif Fayez, 30, who runs a diving equipment shop in Sharm's old market.

Mr Fayez says he welcomes the outcome – particularly the chance to try corrupt ministers. But he has little rancour against Mr Mubarak, blaming the regime's excesses of the last 15 years more on his ministers than the man himself. Was he comfortable with the deposed President's presence here? "Yes, if I saw him I would salute him and thank him for what he did."

General Ahmed Saleh El Edkawy, Secretary to the South Sinai Governor, agrees that economics was a heavily restraining factor here, arguing that unlike in north Sinai, the South Sinai Bedouin "are part of the society and they are also interested in tourism". Was General El Edkawy, who yesterday still had a portrait of a youthful-looking ex-President on the wall behind his desk, also relaxed about Mr Mubarak being in Sharm? "He is a citizen of Egypt," he shrugged. "He has the right to be here."

Suggested Topics
Start your day with The Independent, sign up for daily news emails
Bill Gates, founder of Microsoft and co-chair of the Bill and Melinda Gates Foundation
businessUber, Snapchat and Facebook founders among those on the 2015 Forbes Billionaire List
news... and what your reaction to the creatures above says about you
Jihadi John
newsMonikers like 'Jihadi John' make the grim sound glamorous
Homer’s equation, in an episode in 1998, comes close to the truth, as revealed 14 years later
Have you tried new the Independent Digital Edition apps?
ebooksA special investigation by Andy McSmith
Latest stories from i100
Have you tried new the Independent Digital Edition apps?
Independent Dating

By clicking 'Search' you
are agreeing to our
Terms of Use.

iJobs Job Widget
iJobs General

Ashdown Group: Finance Manager - Covent Garden, central London - £45k - £55k

£45000 - £55000 per annum + 30 days holiday: Ashdown Group: Finance Manager - ...

Ashdown Group: Systems Administrator - Lancashire - £30,000

£28000 - £30000 per annum: Ashdown Group: 3rd Line Support Engineer / Network ...

Recruitment Genius: Graduate Web Developer

£26000 - £33000 per annum: Recruitment Genius: A Web Developer is required to ...

Ashdown Group: PeopleSoft Developer - London - £45k

£45000 per annum: Ashdown Group: PeopleSoft Application Support & Development ...

Day In a Page

The difference between America and Israel? There isn’t one

The difference between America and Israel? There isn’t one

Netanyahu knows he can get away with anything in America, says Robert Fisk
Families clubbing together to build their own affordable accommodation

Do It Yourself approach to securing a new house

Community land trusts marking a new trend for taking the initiative away from developers
Head of WWF UK: We didn’t send Cameron to the Arctic to see green ideas freeze

David Nussbaum: We didn’t send Cameron to the Arctic to see green ideas freeze

The head of WWF UK remains sanguine despite the Government’s failure to live up to its pledges on the environment
Author Kazuo Ishiguro on being inspired by shoot-outs and samurai

Author Kazuo Ishiguro on being inspired by shoot-outs and samurai

Set in a mythologised 5th-century Britain, ‘The Buried Giant’ is a strange beast
With money, corruption and drugs, this monk fears Buddhism in Thailand is a ‘poisoned fruit’

Money, corruption and drugs

The monk who fears Buddhism in Thailand is a ‘poisoned fruit’
America's first slavery museum established at Django Unchained plantation - 150 years after slavery outlawed

150 years after it was outlawed...

... America's first slavery museum is established in Louisiana
Kelly Clarkson: How I snubbed Simon Cowell and become a Grammy-winning superstar

Kelly Clarkson: How I snubbed Simon Cowell and become a Grammy-winning superstar

The first 'American Idol' winner on how she manages to remain her own woman – Jane Austen fascination and all
Tony Oursler on exploring our uneasy relationship with technology with his new show

You won't believe your eyes

Tony Oursler's new show explores our uneasy relationship with technology. He's one of a growing number of artists with that preoccupation
Ian Herbert: Peter Moores must go. He should never have been brought back to fail again

Moores must go. He should never have been brought back to fail again

The England coach leaves players to find solutions - which makes you wonder where he adds value, says Ian Herbert
War with Isis: Fears that the looming battle for Mosul will unleash 'a million refugees'

The battle for Mosul will unleash 'a million refugees'

Aid agencies prepare for vast exodus following planned Iraqi offensive against the Isis-held city, reports Patrick Cockburn
Yvette Cooper: We can't lose the election. There's too much on the line

Yvette Cooper: We can't lose the election. There's too much on the line

The shadow Home Secretary on fighting radical Islam, protecting children, and why anyone in Labour who's thinking beyond May must 'sort themselves out'
A bad week for the Greens: Leader Natalie Bennett's 'car crash' radio interview is followed by Brighton council's failure to set a budget due to infighting

It's not easy being Green

After a bad week in which its leader had a public meltdown and its only city council couldn't agree on a budget vote, what next for the alternative party? It's over to Caroline Lucas to find out
Gorillas nearly missed: BBC producers didn't want to broadcast Sir David Attenborough's famed Rwandan encounter

Gorillas nearly missed

BBC producers didn't want to broadcast Sir David Attenborough's famed Rwandan encounter
Downton Abbey effect sees impoverished Italian nobles inspired to open their doors to paying guests for up to €650 a night

The Downton Abbey effect

Impoverished Italian nobles are opening their doors to paying guests, inspired by the TV drama
China's wild panda numbers have increased by 17% since 2003, new census reveals

China's wild panda numbers on the up

New census reveals 17% since 2003