Bombs threaten tourism as Foreign Office warns of danger in Egypt

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The Independent Online

Two terrorist bombings in the past seven months have had little impact on Egypt's tourism trade, but yesterday's violence in Cairo in which three died and at least seven were injured could have a devastating effect on an industry worth £3.5bn a year.

Two terrorist bombings in the past seven months have had little impact on Egypt's tourism trade, but yesterday's violence in Cairo in which three died and at least seven were injured could have a devastating effect on an industry worth £3.5bn a year.

A record eight million tourists visited the country last year and the government has been anxious to limit the fallout of recent violence, claiming that the attacks have been the work of small and isolated extremist groups. During the 1990s, Islamic insurgents launched a series of attacks on visitors, wreaking havoc on the country's tourist industry.

Yesterday's attacks both occurred near major tourist attractions: the shooting took place in a district of old Cairo rich with historic mosques and cemeteries.

The bomb detonated near a five-star hotel, only 100 metres from the Egyptian Museum, which houses treasures from the tomb of the Pharaoh Tutankhamun and is visited by thousands of tourists every day.

In recent years, Egypt had experienced a relative lull in violence against foreign tourists until October, when simultaneous bomb blasts ripped through the Sinai resorts of Taba and Ras Shitan, killing 34 people and wounding more than 100. One of the bombs destroyed an entire wing of the Taba Hilton Hotel, in an attack which police said was masterminded by a Palestinian angry with Israel. More than 10 Israeli tourists were among the dead.

On 7 April, a suicide bomber killed two French citizens, an American and himself when he detonated a home-made bomb near a tour party shopping for souvenirs in the Khan al-Khalili bazaar.

According to the Foreign Office, 547,000 British people visited Egypt last year, most of them tourists.

Soon after the 7 April attack, the Foreign Office updated its travel advice on Egypt, warning that "there is a continuing threat from terrorism" throughout the country. Egyptian security forces have made "a considerable effort to ensure the safety and security of foreign visitors by increasing security in Sinai and around other tourist sites."

The Foreign Office says that opposition to British policy in the Middle East is common in Egypt, with the war and Iraq and the conflict between Israelis and Palestinians causing widespread public anger.

Egyptian tourism has only recently recovered from the catastrophic impact of a wave of Islamist terror in the late 1990s. In 1997 two gunmen opened fire on a tour bus outside the Egyptian Museum, killing nine German tourists and their driver. Two months later, militants massacred 58 foreign tourists and four Egyptians in a bloody attack at the Temple of Hatshepsut outside Luxor.

The attacks caused hotel bookings to plummet but also angered many Egyptians who depend on tourism for their livelihood.

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