Sharks and revolution empty Egypt's Red Sea resorts

Tourists have started trickling back to Egypt's balmy Red Sea coast in the wake of its national uprising, but ghost town resorts are still reeling from crises that preceded the unrest.

The beaches had emptied following a bizarre series of shark attacks late last year, and some souvenir vendors and other businesses here in Sharm El-Sheikh say they are still hurting from the global financial crisis.

On Wednesday a few dozen tanned tourists in shorts and summer dresses made their way through the mostly deserted town centre, past empty Bedouin-style cafes with sheets spread over cushions to shield them from the dusty air.

"We are very pleased, because it's empty and there are no Russians," said Nick, who came from Devon in southwestern England with his wife and 10-year-old twins on a trip they booked "before the sharks and before the demonstrations."

The couple, who declined to give their last name, said their only regret was not waiting until travel operators began offering major discounts as hundreds of thousands took to the streets to demand the fall of Hosni Mubarak.

"As far as events in Cairo, you would never know, if you watch TV, that it's the same country," his wife Julia said. "It's like comparing New York to the rest of the United States."

Tourists from the former Soviet Union have long flocked to Sharm, where many signs are written in Russian, but these days most hail from Britain, which did not restrict travel to the Red Sea even at the height of the unrest.

There were no demonstrations in Sharm - a sprawling resort on the southern tip of the arid and mountainous Sinai Peninsula - but that was in part because locals did not want to scare away customers.

"Here in Sharm it was fine," said Steffi Vetterli, a Swiss dive instructor who moved to town four years ago.

"The people here are working. They don't care about Cairo because they need the money," she said.

The reefs off Egypt's Red Sea coast offer some of the best diving in the world, with sea turtles, barracudas and spotted eagle rays swimming through the florid coral, the cloudless desert sky reflected on placid waters.

Mottled whale sharks - docile giants that pose little danger to humans - will migrate through starting in June.

But this year the dive centre where Vetterli works has had virtually no customers in weeks. "The winter is usually slow, but this year we have no bookings until March," she said.

That is in part due to a series of attacks in December in which other species of sharks mauled five foreign tourists close to shore, killing one of them and prompting local authorities to temporarily close beaches.

Vetterli said staff divers had seen no sign of the sharks since then, and hotels have since used nets to cordon off safe swimming areas.

Egypt's other major tourist sites - the Great Pyramids outside Cairo and the temples and tombs of Luxor and Aswan - have also been virtually deserted, and this week tour guides held a protest of sorts in the shadow of the Sphinx.

The $10 billion a year tourism industry accounts for more than a tenth of the country's GDP and employs more than 12 percent of its workforce.

More than 14 million tourists visited Egypt in 2010, a record number, with around a third of them hitting the Red Sea Coast.

The vital industry has weathered regional unrest before, including after bombings in Sharm El-Sheikh in 2005 that killed 88 people.

But Sherif, 30, who has been working for 12 years in a souvenir shop packed with rows of tiny wooden pharaonic statues, said it only took a few months for business to recover after that attack, while the financial crisis lingered.

The situation has been made worse by the small clique of businessmen with political connections who dominate the local economy, he says, asking that his last name not be published for fear of retribution.

Former Egyptian tourism minister Zuhair Garana is among several members of Mubarak's sacked government who have been banned from leaving the country as authorities investigate corruption allegations.

Sherif insists the shop owners and hotel workers here supported the hundreds of thousands of youth-led demonstrators who packed Cairo's Tahrir Square to demand the fall of Mubarak's regime, even if they didn't show it.

"We cannot demonstrate here in front of the tourists because it would hurt our business, but we have the same frustrations as the people who were in Tahrir," he says.

Life and Style
Steve Shaw shows Kate how to get wet behind the ears and how to align her neck
healthSteven Shaw - the 'Buddha of Breaststroke' - applies Alexander Technique to the watery sport
Arts and Entertainment
The sight of a bucking bronco in the shape of a pink penis was too much for Hollywood actor and gay rights supporter Martin Sheen, prompting him to boycott a scene in the TV series Grace and Frankie
tv
Arts and Entertainment
Lena Headey as Cersei Lannister
TVSPOILER ALERT: It's all coming together as series returns to form
Sport
footballShirt then goes on sale on Gumtree
Have you tried new the Independent Digital Edition apps?
Voices
Terry Sue-Patt as Benny in the BBC children’s soap ‘Grange Hill’
voicesGrace Dent on Grange Hill and Terry Sue-Patt
Arts and Entertainment
Performers drink tea at the Glastonbury festival in 2010
music
Arts and Entertainment
Twin Peaks stars Joan Chen, Michael Ontkean, Kyle Maclachlan and Piper Laurie
tvName confirmed for third series
Sport
Cameron Jerome
footballCanaries beat Boro to gain promotion to the Premier League
Arts and Entertainment
art
Travel
ebookHow to enjoy the perfect short break in 20 great cities
Independent Travel Videos
Independent Travel Videos
Simon Calder in Amsterdam
Independent Travel Videos
Simon Calder in Giverny
Independent Travel Videos
Simon Calder in St John's
Independent Travel Videos
Latest stories from i100
Have you tried new the Independent Digital Edition apps?
Independent Dating
and  

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

ES Rentals

    iJobs Job Widget
    iJobs Travel

    Guru Careers: Events Coordinator / Junior Events Planner

    £24K + Excellent Benefits: Guru Careers: We are seeking an Events Coordinator ...

    Royal Yachting Association Cymru Wales: Chief Executive Officer

    Salary 42,000: Royal Yachting Association Cymru Wales: The CEO is responsible ...

    Guru Careers: Marketing Manager / Marketing Communications Manager

    £35-40k (DOE) + Benefits: Guru Careers: We are seeking a Marketing Communicati...

    Ashdown Group: Technical IT Manager - North London - Growing business

    £40000 - £50000 per annum: Ashdown Group: A growing business that has been ope...

    Day In a Page

    Abuse - and the hell that came afterwards

    Abuse - and the hell that follows

    James Rhodes on the extraordinary legal battle to publish his memoir
    Why we need a 'tranquility map' of England, according to campaigners

    It's oh so quiet!

    The case for a 'tranquility map' of England
    'Timeless fashion': It may be a paradox, but the industry loves it

    'Timeless fashion'

    It may be a paradox, but the industry loves it
    If the West needs a bridge to the 'moderates' inside Isis, maybe we could have done with Osama bin Laden staying alive after all

    Could have done with Osama bin Laden staying alive?

    Robert Fisk on the Fountainheads of World Evil in 2011 - and 2015
    New exhibition celebrates the evolution of swimwear

    Evolution of swimwear

    From bathing dresses in the twenties to modern bikinis
    Sun, sex and an anthropological study: One British academic's summer of hell in Magaluf

    Sun, sex and an anthropological study

    One academic’s summer of hell in Magaluf
    From Shakespeare to Rising Damp... to Vicious

    Frances de la Tour's 50-year triumph

    'Rising Damp' brought De la Tour such recognition that she could be forgiven if she'd never been able to move on. But at 70, she continues to flourish - and to beguile
    'That Whitsun, I was late getting away...'

    Ian McMillan on the Whitsun Weddings

    This weekend is Whitsun, and while the festival may no longer resonate, Larkin's best-loved poem, lives on - along with the train journey at the heart of it
    Kathryn Williams explores the works and influences of Sylvia Plath in a new light

    Songs from the bell jar

    Kathryn Williams explores the works and influences of Sylvia Plath
    How one man's day in high heels showed him that Cannes must change its 'no flats' policy

    One man's day in high heels

    ...showed him that Cannes must change its 'flats' policy
    Is a quiet crusade to reform executive pay bearing fruit?

    Is a quiet crusade to reform executive pay bearing fruit?

    Dominic Rossi of Fidelity says his pressure on business to control rewards is working. But why aren’t other fund managers helping?
    The King David Hotel gives precious work to Palestinians - unless peace talks are on

    King David Hotel: Palestinians not included

    The King David is special to Jerusalem. Nick Kochan checked in and discovered it has some special arrangements, too
    More people moving from Australia to New Zealand than in the other direction for first time in 24 years

    End of the Aussie brain drain

    More people moving from Australia to New Zealand than in the other direction for first time in 24 years
    Meditation is touted as a cure for mental instability but can it actually be bad for you?

    Can meditation be bad for you?

    Researching a mass murder, Dr Miguel Farias discovered that, far from bringing inner peace, meditation can leave devotees in pieces
    Eurovision 2015: Australians will be cheering on their first-ever entrant this Saturday

    Australia's first-ever Eurovision entrant

    Australia, a nation of kitsch-worshippers, has always loved the Eurovision Song Contest. Maggie Alderson says it'll fit in fine