Philip Hensher: Egypt has made itself a ready target

Click to follow

The bombs in Dahab, on the Red Sea, hit with a weary inevitability. It's the third such bombing of a Red Sea resort in Egypt in the past 18 months, and the authorities must be wondering whether this is the product of a systematic campaign by an organised group, or whether - much more worrying in my view - it might be the result of an increasingly common mindset, which sees in the Red Sea resorts an obvious, easy and appropriate target for these ugly actions.

Quite why these Egyptian resorts seem like good targets for Islamic groups is a question worth addressing. I've been going to Egypt quite regularly in the last few months, for the first time in several years, and in Cairo the seriousness and intensity of the security precautions around tourist sites is very striking. I was on my way to Sudan last time I stayed in Cairo, and Khartoum by contrast seemed utterly safe and laid-back, despite being in a country in a state of civil war. Your Cairo taxi will be investigated before it goes anywhere near the hotel, which has also installed metal-detector equipment at the entrance to the lobby.

Such security precautions can make things a little tricky. If you get an ordinary bus and walk into the Egyptian Museum, rather than drive in on an air-conditioned tourist bus, you will be questioned by the security police. And around the Red Sea resort of Sharm el Sheikh, there is now a security cordon. On the other hand, you can still walk round the sublime mosques of medieval Cairo without seeing much in the way of security, that not being something most tourists are interested in.

In part, the question of why Islamic groups are attacking these tourist resorts is "because they can". Despite these nervously sustained security arrangements, it is evidently still possible to get through the net and plant a bomb. The other answer, of course, is that some Islamic groups simply hate the Western-style hedonism of such resorts, and want to destroy them by scaring off tourists in large numbers. They see no place for a Hurghada, with its hordes of Russian prostitutes and rows of nightclubs, in a supposedly Islamic country.

When events like this make an impact on a country, it becomes immediately apparent what a risk it is to rely, to any serious extent, on tourist income. Egypt is seen by these groups as a useful target, first because its security is evidently lax - there have been a number of incidents since the massacre, nine years ago, of 57 at the temple of Hatshepsut near Luxor. Secondly, it attracts these horrible incidents because its economy is so evidently fragile, and can so easily be damaged by a single incident of this kind.

The second largest recipient of US aid after Israel, Egypt is evidently a basket case economically, and is not helping itself with its ongoing addiction to tourist money. If it cannot rival Dubai, and ward off - for the moment - the attacks of terrorists with ruthlessly successful levels of security, it could consider the case of Turkey, which on the whole does not invite attacks like this, and would be less vulnerable to one, because its economy is more successfully diversified.

Egypt at the moment is vulnerable, because it has largely pinned its hope on the equation that one million tourists equals 200,000 Egyptian jobs. Those jobs are, however, there at the whim of a man with a bomb in his bag, and everyone's interest would be served by Egypt's understanding that it is attacked so regularly because it has made itself an obvious target.

Two cheers for the good sports at the BBC

Grandstand is coming to an end. Hurrah! There's far too much sport on the television anyway, so no one could possibly complain if - ah - there's a fly in the ointment. Apparently, the programme title is being dropped. The music is staying the same, and - how should I break this to you - there is no risk of there being any less sport involved.

Indeed, everyone concerned is at pains to emphasise the alteration will mean even more sport for everyone to enjoy. If this promise came from the Government, we would all relax and know not to believe it. Coming from the BBC on the subject of broadcast sport, it seems all too likely to be true. More sport on the telly, forever!

That, surely, is something we can all welcome, as we reach for the off button on the remote and go out to do something more interesting.

* Alan Bennett's play The History Boys has just opened in New York to rapturous reviews. One will be watching the fate of the play, and its popularity among American audiences, with interest. We are always told that American audiences have no interest in anything outside their country. Nothing more local than Bennett's play about English education could be imagined, and it will prove a bit of a test case.

Personally, I don't believe American audiences are so parochial; I think they can easily be interested in lives unlike their own, and it's only the second-guessing of a cultural elite which says otherwise. All the same, I would only say that with absolute confidence when the play has been running to full houses for a year.