Times SELECT 22 May 2019
On the scale of terror attacks that have become a reality from Southeast Asia to Europe, and are rife now across West, North and East Africa, Sunday’s bomb blast near the pyramids in Cairo was a relatively nondescript occurrence.
That is not to trivialise the trauma that would have been felt by the 24 SA tourists (three injured) who were on a bus that was seemingly the target of a rudimentary device containing nails and pieces of metal. It could have been far worse. There were no fatalities in the attack in Giza outside the new, soon-to-be-opened Grand Egyptian Museum.
What effect does this have on Egypt’s hosting of the 2019 Africa Cup of Nations from June 21 to July 19 in Cairo, Alexandria, Suez and Ismailia?
It has raised the state of high alert the Egyptian police and security forces will be on. Already retaliatory action has been swift and ruthless from a regime that has been accused of enforced disappearances, extrajudicial executions and trial by military courts in a crackdown on terror.
Twelve militant fighters were shot and killed by security forces in response to the bombing, according to state television. They were alleged to be part of the armed Hasm Movement, which the government has claimed has links to the outlawed Muslim Brotherhood, an allegation the organisation has denied.
In Egypt, for better or worse, the powerful military runs the country. Long before Hosni Mubarak’s 30-year reign was overthrown by the Arab Spring revolution – which led to the democratic election of the Brotherhood and brief, disastrous presidency of Mohamed Morsi – it was said by Egyptians that if you wanted to have anything done properly in the country, have the military do it.
Under Mubarak the state was ultimately responsible for public works projects, stadium construction, housing, industry and transport infrastructure – but the military had its own concurrent projects. And the army, or so their reputation went, could always get the job done better.
When Morsi’s brief tenure from 2012 melted down into its own shambles of human rights violations and ineptitude, he was removed in 2013 by army general Abdel Fattah el-Sisi, who remains president today. The military’s ascendancy has restored stability, to the relief of many Egyptians. But the revolutionary fervour and sense of freedom of the Arab Spring have also been relegated to memory.
Bomb blasts, such as the one on Sunday, are a reality in the terrorism hot spot of North Africa.
When Orlando Pirates travelled to Tunisia to play the second leg of their Caf Confederation Cup final against Etoile du Sahel in November 2015, a bomb in Tunis killed 12 presidential guards on a bus on the Tuesday (November 24) ahead of their match on the Sunday (November 29).
Alert members of the team would have seen the wreckage of the bus still in a square, down a street, to the right of an overpass in Tunis on the highway to the coastal city of Sousse, where Pirates were playing.
The beachfront in Sousse, where Pirates had their hotel, was the scene of a lone gunman’s attack that killed 38 people – 30 of them British – in a mass shooting just five months earlier, in June 2015. Sousse’s tourism industry had understandably collapsed. Hotels were mostly deserted. Bored waiters lounged in empty restaurants waiting for customers who were not coming, having cancelled their holiday packages from the UK and elsewhere.
Egypt’s tourism industry, which at its peak in 2010 contributed 11% of its gross domestic product, has also been subjected to varying degrees of turmoil. Before the 2011 revolution it had recovered from the massacre of 62 people at a tourist archaeological site in Luxor by militants in 1997.
The Arab Spring and ensuing political violence preceded Pirates playing the second leg of their Caf Champions League final against Al Ahly in Cairo in November 2013 – five months after El-Sisi removed Morsi. Bucs arrived to a city patrolled by tanks on streets, burnt-out government buildings and curfews at night. The pyramids were almost deserted by Western travellers.
Egypt’s tourism growth rates have risen, though they were hit hard when a Russian plane was downed over the Red Sea resort of Sharm el-Sheikh in 2015, killing all 224 passengers.
The hosting of the Nations Cup was to be a rare event showcasing Egypt’s touristic resurgence. The bomb blast at the pyramids puts a dampener on such ambitions.
It also raises questions about how Egypt could be awarded the event. The SA Football Association cried foul at the process when a country with so many recent security incidents won the bid.
Egypt still limits attendances at domestic football matches in response to soccer supporters, including the ultras of Al Ahly, having been active in the 2011 revolution – and in the wake of the Port Said Stadium riot of 2012 that claimed 72 lives.
But fears over security in major sports competitions seldom are realised during the events. As with crime at the 2010 World Cup, security is usually stepped up to such a degree that the environment becomes safer during the tournament.
Egypt’s strong military and police force – heavy-handed as they may be – will be out in full force as the country will be anxious not to spurn a rare opportunity at showcasing itself again as one of the world’s most hospitable, oldest and dramatic tourist destinations.