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Home : News : Nation and World
Egyptians react to increased insecurity in tourist areas
Catholic News Service

CAIRO — Sacred Heart Sister Jeanette Fahmy said she is praying for those behind a suicide bomb that killed her first cousin and three South Koreans.

"We have to pray they realize what they are doing ... and that they stop," Sister Jeanette told Catholic News Service -- and then the 78-year-old Egyptian nun started to cry.

She described her dead cousin, 51-year-old Sami Youssef, as a man who had "loved life," and who had worked hard for 24 years, chauffeuring foreign tourists around Egypt's biblical and other historic sites, in order to "give his children everything."

Youssef's wife was now "inconsolable," and "in a state," Sister Jeanette told CNS from the grounds of the Catholic school for girls that her congregation runs in Cairo.

"She keeps repeating, 'He was in good health and was supposed to be back in three days. But he's gone, he's gone,'" Sister Jeanette quoted her cousin's wife as saying, four days after the Feb. 16 attack on Youssef and his busload of mainly South Korean tourists near the Egyptian Sinai town of Taba.

"We must pray ... for this violence to end," she said, amid signs it might not.

Though the Feb. 16 attack was the first against tourists in years, Egypt's Sinai region has witnessed a growing number of other attacks on security facilities, since the Egyptian military deposed and jailed former President Mohammed Morsi last July. The military action followed mass protests against Morsi in the predominantly Muslim country of 90 million.

Morsi was aligned with the now-banned Muslim Brotherhood movement, which Egypt's military-installed interim government blames for most of the violence that has claimed hundreds of lives in the Sinai and other regions of the country.

The Brotherhood denies the accusations and claims it is being framed. Brotherhood members say their organization is not related to the other militant Muslim groups taking responsibility for the violence.

Ansar Beit al-Maqdis, a Sinai-based group with links to al-Qaida, claimed responsibility for the attack on Youssef and the South Koreans and warned it will target any other foreign tourists staying in Egypt beyond a Feb. 20 deadline.

International tourism to Egypt accounts for about 11 percent of the North African country's economy and 20 percent of all its foreign currency revenue.

Maj. Gen. Fouad Allam, former deputy head of Egypt's state security, predicted more attacks aimed at tourists as part of what he said were efforts of terror groups to take down the country's interim government.

"Terrorist groups will now target any object in their attempts to undermine the Egyptian state. They now have the tourism industry in their sights," he told Egypt's Al-Ahram Weekly in statements published Feb. 20.

Asked about the Feb. 16 attack, Mohammed Adel, a 26-year-old tour guide, said he deeply regretted the death of the foreign tourists and worried about what he believed would be a halt to his career.

"It sends an alarm not to come ... and foreign ministries will say it is too dangerous to travel to Egypt and planes will stop coming," said Adel, who works as a tour guide in the Sinai Red Sea resort town of Sharm el-Sheik.

He told CNS that foreign tourism to his country had already been suffering from major declines following the 2011 fall of President Hosni Mubarak and the turmoil erupting since Morsi's ouster.

"We won't work anymore and will be unemployed," he said, claiming that those behind the latest killings "had no religion."

Mikkeen, 28, a Cairo vegetable vendor who preferred to give only his first name, said he expected any negative effects on international tourism to his country would trickle down to millions, including him.

"People already didn't have a lot of money to buy," he said.

Like many of Egypt's other minority Christians, Mikkeen said he supported the military's takeover in July and blamed the killing of the tourists and other violence in the country on "the Brotherhood," and "other affiliated extremist Muslim groups."

But a bread vendor in Cairo seemed to hold another popular belief: that the country's military could be inciting -- or at least allowing -- the violence in order "to justify" a security crackdown now underway in the country and targeting almost any form of dissent.

"Morsi, a democratically elected president, was overthrown, and he and all his (Brotherhood) supporters have been imprisoned and have no power, so I ask you, how they can be responsible for any attacks?" he inquired. He did not want to give his name.

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