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The Warsaw Voice » Society » August 28, 2015
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Egypt: Should We Be Afraid?
August 28, 2015   
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Top Polish kitesurfer Karolina Winkowska, a two-time world champion, regularly travels to Egypt to practice this spectacular water sport. Despite recent warnings from the Polish Foreign Ministry, which has advised people against traveling to Egypt, Winkowska says she never fears for her safety while in that country. She says her trips enable her to train in superb conditions and stay in top form.

Last year, the Egyptian authorities asked Karolina to become the face of a promotional campaign for the country’s tourist attractions. The campaign turned out so well that her contract has been renewed for another season. Karolina’s role in the campaign has been described as that of “the water sports ambassador of Egypt,” and the project focuses on the country’s coastal resorts on the Red Sea and the Sinai Peninsula, some of which rank among the world’s finest kitesurfing sites. The problem is that Egypt and Sinai are now considered by many to be under a heightened threat of terrorist attacks.

The Polish Foreign Ministry is advising Polish tourists against traveling to Egypt, the Sinai Peninsula in particular, as well as several other countries in North Africa and Asia. Those deciding to visit these destinations despite the warnings should take extra precautions, officials say. The coordinator of Poland’s security services, Marek Biernacki, has said bluntly, “We are expecting more terrorist attacks to happen.”

In addition to Egypt, Polish officials are cautioning tourists against traveling to some areas of Turkey and Tunisia, where tourists were killed in June in a gruesome execution on a beach in the coastal resort of Sousse.

The day after Egypt’s tourism minister Khaled Ramy signed a renewed contract with Winkowska and Polish promotion agency MM4PR, a bomb went off under the car of Egypt’s chief prosecutor. The explosion occurred in the Cairo district of Heliopolis, just a few blocks from the luxurious hotel where the press conference with Ramy and Winkowska had been held. The prosecutor died in hospital shortly afterwards. A few days later, military posts on Sinai Peninsula came under heavy, coordinated attack. The attack happened outside vacation resorts, but the death toll still reached dozens. According to the local authorities, most of the casualties were terrorists, supporters of Egypt’s former president Muhammad Mursi, who was toppled two years ago and recently sentenced to death. These supporters of the outlawed Muslim Brotherhood are widely believed to be linked to the so-called Islamic State, which has been accused of mass crimes in Syria and other countries.

Neither the attacks on Sinai nor the car bomb explosion in Cairo harmed any tourists. Meanwhile, the Egyptian authorities instantly responded to the killing of the chief prosecutor by increasing the number of military checkpoints in the Middle East’s largest metropolitan area and assigning more soldiers to them. The city started crawling with uniforms.

Many people are wondering if Poland and other countries are doing the right thing in discouraging travel to Egypt, Turkey and other countries in the region. Is an Egyptian resort really less safe than a European or American city where terrorist attacks happen and people are killed as well? Does the 2013 Boston Marathon bombing mean we should not visit Boston and refrain from competing in marathons altogether?

Another important question is: who is going to lose the most when Middle Eastern economies such as Egypt and Turkey are hit? Other than Egypt and Turkey themselves, of course? And who will gain?

The GDP of Egypt, the strongest economy in the region and a political leader of the Arab world, is heavily dependent on tourism and the Suez Canal. Despite promotional campaigns and other efforts undertaken by the Egyptian authorities, tourism revenue could be threatened by terrorist attacks. Thanks to an $8-billion project completed in 11 months, Egypt added new extensions to the Suez Canal in August, 146 years after the canal first opened. Egypt hopes the new stretch will help boost annual transit revenue from $5 billion to $15 billion. The ceremonial opening of the new-look Suez Canal by the Egyptian president signaled the country’s determination to be a player in the global economy. Could the escalating threat of terror thwart Egypt’s plans?

Karolina Winkowska says she will continue to promote Egypt as an attractive water sports destination. She will also continue to travel to that country to practice ahead of competitions around the world. The reason is simple: you will not find better kitesurfing sites within a few hours’ flight from Europe than Egypt’s Soma Bay and Hamata. I can attest to that because I’ve been there myself.

Juliusz Kłosowski
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