Sharm El-Sheikh, Egypt – Egypt’s renowned resort town of Sharm el-Sheikh that attracts millions of tourists from around the world is growing tired of its most famous guest: Hosni Mubarak.
The ousted president, say residents, is bad for business.
“We want him to leave,” said Ahmed Fahmy, a construction worker who lives here. “He has created a lot of problems and affected tourism. Tourism is dead now.”
Added Mohamed Nasr, who runs a limousine service: “Everbody wants” Mubarak to leave. “Tourism now is no good … My business is nothing now.”
Fahmy spoke across the street from Sharm el-Sheikh International Hospital, where Mubarak has been staying under heavy police protection since prosecutors began questioning him on Tuesday.
The sight of helmeted riot police forming a human chain of black uniforms around the perimeter of the pyramid-shaped hospital, contrasted sharply with the palm trees, souvenir shops and sun-burned European tourists who wander past, staring curiously at them.
This week, Egypt’s general prosecutor officially detained Mubarak for 15 days in connection with the deaths of hundreds of activists during the street protests that toppled him from power on February 11. His two sons, Gamal and Alaa, were transferred to Cairo’s Tora prison this week.
Egypt’s revolution succeeded in toppling a once-untouchable dictator. But it has also crippled the country’s vital tourism industry, which according to some conservative estimates, accounts for 10% of the Egyptian economy.
Sharm el-Sheikh, an international scuba-diving and nightclubbing mecca that normally welcomes an estimated 5 million tourists a year, has been particularly hit hard.
The beaches in “Sharm,” as locals affectionately call it, are all but deserted. The once bustling harbor in Namma Bay is mostly quiet, except for the occasional motorboat puttering past pulling squealing tourists riding inner-tubes.
Hotel operators estimated they were below 30% capacity at what is normally the peak tourist season.
“You need to be at 35% just to break even,” said Mohamed Abbas, manager of the Iberotel Lido Hotel. In the last half of February, the hotel was at 6% to 8% capacity.
Abbas estimated the current free-fall in tourism receipts is worse than decline after three deadly bombings in Egypt’s Sinai in 2004, and after a series of shark attacks last November.
British tourist Jane Dixon said she didn’t think twice about bring her teenage son and daughter to Sharm el-Sheikh.
“Its no different from the possible threat in London,” she said, sitting in a rooftop swimming pool with a view of the Red Sea.
“You’re just as likely to get blown up riding the Tube,” she added, referring to London’s subway system.
Still, the political instability gripping Cairo kept Dixon from visiting the pyramids.
Her 15-year-old son, Josh, was surprised to see the cordon of riot police outside of the Sharm el-Sheikh’s hospital.
“It was pretty cool,” he said. “I didn’t know the president was staying there. There are scary guards all over the place. So I feel pretty safe.”
Asked why tourists stopped coming, hotel and nightclub operator Adly El Mestekawy had one simple answer: the revolution.
“For the first time in the history of Egypt for 7,000 years a pharaoh is being investigated. His whole family is being investigated,” Mestekawy said.
But Mestekawy, who says he opened the first grocery store and hotel in Sharm el-Sheikh when it was little more than a desert campground in the 1980s, hopes Egypt’s largely peaceful revolution will pay off in the long run.
“Egypt is no longer enslaved. Egypt is free and open to the world through peaceful means,” he said. “This will bring tourists back in large numbers and this is what the country needs.”
Egypt still has a long way to go before its security forces embrace transparency.
Secret police accosted a CNN camera-man as he was filming a sunset over the Red Sea on Friday. Without showing any identification, the plain-clothed officers tried to confiscate the camera before finally being convinced no state secrets had been filmed.
Not far away, workers outside a souvenir shop called out an often-repeated motto to passing tourists.
“Welcome to Egypt,” they said.