Egyptian security forces’ fatal mistake could further damage the country’s struggling economy

Overcrowding unlikely.
Overcrowding unlikely.
Image: Reuters/Nir Elias
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Egypt’s security forces killed 12 members of a Mexican tourist group and injured 10 others in the Bahariya oasis in the country’s western desert Sunday (Sept. 13). Mexico’s foreign ministry said two of the victims and at least five of the injured were Mexican nationals.

The Egyptian interior ministry issued a statement claiming that the forces were “chasing terrorist elements” when it encountered the tourist group, which was traveling in a four-car convoy. Egypt’s tourism agency has said that the group was in a part of the country off-limits to visitors, and has called their trip “illegal”—although a cursory search for tours of the Bahariya oasis suggests that tourists there are far from an uncommon phenomenon.

Whether or not the tourists were in a restricted part of the country, the effects of the tragedy will likely linger for some time. And for an economy so reliant on its already-struggling tourism trade, the repercussions of the attack could be quite serious. The number of international tourist arrivals traveling to Egypt reached a peak in 2010, when the tourism industry was responsible for 13% of Egypt’s GDP and employed—directly or otherwise—one in seven Egyptian workers:

The subsequent fall in international tourist numbers stems from the political instability that has plagued Egypt since early 2011, when its citizens demanded the ouster of then-president Hosni Mubarak. Continued political fighting and the threat of terrorism from Sinai Province, a terrorist group that has pledged allegiance to the Islamic State, have hurt Egypt’s reputation as a family-friendly destination that offers both beach holidays and historical tourism.

Until now, travelers haven’t avoided the country entirely. More than 11 million international tourists arrived in 2012 and 9.2 million in 2013, the most recent year for which numbers are available (about 10 million are projected for last year). Apparently they believe the country’s internal issues aren’t likely to affect their own travel experiences. Egypt will certainly be hoping that news of Sunday’s shooting won’t change that.