Today's Opinions, Tomorrow's Reality
By David G. Young
Washington, DC, November 10, 2015 --
Attacks on tourists at Arabian resorts are a reminder of just how lucky Americans are.
Fly just a few hours south of North America's major cities, and you end up in a tourist paradise. The powdery white sand and azure waters of the Caribbean beckon travelers along with a laid-back island culture and liberal attitudes toward drink and romance.
Europeans aren't so lucky. Fly a few hours south of Europe's major cities and you end up in the Arab Muslim world. The the coastal strand abutting the Sahara and Arabian deserts spans 3,300 miles across the entirety of Europe's southern periphery. It's a region that looks upon Europeans with suspicion.
Unlike the laid-back Caribbean, the population of the Arab world is deeply conservative and wary of outsiders. Extremists preach violence and hate against Westerners and denounce Europeans and Americans as crusaders. Even the secular elite has become less liberal, with upper-class women on the streets of Cairo almost always donning a head scarf despite the practice being rate a couple of decades ago.
Yet the draw of a quick getaway in the sun and sand is strong. Developers have partnered with Arab governments to build beach resorts catering to the European market in a string of locations from Morocco to Dubai. These resorts are often walled off from the local population to avoid friction between libertine Europeans and locals with far more conservative mores. To a teetotaling population where sex outside of marriage is forbidden, seeing a bunch of drunk Europeans party with the opposite sex in skimpy clothing is bound to cause trouble.
And trouble is exactly what has come. Conservative Muslim militants associated with the Islamic State have twice massacred Western tourists in the past six months. First, a gunman slaughtered 38 tourists at a Tunisian beach resort in June.1 Then last week, a suspected bomb on a Russian airliner leaving the Egyptian Red Sea beach resort of Sharm el-Sheikh killed all 224 of the primarily Russian tourists on board.2
Since the attack in June, European tourism to Tunisia has collapsed. Beach resorts were kept open during the summer for locals and neighboring Algerians by hotels that deeply discounted rates.3 A similar collapse is now facing the Egyptian resorts on the Sinai. Farther West, in Morocco, hotel operators reported a severe decline in bookings in the month after the Tunisian beach massacre, despite no attacks occurring in that country in years.4
But the fear inspired by the attacks may be fleeting. The bombing of the Russian airliner was not the first attack on tourists in Sharm el-Sheikh. In 2005, a series of car bombs killed 88 people and injured hundreds more.5 In that case, bombers targeted tourists at bars at a time of late-night revelry, making it a more clear-cut case of targeting libertine behavior than the attack on the Russian airline, which was likely targeted due to Russia's intervention in the Syrian civil war. And a year earlier, in October 2004, bombings at Egyptian resorts near the Israeli border killed 34 people and injured many more.6
While these incidents put a damper on tourism in the following months and years, visitors kept coming. Today the arrivals hall at Sharm el-Sheikh's international airport is completely empty. A backlog of tourists are waiting to evacuate. Yet past experience shows that people's memories and fears will fade. The lure of an inexpensive beach holiday, especially one only a few hours away by plane, is a powerful draw.
For Americans spoiled by the nearby Caribbean's welcoming culture, there is simply no parallel. While relations between Cuba and America have been frosty for decades, there is simply no history of violent targeting of tourists. The same can be said for places like Nicaragua and Venezuela, which have often had their differences with America. In the passionate cultures of the Caribbean, politics can cause tempers to run hot. But in the Caribbean, hot tempers are fully compatible with hospitality. After arguing politics, America's neighbors to the south are happy to join visitors to share local spirits and dance into the night.
Americans are lucky to have such great neighbors.
1. CNN, Tourists Flee Tunisia After Resort Attack, June 27, 2015
3. Associated Press, Last Burst of Summer Fun for Tunisia's Doomed Beach Hotels, August 16, 2015
5. The Guardian, Bombers Kill 88 at Egyptian Resort, July 23, 2005
6. BBC, Death Toll Rises in Egypt Blasts, October 9, 2004