Sharm el-Sheikh locals lament ‘wall’ going up around resort

Egyptian authorities have started work on a concrete barrier around the Sinai resort town of Sharm el-Sheikh, which has struggled to attract tourists since a Russian passenger jet crashed in the region shortly after taking off in 2015 in a terrorism-linked attack, killing 224 people.

Despite photographic evidence to the contrary, the governor of South Sinai denied a wall was being built.

“It’s not a wall, who told you it’s a wall. We don’t have a wall,” said General Khaled Fouda. The project, he said, consisted of a mix of high concrete barriers and at least 37km (23 miles) of razor-wire fence, with “four very beautiful doors” to access the town.

It was intended to “beautify and secure Sharm el-Sheikh”, he said. “We are doing this for the future. The project will help Sharm el-Sheikh recoup lost tourism revenues.”

Photos and video show the construction of a concrete barrier estimated to be up to six metres high, which residents fear will encircle the perimeter of the town.

Similar plans for a wall around the town were considered by the South Sinai authorities in 2005 but scrapped. Fouda declined to state why the project had been revived.

Kelly Walmsley, a manager at the Rixos resort in Sharm el-Sheikh, said she had not been informed about the work. “To be honest, nobody really understands what’s going on,” she said.

A resident, who asked not to be named, said checkpoints and cameras already surrounded the town to provide security. “For us residents, it’s ridiculous. The beauty of the place is being covered up with a fence. Sharm el-Sheikh is well-known for its mountains and desert – this thing will destroy the view,” the resident said. “This security barrier isn’t going to make a difference, it will just annoy people more and it won’t stop terrorism. It’s a joke. Any tourist coming out of the city will be worried they’re not safe – this will affect tourism.”

The wall will also cut off Bedouin communities in the surrounding desert area, a likely point of contention especially after authorities enlisted the Bedouin to help combat jihadi elements elsewhere in Sinai. “This wall tells the Bedouin that they’re not part of the community – it sends the message that they’re not worth protecting from terrorism,” said the resident.

A ban on direct flights from the UK to Sharm el-Sheikh is still in place after the jet attack. The Egyptian authorities have since enhanced security measures at Sharm el-Sheikh airport, hoping for the return of flights from Russia and the UK.