Springtime is a festive season in Egypt, especially in Dahab, a laid-back Red Sea resort famous for its scuba divers and hippies. But terrorists broke up the party last week, setting off three explosions along Dahab's beachside promenade, killing 18 people, including four foreigners. Two days later, two suicide bombers attacked an international peacekeeping base and an Egyptian police vehicle in the northern Sinai peninsula but killed only themselves.
The Dahab attacks the third major strike on Red Sea resorts in the past 18 months came as President Hosni Mubarak prepared to welcome political and business leaders to Egypt for a World Economic Forum gathering later this month. The bombings underscored Mubarak's inability to eliminate the terrorist threat, which has hurt the country's $7 billion tourism industry. But that is only one of the regime's problems. Long-simmering sectarian tensions erupted into rioting and street fighting between Muslim fundamentalists and Coptic Christians in Alexandria in mid-April. And police clashed last week in Cairo with demonstrators protesting disciplinary action against two high-court judges who alleged widespread vote-rigging in last November's parliamentary elections an embarrassing episode for a government that has been urged by the Bush Administration to implement democratic reform.
Mubarak, 78, has been in power for 25 years, and his anemic response to these crises is a worrying sign. "The regime is tending toward immobility," says Hugh Roberts, a Cairo-based director of the International Crisis Group. "Old repressive reflexes are in full swing, which suggests that the regime is rather nervous and fresh out of ideas." An aide recently hinted Mubarak would consider stepping down if a suitable successor could be found. In the meantime, for Egyptians caught between terrorist violence and government repression, there's little cause for cheer.