The kidnapping last Friday of two black Boston-area visitors touring the Sinai peninsula is but the latest in a string of abductions targeting Americans in that Egyptian territory in 2012. It raises questions about how safe the country really is for international travelers.
Two African-Americans from the Boston area, the Rev. Michael Louis and Lisa Alphonse, have been abducted from a tour bus in Egypt by a Bedouin tribesman who wants to swap them for his imprisoned uncle. He also kidnapped the group’s Egyptian guide to act as translator.
Rev. Louis is 61, Ms. Alphonse 39. According to the minister’s son, they were among a group of Boston-area tourists on a missionary trip to Israel who set out to visit St. Catherine’s Monastery in the Sinai, one of the oldest working Christian monasteries in the world and a UNESCO World Heritage Site.
The son, Jean Louis, also says his father is diabetic and may soon need medication.
The kidnapper has identified himself as Jirmy Abu-Masuh, 32. He claims his 62-year-old uncle was imprisoned because he refused to pay a $100 bribe to police while traveling to the Egyptian city of Alexandria. He claims his uncle also is a diabetic and has not been receiving medical treatment in prison.
Abu-Masuh has told reporters the two kidnap victims are being well treated, but threatened to kill them both if authorities try to arrest him. He’s also threatened to kidnap more tourists from other nationalities.
To read details about this story as reported in London’s Sunday Mail, click here.
I don’t know if Rev. Louis and Ms. Alphonse were the only black Americans on the bus, or even the only Americans, so I can’t say at this point they were singled out either for their race or their nationality.
But media reports from the region have been pretty consistent in saying that this abduction is not an isolated case. This from the Sunday Mail article:
“Friday’s abduction is the latest in a series of kidnappings Egypt’s Sinai Peninsula over the past year.
“Abducted tourists are rarely harmed and usually released within days. In February, the AP interviewed two American women from California who say their Bedouin kidnappers gave them tea and dried fruit, and talked about religion and tribal rights. They were allowed to bring their Egyptian tour guide with them.”
That latter point gives reason for hope that the hostages eventually will be freed unharmed. As disturbing as the kidnappings themselves, however, is that they appear to be part of a trend.
Counting the Rev. Louis and Ms. Alphonse, a half-dozen American tourists have been kidnapped so far this year in the Sinai, a sprawling, arrowhead-shaped desert peninsula of roughly 23,000 square miles and a population of less than a half-million people, of whom about 80,000 may be Bedouins (the rest being ethnic Egyptians and Palestinians).
Even before the fall last year of Egyptian dictator Hosni Mubarak, government control over the region was spotty at best, and parts of it have become a haven for drug-smuggling, prostitution rings and other forms of organized crime. Add to that a longstanding grievance against corrupt police by the Sinai Bedouins, and you have a potentially volatile mix.
Coupled with ongoing political tensions in Egypt proper, this might give some travelers pause about visiting the land of the pyramids, which doesn’t help the hundreds of thousands of Egyptians whose livelihoods depend on tourism.
Does this mean I cross Egypt off my bucket list altogether? Not necessarily, though I’d probably be inclined to wait until more of the political dust settles before booking a trip to Cairo.
On the other hand, I won’t be trekking across the Sinai anytime soon.
Edited by P.A.Rice
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