Three months ago, Sobhi Osman quit his job at a clothing factory, said goodbye to his family and friends in Ismailia and boarded a bus to Sharm el-Sheikh.
His hometown friends who had earlier made the move to Sharm el-Sheikh, Egypt’s premier destination for sun-and-surf tourism, were imploring him to come. They insisted that tourism at the Red Sea resort town was strong again as the political turmoil that for years had kept foreigners away from Egypt began to subside.
Though he didn’t even have a job yet, Osman spent most of the six hour bus ride from Ismailia thinking about what he would do with the windfall he hoped to earn from working at one of the nearly two hundred hotels in Sharm el-Sheikh.
Soon after arriving in the glitzy seaside town full of Russian, British and other European tourists, Osman landed a job at the “Sharming Inn” hotel. He made making a third more money than he did at his last job, where he sewed logos such as Nike, Puma, and Adidas on counterfeit brand-name shirts at a clothing store in Ismailia. Since the hotel provided him with free food and board in Sharm el-Sheikh, he could send most of the money home and begin saving for marriage.
He was making progress towards the same dream of financial stability and independence that pulls many young Egyptians from their homes and into a sector that at its height employed millions of Egyptians.
Then a Russian passenger plane leaving Sharm el-Sheikh was brought down by a bomb believed to have been planted by the local branch of Islamic State, killing over two hundred tourists on board and prompting a panic among foreigners in Sharm el-Sheikh, which until then had been considered one of the safest areas in Egypt.
Even after some countries stopped flights to Sharm and began airlifting their citizens home in response to fears that Islamic extremists had penetrated the garrisoned resort town, Sobhi remained optimistic.
“I hear about tourists leaving Sharm, but thankfully we’ve still had work since then,” he said outside of his hotel-provided apartment building nine days after the crash.
“Some will leave and some will stay, and eventually most will come back. Tourists returned after the (2011) revolution, they’ll come back again.”
Two days later, he called me from Sharm el-Sheikh’s bus station, where he was about to begin a decidedly less hopeful trip than the journey he undertook three months ago.
The Sharming Inn had told him that there was no more work for the month now that most of its guests had checked out and cancelled future bookings.
“They said they would call us next month if they needed us,” he said, though the dejection palpable over the line suggested this wasn’t likely.
So, again, he packed some of the bags he’d brought three months ago and boarded a bus, this time going back to Ismailia as an early casualty of a tourism crisis that is likely toget much worse before it gets better.