Egypt 2004: Witness oft wo terror attacks and living with the Beduines

Egypt: Two Bedouines at the Observation Point of the Multi National Forces and Peace Troops in the Sinai desert getting a food package


The author, Gerd Michael Müller, born in Zürich in 1962, traveled as a photo-journalist to more than 50 nations and lived in seven countries, including in the underground in South Africa during apartheid. In the 80 years he was a political activist at the youth riots in Zürich. Then he was involved in pioneering Wildlife & eco projects in Southern Africa and humanitarian projects elsewhere in the world. As early as 1993, Müller reported on the global climate change and in 1999 he founded the «Tourism & Environment Forum Switzerland». Through his humanitarian missions he got to know Nelson Mandela, the Dalai Lama and other figures of light. His book is an exciting mixture of political thriller, crazy social stories and travel reports – the highlights of his adventurous, wild nomadic life for reportage photography .

Arriving in Sinai in 2005, more precisely in Sharm el Sheikh, the situation as resident manager for a Swiss tour operator was again quite different from that in Brazil. Here I had to take care of about 700 guests per week, arriving with various flights on almost every day, and in addition I had to manage dozens of excursions every day, and all this under difficult conditions. This was a real challenge and about as intense as in London in 1987. First, the local tour operator was lousy and incompetent, whereupon I suspended the cooperation after two warnings with the agent on site and reorganized. I had already done this in Brazil and in both cases I made the right decision, which I then took advantage of.

On the other hand, of course, I had a lot of problems with the discontinued cooperation partners and the renewed excitement in the Swiss travel center. But since I had proven my talent with restructuring in Brazil and the agent I had used had proven himself, they trusted me and were never disappointed. Operationally, I was an ace and also a master of improvisation. I also had a crisis-tested background, plenty of experience and good intuition. Most importantly. The many trips through conflict regions and to the world’s most inhospitable places in more than 50 countries, sharpened my keen intuition and eagle eyes, honed sensitivity and intuition to the point of occasional telepathy. Thanks to my analytical and tactical-strategic skills paired with quick-wittedness, rhetorical dominance, expertise, a good portion of cheekiness from the 80s and in full confidence in my guardian angel, I have always dared the extraordinary, so according to the motto. „What is a life worth giving up before it has begun for fear of death!“

The first two months as resident manager in Sinai I lived in the „Radisson „Hotel“ with all tourist amenities, good infrastructure and nice ambience. Then I was shipped to a spartan concrete block for the local tour guides in a dreary environment, whereupon I got a special permit from the Governor General for the restricted military areas in Sinai (due to the UN peacekeeping mission after the Six-Day War), so that I was allowed to drive into the restricted areas in the desert outside of Sharm-el-Sheikh at night. Because right behind the last hotel is the checkpoint, which closes in the evening at 18.00 o’clock. What was I doing there at night? Well as always access to the local color and locals outside the tourist hotspots. In this case, access to Bedouin life in the Sinai. And with outside temperatures during the day topping 50 degrees Celsius, life in the desert happens at night. Since I had already made the acquaintance of Faroud, who lived alone at the shipwreck „Maria Schroeder“ in the Nabq National Park, I could now meet him after work in the seclusion of the desert, escaping the tourist hustle and bustle, and spend a few spiritual and poetic hours under the sparkling firmament with my Bedouin friend.

The drive to him was not so easy, because the 35 km through the desert and sand dunes had it in itself. I covered the distance with the official vehicle, thus a conventional passenger car. In pitch-dark surroundings it meant then with much speed over the dunes to drive, without getting into the faltering, because without 4-wheel drive was here normally nothing to make. But I found an ideal route and bret-terte twice a week at night into the desert purely, in order to parlieren with the young Beduin, to philosophize and the sparkling stars without light pollution to enjoy. There I also saw the entry of the last space shuttle into the earth’s atmosphere in an unforgettable glowing spectacle in the firmament.

During about one and a half minutes the luminous earth satellite comet and point of light with its huge fire tail, which must have been several hundred kilometers long, buzzed in the starry sky over the whole globe and disappeared at the horizon at its destination. That was an illuminating desert spectacle. Especially since I was not aware or known at that moment that a spaceship would enter the earth’s atmosphere and so I first rubbed my eyes with the Bedouin, what an extraordinary meteorite that was, which went over the whole firmament and 180 degrees horizon.

In Sinai I got to know opium that the Bedouins eat to get through the desert. This really helps enormously when you cross the Sinai or other deserts on a camel. I tried it out with the Bedouins living near the shipwreck „Maria Schröder“ on my camel trip from Sharm-el-Sheikh via Dahab to the St. Qatarine monastery at the foot of Mount Moses. At over 45 degrees in the shade, the rocking journey took four days on the dromedary through the rugged valleys of the Sinai Mountains. It was tough, but thanks to opium rations I rode through the desert like a dervish. It must have had a similar „powerfull“ effect as the „Pervertin“ that allowed the Nazis to march through France and was also used on the battlefield on the war front in the East. Or the speed pills given to Japanese kamikaze pilots for their „heroic“ death flights.

At the time I was in the Sinai, there were two of three terrorist attacks. The first was in Taba, the second in Sharm-el-Sheikh, the third in Dahab and fortunately nothing happened to any of our guests. But the fear was great and the security measures in front of each hotel were rigorous. Each car was carefully mirrored and frisked before entering the hotel driveway. On the evening of April 24, 2006, a terrorist attack was carried out in Dahab in which three fragmentation bombs were detonated. The first detonated at a busy intersection in front of the „Ghazala“ supermarket across from the police station. Two others exploded a short time later on the seafront.

Around 30 people, almost all Egyptians, lost their lives in the attack. Many more people were seriously injured. In July 2005, the next and worst terrorist attack took place in Sharm El-Sheikh. Several explosive devices killed 88 people and injured over 100. At that time, there was high alert in Sinai in the military controls increased. The „MFO“ troops were on high alert. Whenever Mubarak landed in Sharm el Sheikh and drove a few miles to the port in a convoy, every 50 meters an armed, white-clad guard stood for hours to the right and left of the roadway in the dust-dry desert in the blazing sun. So here, too, I could not complain about a lack of action on the fringes of world politics and in my tour-guide activities.

All the crazier was a trip with two vehicles and seven Swiss tourists, who absolutely wanted to make a trip to Cairo with me in the car. Through the whole Sinai, from the southern tip of Sharm-el-Sheikh in one day to Cairo including the return trip with a total of over 1000 km and a good 30 military roadblocks along the way. My local co-driver and I managed the feat and needed 27 hours for the 1000 km oxen tour. Three hours longer than planned, because I overlooked the last but one military roadblock in my tiredness after more than 24 hours at the wheel and roared through the barriers built in a serpentine line at about 70 kilometers per hour – nota bene without touching a single one. The accompanying driver behind me accomplished the daredevil maneuver just as well and with tires squealing as well as smoking we drove past the baffled soldiers, immediately stepped on the gas pedal again to quickly get out of the line of fire, extinguished for safety the lights and turned after approximately 10 KM of the road into the desert and broke us a way by the mountains and the sand dunes up to Sharm el Sheikh, because otherwise at the next roadblock communicated over radio end stop would have been. Also here my guardian angels, of which I have a whole specialist troop, had done a great job. Apart from that, I miss nothing except the great moments with the Bedouins and the camel trip. The culture of the Egyptians has remained strange to me.

 Again, probably primarily a language problem. If I could speak Arabic, it would look quite different. Even the legendary „Pasha Club“, which attracted thousands of ravers every week, was lost on me. Through the assignment in the Sinai, I was of course also increasingly introduced and initiated into the geostrategic situation and conflicts, even if the Middle East was not my preferred travel region.

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Über gmc

1992 gründete der Zürcher Fotojournalist Gerd Müller die Presse- und Bildagentur GMC Photopress und reiste hernach als Agenturfotograf und Fotojournalist in über 80 Länder. Seine Reportagen wurden in zahlreichen Reise- und Spa-Magazinen publiziert. 2021 publizierte er Auszüge aus seinem Buch Highlights of a wild life -Metamorphosen politischer und ökologischer Natur.

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