The move follows a bomb attack on a tourist bus by Islamist militants on Sunday that killed three South Korean tourists and an Egyptian driver who were on their way to Taba, on the Israeli border, after a visit St. Catherine’s monastery, a major tourist attraction in southern Sinai.
It was the first attack on foreign tourists in the region for several years.
The new guidance released on the FCO website advises against all but essential travel to “the Governorate of South Sinai, with the exception of the area within the Sharm el Sheikh perimeter barrier.”
The FCO has warned against all travel to North Sinai since the uprising that toppled former President Hosni Mubarak in 2011, “due to the significant increase in criminal activity and recent terrorist attacks on police and security forces that have resulted in deaths.”
The peninsula has been the scene of intense armed violence for over two years, with bomb and gun attacks by militant Islamist groups on the Egyptian security forces, who have responded with large-scale military operations—including the use of helicopter gunships—in a bid to crush their opponents.
However, Sunday’s attack on a tourist bus suggests that the militants may be changing tactics, instead seeking to strike soft targets such as tourists in a bid to wage economic warfare against the Egyptian government.
The attack was followed on Tuesday by a warning on social networks from the group that claimed responsibility for Sunday’s bombing, Ansar Bayt Al-Maqdis, for tourists to leave Egypt by Thursday.
Prior to 2011, Egypt’s tourism industry was responsible for as much as 10 percent of the country’s Gross Domestic Product and 20 percent of its foreign currency earnings, according to some estimates. However, monthly visitor numbers have fallen to half their pre-2011 levels in the three years since Mubarak’s downfall.
This prompted the Egyptian government to launch a new effort to attract visitors to parts of the country away from the capital, Cairo, last week.
Egypt’s tourism minister, Hisham Zaazou, told journalists that Egyptian authorities were “moving tourists down to places like Hurghada, Sharm El-Sheikh, Luxor and Aswan. They are so far away that if you go there you feel like you are in another country altogether.”