Most of those killed in the blasts, which took place in the early hours of the morning during an extended weekend to mark the anniversary of the 1952 revolution, were Egyptians. About 16 foreigners also lost their lives. Two of the attacks were suicide bombings, one striking the Old Market area of the resort and the other hitting the Ghazal Gardens Hotel. A third explosive device went off in a suitcase while people were fleeing from the scene.

Three groups claimed responsibility. One was the Abdullah Azzam Brigades, which also said it carried out the attack in Taba in October 2004, targeted at Israeli tourists. Another was an organisation claiming affiliation to Al-Qaeda. Suspicions are centring on a cell based in the remote northern Sinai region, although police have not ruled out international links. Based on the explosives used, a link to the Taba bombing – which killed 34 people – is also being considered.

The incident is extremely worrying for Cairo. The tourism industry is worth some $6,600 million a year and has been a mainstay of the recent economic recovery. Both the Taba and Sharm el-Sheikh attacks follow a period of calm after the 1997 massacre of tourists at Luxor. Unsurprisingly, hundreds of visitors packed their bags in the immediate aftermath of the latest bombings.

The shock of the attack was given added poignancy by the status of Sharm el-Sheikh – not only a playground for local, regional and European tourists but a venue for numerous high-level international political gatherings. President Mubarak demonstrated his defiance on 28 July by calling for a summit of Arab leaders to be convened at the resort on 3 August, to formulate a common position on questions such as Iraq and ‘the many challenges that might drive the region to dangerous paths’.

On the same day, he formally announced his intention to seek a fifth presidential term in elections scheduled for 7 September. Multiple candidates will be allowed to stand for the first time. ‘I have embarked on a journey on which I will not falter until I complete it,’ he told a gathering of supporters in Menoufiya.