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Frustration and confusion: 20,000 Brits stuck in Sharm el-Sheikh

LONDON — Britain's capital and the Egyptian holiday resort Sharm el-Sheikh are five flight hours apart, but the distance seemed insuperable on Thursday.

While Egyptian President Abdel Fattah el-Sisi and British Prime Minister David Cameron met in London, about 20,000 British tourists waited to be flown out of Sharm el-Sheikh after Britain halted flights to and from the city amid concerns about airport security.

While British authorities reassured travelers that they were working on a solution to bring some of them home as early as Friday, the situation grew tense.

"Because English people are frustrated and upset, they are taking it out on the staff here, which is not fair," said Emma Smyth, a 42-year-old from Britain  in Sharm el-Sheikh, as quoted by news agency PA. "One English family, who are obviously upset and concerned, have asked the hotel if they can stay on. The hotel has set a charge, and the tourists can not understand why they are being charged," she said.

"They said they should be allowed to stay, and with that, one man grabbed one of the managers — they ripped his shirt, ripped his name-badge off and everything," said Smyth, describing a scene she had witnessed. In most cases, however, frustration did not turn into violence.

Some tourists said their travel agencies and the British government had failed to adequately inform them about what would happen next. Speaking to Britain's ITV channel, British tourist Bryony Harris complained: "There are lots of different stories that are going around about what will happen next. It is difficult to divide fact from fiction."

The Guardian quoted holiday-makers who said they had learned about the flight cancellations from relatives in Britain who had called them. "The first we really knew was when our family called to ask if we were okay," tourist Christina Marletta said.

Britain's decision to temporarily stop flights from the holiday resort had not only caused confusion among holiday-makers, but also among Egyptian and Russian officials.

In London, Cameron said on Thursday that it was "right to act," but emphasized that the measures were only temporary. "I am sure that we will be able, over time, to take the necessary action to restore the holiday-making route from Britain to Sharm el-Sheikh and vice-versa," he  said.

For Egypt, winning back the trust of British tourists will be crucial, given that they accounted for a third of all holiday-makers in Sharm el-Sheikh last year. Sharm el-Sheikh became particularly popular among tourists after the 1997 terror attacks in Luxor in central Egypt.

"Certainly in the short-term, the current developments will deter tourists from visiting the Red Sea. Why would a package tourist choose a destination where their hard-earned leisure time might be disrupted, or from which their return home might be delayed?" wrote International Relations lecturer Elisa Wynne-Hughes at the University of Cardiff in an e-mail.

She nevertheless remained cautiously optimistic: "Egypt has bounced back from worse challenges to its tourism industry, so it is difficult to predict the long-term impact of this incident and of the British government's response."

Some tourists in Sharm el-Sheikh seemed more concerned about the implications for locals rather than their own safety. “I am more worried that this is going to cause an impact on the staff at the resort. The staff at the resort are stuck in the middle because they are not getting any messages to advise us of what we should be doing and we have not been contacted by EasyJet to say what we should be doing," British holiday-maker Smyth said.

Wynne-Hughes agreed: "It is the Egyptian workers — those who staff hotels, sell souvenirs, guide tourists up Mount Sinai and take them on horse rides along the beach — who will suffer the most."

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