Jaws-dropping speculations: Shark attack in Egypt sparks conspiracy theory

Jaws-dropping speculations: Shark attack in Egypt sparks conspiracy theory
Controversy erupts as a rare shark attack in Egypt's Red Sea prompts speculation of a conspiracy targeting tourism
3 min read
Egypt - Cairo
13 June, 2023
Are sharks deliberately targeting Egyptian tourism? One journalist thinks so [Getty Images]

A deadly but rare shark attack is causing a media frenzy in Egypt. Some commentators even suggested a 'conspiracy' is behind the spike in such incidents.

A tweet by prominent Egyptian TV journalist Hala Sarhan on last week's attack seemed to suggest there was a plot targeting tourism in Egypt, one of the country’s key sources of national income.

In a now-deleted tweet, she wrote: “I have been thinking…why it [the shark] came to us in the first place? A shark only lives in the deepest, dark depths. How could it move all this distance in water considered shallow to its [natural] environment [?]".

The attack claimed the life of a Russian tourist in the Egyptian Red Sea resort city of Hurghada on 9 June. 

"It was said dead sheep were thrown into the water [from a ship] and were followed by the shark. [Let’s] think for a while of who could benefit from this…..It seems the shark has been sent deliberately to afflict…a source of foreign currency that has recently flourished," Sarhan added in the tweet.

The tweet in question, which Sarhan removed shortly afterwards, outraged Saudi social media users who considered it directed against their homeland, which sits across the Red Sea from Egypt.

Sarhan, who currently runs the Saudi Rotana Production Studios at Rotana Media Group, denied the accusations, defending herself in another post and saying she never meant the Gulf country, close to the Egyptian regime of President Abdel-Fattah El-Sisi.

Once dubbed the “Oprah Winfrey of the Middle East,” Sarhan is not new to controversy. In 2007, she hosted a number of women on her show back then, entitled “Hala Show,” broadcast on Rotana Network, to describe working as sex workers in Egypt while being protected by policemen.

She was later accused of hiring those women as actors to allegedly attract more viewership, which prompted her to flee Egypt to the British capital London. Sarhan returned four years later.

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Shark attacks have been relatively rare in Egypt's Red Sea coastal region in recent years. In 2022, a shark attack killed an Austrian woman swimming near the resort of Hurghada. In 2020, a young Ukrainian boy lost an arm and an Egyptian tour guide a leg in a shark attack. In 2010, a spate of shark attacks killed one European tourist and maimed several others off Sharm el-Sheikh on the Sinai Peninsula, across the Red Sea from Hurghada.

Climate change and overdevelopment of the Red Sea coast have been blamed recently for a small spike in shark attacks.

Egypt's Red Sea resorts, including Hurghada and Sharm el-Sheikh, are some of the country's major beach destinations and are popular with European tourists. Divers are drawn by the steep drop-offs of coral reefs just offshore that offer a rich and colourful sea life.

Authorities have in recent years sought to revive the vital tourism sector, battered by years of instability and, more recently, the coronavirus pandemic and the war in Ukraine.