Britain reopens Cairo embassy, ending 9-day security closure

British Embassy reopens 9 days after closing for security reasons

The British Embassy in Cairo reopened Tuesday, nine days after shutting down over security concerns, but officials gave no immediate details about the nature of the threat that prompted the closure.

In a statement posted on its website and emailed to journalists announcing that it was again open to the public, the embassy appeared eager to dispel any notion that it harbored wider concerns over security in Egypt. The Western-allied Egyptian government is struggling to rebuild the country's ravaged tourist industry and attract foreign investment.

Egyptian news reports had cited security officials as saying that there had been unspecified threats against foreign nationals, tourist sites and diplomatic installations. The British ambassador, John Casson, cited “cooperation with the Egyptian government” in resolving the embassy’s security issues.

The British diplomatic mission is located in a heavily guarded district close to the U.S. Embassy, which has been operating normally. However, the Canadian Embassy, also nearby, shut down on Dec. 8, a day after the British move, and a recorded message on its main telephone line indicated that it remained closed. During the same time frame, Australia raised its level of warning for its nationals.

Egypt for more than a year has waged a military offensive against armed Muslim militant groups in the Sinai Peninsula -- a conflict that has occasionally spilled over into cities and towns in Egypt’s heartland.

The government of President Abdel Fattah Sisi has invoked security needs in carrying out a broad crackdown against proponents of political Islam, including the Muslim Brotherhood of deposed president Mohamed Morsi. An estimated 20,000 people have been arrested in the 18 months since Morsi was ousted -- with dozens facing trial by military tribunals -- and more than 1,000 of Morsi’s supporters have died in street clashes with security forces.

The crackdown has also extended to secular critics of the Sisi administration. Over the weekend, a prominent American scholar, former diplomat Michele Dunne, was denied entry to Egypt after having been invited to attend a conference in the capital.

Egypt’s Foreign Ministry said Dunne, who has been critical of the current government as well as past administrations, had not obtained the proper visa in advance. However, U.S. nationals are allowed to obtain tourist visas upon arrival for short-term business dealings or to attend a conference. Many foreign researchers routinely do so when visiting Egypt.

Human rights groups say many ongoing court cases against government critics are politically motivated, but recent months have also seen a stepped-up effort to enforce more conservative social mores. Arrest sweeps this year have targeted homosexuals, although homosexuality is not illegal in Egypt, and a downtown cafe was closed this month amid Egyptian media claims that it was a gathering place for atheists.

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