British engineers operating in the Middle East said this week that the security situation in the region had been worsening for some time prior to this week’s terrorist attack in Egypt and continued tension over Iraq.
The official line was business as normal, but according to one Cairo source, the definition of normal has been changing `certainly for six months, if not longer.
`The Luxor attack was not an example of a sudden outbreak of terrorism. There has been erratic activity for some time, and most companies have been making plans in that context,’ he said.
Firms with a significant presence in Egypt include oil majors such as Shell, Agip, Amoco and Repsol, and engineering firms such as Brown & Root and its parent Halliburton.
Brown & Root has a contract to design and construct a gas processing plant at Obayed in the western desert near the Libyan border with 10 staff in Cairo and a further 10 on the site. A spokesman in London said: `They’re not affected by this Luxor tragedy.’
Tarmac, which is leading the consortium on the current phase of the £400m Cairo Waste Water project and has 30 staff in the Egyptian capital, said: `We have reminded staff to be vigilant, but that is now to all intents and purposes what we would see as the normal state.’
A manager at one of the contractors said: `We as a company have faced a lot worse in Angola and here, during the Israeli war.’
UK firms have sought to master the art of the low profile – especially in the wake of threats that first emerged during the Gulf war.
British Aerospace, which has 5,000 staff at its Saudi Arabian complex, says it follows a policy of `close integration’ with the Saudi authorities.
Scotland’s Weir Group, which has secured a number of major contacts in the Gulf, operates through two `low-key’ service centres.