Egypt, a country that is lost in translation during modern times, a country that has been exploited rather than being explored, a country that is being divided instead of being diversified, a country that has every single possible natural, unnatural and/or human resource known to man, has all the potential to be luxurious but sadly is being looted.
The recent political events have harmed the Egyptian economy significantly, particularly harming the single most important source of foreign currency, tourism.
In 2007, about 19.3% of Egypt’s foreign currency stems from foreigners visiting from every single spot on the planet that you could possibly imagine. That represents almost 11.3% of Egypt’s GDP (Gross Domestic Product), and a staggering 40% of the total of Egypt’s non commodity Exports. But the harm caused by the last few years’ events could be only classified as the cherry on top of a pretty sour cake.
Let’s start with the year 1997, in a wonderful archeological site called ‘’Dar El Bahari”, a major tourist attraction located across the Nile River from Luxor in Egypt, some 62 tourists were killed in a massacre that was undertaken by then called “ Al Gamaa al Islameya “, an Egyptian Islamist organization, attempting to undermine the July 1997 "Nonviolence Initiative", devastate the Egyptian economy and provoke the government into repression that would strengthen support for anti-government forces.
Tourists went to see the spectacular mortuary temple of 18th-dynasty female pharaoh Hatshepsut, known as "Djeser-Djeseru.", never expecting that this would be the outcome of their recreational trip.The tourists were attacked by six members of “Al Gamaa al Islameya” armed with automatic firearms and knives, and disguised as members of the security forces.
You would think that such a massacre would have an impact on the Muslim Brotherhood party in the 2012 elections, that people would remember such an event, that a president would not be elected from such radical or previously violent parties, that people would have remembered that “ Al Gamaa al Islameya “ and the ‘’Muslim Brotherhood” are practically one and the same thing.
You can imagine how the Egyptian tourist industry was negatively affected by such events, the industry sunk even more after the September 11th attacks on the United States in 2001.Then there was the 2004 Sinai bombings, where three bomb attacks targeting tourist hotels around the city of Taba in the Sinai Peninsula in Egypt, on 7 October 2004.
Shortly after that came the 2005 Sharm el-Sheikh series of attacks, perpetrated by an Islamist organization, targeting the Egyptian resort city of Sharm el-Sheikh. A period of harmony and tourism prosperity was short lived till the 24th of April 2006, when three bomb attacks on the Egyptian resort city of Dahab. Although Egypt had suffered all these attacks yet the Egyptian Government and its ministry of tourism managed to keep the number of foreign tourists visiting the country in the range of 14 to 15 million visitors per year.This visitor number decreased by some 37% as the 2011 uprising took place, an outburst of the Egyptian people demanding the overthrow of the regime of Egyptian President Hosni Mubarak.This significant impact on tourism was probably caused by the focus of all foreign media on violent clashes between security forces and protesters that resulted in at least the deaths of 846 people and the injury 6,000 others.
It was only logical that although Egypt was facing such difficulties, it was still holding its own in tourist numbers outside of the capital (Cairo) compared to any of these other countries who were facing the same or perhaps similar difficulties.
However, there was an effect none the less, you can imagine if you were a tourist about to travel to Egypt, then switched on your television only to see some of the images about the turmoil in the country you are about to visit, what would your reaction be?, would you still go on with your vacation plans?.
A lot of industries were impacted by this decrease, from accommodation to air transportation, from health and wellness tourist attractions to restaurants and bazaars, but the effect came worse on hotels, particularly the hotels in the heart of Cairo or close to Tahrir square.
A hotel like The Ramses Hilton for instance located in the heart of Tahrir, where all of the protests were taking place, suffered almost a 57% decrease in its room accommodations, You can however think of this in a different and slightly more positive way, that this hotel’s guests in particular, the one in the middle of that kind of political scene, still managed to keep 33% of its guests, which means that people trusted that this situation wasn’t going to last for long, that they are well protected in the hotel vicinity, that all they needed to do was to pick the times when to leave and return to the hotel, that they shouldn’t cut of a vacation or a business trip that was planned months and months ago, and decide to stay and explore the magnificence of the land of the Pharaohs.
However hotel managers were still forced to take drastic measures in order to ensure the hotel’s income and make sure of its survival, they raised the prices for the accommodated hotel rooms, focused their attention on accommodating the media personnel covering the protests from their balconies, this elevated price sustained them for a while, also security measures had to be taken in accountability since the hotel is extremely close to the protestors.
Maybe I was being too optimistic about the situation, but why wouldn’t I be, I had every reason to be as I heard that within a few days from all of the events commencing, tourism operators tried to introduce a lot of heavy discounts in order to hopefully drain back tourists, at least try to get tourists to visit coastal or non-coastal areas outside or far from Cairo and Alexandria where there is unrest.
Perhaps visiting places like the city of Thebes, which was time and time again described as ‘’the world’s greatest open air museum”, or the Valley of the Kings in Luxor 630 km south of Cairo, where 26 Pharaoh Kings decided to build their tombs far away from the pyramids and far away from any messing hands or looters, carving them into eternal mountains.
Perhaps even visit the Abu Simbel, Comprising of two massive rock temples originally carved out of a mountainside during the reign of Pharaoh Ramses the second, the monument was lying near the Sudanese border in the 1960’s,then relocated entirely to avoid being submerged during the creation of Lake Nasser, they are now situated on an artificial hill made from a domed structure near the Aswan High Dam Reservoir, that is almost 700 km south of Cairo, I can imagine this is far enough from any political disturbance for a tourist, right?!
After the out throw of President Hosni Mubarak, Egypt held its first parliamentary election since the previous regime had been in power. Turnout was high and there were no reports of major irregularities or violence, this seemed to be very promising to the country’s economy and tourism.
However, with the Freedom and Justice Islamic party taking 37% of the votes, which contributes to 235 seats out 508, and Al Nour Islamic bloc party taking 27.8% of the votes which contributes to 123 seats out of 508 in the parliament, it was quite obvious to veteran Egyptian politicians who were aware of the Islamic groups’ rule book, that Egypt was taking a shortcut back towards the middle ages.
On June 24th 2012, Mohammed Morsi El Ayyat was elected president after taking a controversial 51.7% of the votes. Seculars and politicians would consider that Egypt is once more ruled by a single party, that history would repeat itself now that Mohammed Morsi is president and the Islamist parties controlling the parliament.
Since the fall of Hosni Mubarak in 2011, Egypt has experienced a drastic fall in both foreign investment and tourism revenues, followed by a 60% drop in foreign exchange reserves, a 3% drop in growth, and a rapid devaluation of the Egyptian pound.
You would think the newly elected president Morsi and the two major parliamentary powers, Muslim Brotherhood’s Freedom and justice party and Islamic Salfists’ Nour party, wouldn’t do anything to harm the economy and tourism more than the turmoil already has. Well you would sadly be mistaken, as political debates between the opposition and the ruling parties were taking place, unnecessary provocative comments would be often heard from the Muslim Brotherhood and Salafi officials regarding tourism.
For instance Nour Party spokesman Nader Bakar, said the party would enforce a ban on serving alcohol both to foreign nationals and Egyptian citizens.
Apparently the Salafists of Al-Nour are up front about seeking to impose strict Islamic law in Egypt. The Muslim Brotherhood said publicly that it does not seek to force its views about an appropriate Islamic lifestyle on Egyptians.
However both said they won’t be encouraging foreigners to practice what to them is known as a taboo, as influential cleric Yasser Bourhami has called for 'halal tourism’ which includes restrictions on Westerners.Speaking to private television network Dream TV, he said: 'A five-star hotel with no alcohol, a beach for women separated from men in a bay where the two sides can enjoy a vacation for a week without sins 'The tourist doesn't have to swim with a bikini and harm our youth.' He said. Other Salafists stated that they were also undecided on whether unmarried couples should be allowed to share hotel rooms, or the display of ancient Egyptian statues like fertility gods.I just want you to close your eyes for a second and think about a sentence like this after booking a trip, flight and hotel by one of the beaches in Egypt. Would you still go?
Which part in the Islamist’s sentences would make a tourist at ease? Would make him feel he is free to engage in everything he got used to? But even worse, what would make him come back to be forced to adhere to all these rules and regulations?
To top it all off at a Salafi rally in the Mediterranean port city of Alexandria, party loyalists covered up mermaid statues on a public fountain with cloth. For what they only described as an encouragement of public nudity, as these mermaid statues were supposedly naked. I guess the middle ages comment doesn’t seem very harsh now does it?
But how can a city like Alexandria succumb to such ides, and its tourism be undermined by such narrow and uneducated mentalities?!It Can’t, a city that was founded by Alexander the Great can’t succumb, a city that became an important centre of the Hellenistic civilization and remained the capital of Hellenistic and Roman & Byzantine Egypt for almost one thousand years until the Muslim conquest of Egypt can’t succumb, a city that holds one of the Seven Wonders of the ancient world “ The Lighthouse of Alexandria” shouldn’t be affected, a city that holds one of the greatest libraries known to man, the Great Library of Alexandria (the largest in the ancient world; now replaced by a modern one The bibliotheca Alexandrina), a city that is a pinnacle of knowledge and beauty should never be under appreciated.
What made me personally start to wonder was some Salafists acknowledgement that their approach could mean losses for the industry, I guess the ways they proposed to compensate, like promoting medical tourism or religious and educational tourism, were just for them to try and make me feel better, as it doesn’t really make any sense, nor would these methods fill the void. I wanted to try and scream out loud and say ‘’we should use all of these methods combined”, not pick one over the other.
Valid expectations from the secular parties would say that during 2012/2013 foreign currency would be cut down from the $9 billion earned from tourism, by a third to almost $6 billion, these expectations were probably after the Muslim brotherhood appointed Adel el Khayat as governor of Luxor, having previously being a member of “ Al Gamaa al Islameya “, and linked to 1997 massacre that occurred in the same country he was appointed to govern, It was safe to say that the brotherhood officials were losing their minds.
He then resigned shortly after, when the clashes between the vast majority of people opposing him and his supporters in front of his office’s building, ironically after he submitted his resignation, he said he resigned to prevent bloodshed. The statement gave space for some politicians to have a small giggle; a man having numerous ties to one of the greatest massacres in recent history is saying he wants to prevent bloodshed.
Well at least the appropriate action had been taken, Luxor was getting back on track, Islamists were facing other drastic economical issues that took all their attention, and in return the provocative political statements started to decrease, I guess they had no time for them now! Ironically these other economical issues they were facing might have been indirectly improving the tourism sector, allowing tourists to forget the statements the Islamists said before.
But then starting from the 26th of June 2013, Egyptians in every city or state started protesting, chanting and demanding the out throw of President Morsi, people have reached a certain level of frustration and devastation about the country’s recent economical downfalls that was unmatched, a spectrum of emotions stem from all classes of the Egyptian society.
On July 1st Armed forces chief General Abdel Fattah Al Sisi gave president Morsi 48 to abide to the people’s will and organize an early presidential election, but in vain.
Armed forces chief General Abdel Fattah Al Sisi announced the suspension of the constitution and said the president of the supreme constitutional court would act as interim head of state until elections are held.Once more Egyptians have hope that the state of economical damage might actually be resolved.
Now we can start to focus on what really matters,
Egypt’s resources are not at all being utilized; if we take the aspect of tourism as an example.
Egyptian’s main focus when promoting tourism tends to be the cultural and archeological kind,
Tourists from around the world might be seeking recreational tourism, religious tourism, therapeutic tourism, desert or safari tourism, eco tourism… Etc, the sad thing is that the country has a lot of this to offer, but are these kinds of tourism being promoted as much as archeological for instance? I doubt that, so we need to start diversifying and promoting all these experiences.
Most foreigners only think of pyramids for instance when they decide to visit Egypt, and why wouldn’t they? A wonder amongst the 7 wonders of the world, Khufu’s pyramid, and the greatest of the 3 pyramids at a height of 481.4 feet (147 meters) is a one hell of a sight.
We could utilize such an attraction, exploit all its features by clearing all the small buildings and ruined shops in its vicinity, paving the streets with attractive stones, clearing all of the rubbish which is becoming a predominant sight in Cairo.
Furthermore we could invest more in luxurious as well as middle class hotels around the area, design the hotels in a way that ensures every room has a little piece of the magnificent view of the 3 glorious pyramids and Sphynx, If we can’t get local business men to invest in such ideas, then why not seek Arab or foreign investors? In the end this will yield more jobs for the locals.
And our focus should not be entirely based around the pyramids, we need to focus on the maintenance and development of our antiquities and their facilities, focusing on the facilitation of transportation to stunning places that tourists usually don’t get the chance to experience like Wadi Al-Hitan or Valley of the Whales In Fayoum, that was designated a UNESCO World Heritage site in July 2005 for its hundreds of fossils of some of the earliest forms of whale. The site reveals evidence for the explanation of one of the greatest mysteries of the evolution of whales, however the last 30 km from the 150 km road from the southwest of Cairo remains till this very day unpaved, making it one of the toughest roads for tourists to take on a bus, and minimizing the number of visitors to such a magnificent site.
As it seems now as all the political events are causing a disturbance in Cairo and Giza, that coastal cities like Hurgada and Sharm El Shiekh are amongst the few places getting a good share of tourists.The reasons are obvious, Sharm El Shiekh city is one of the largest diving centers in the world, because of its environment and diversified nature in addition to being a resort for armature fishing and magnificent beaches, and it is quite an attractive place to be in.
To top it all off, the World Travel Awards awarded Sharm El Shiekh the best global destination for diving in 2007.
Let me just say that that there has been an initial plan set by the tourism development authority since 2007, this plan is supposed to be completed by 2017, 4 years from now.
The plan is set to increase hotel rooms, tourism revenues and jobs.Not to mention that we need to allocate more funding from the revenue of tourism into actually sustaining and developing touristic sites and monuments, since only 10% of the money earned from tourism is being spent back on developing it, we need to pour more from tourism back into it.
The main axes of tourism development strategy are as follows,
Changing the role of the public sector to become organized, encouraging and simplified as well as expanding the role of the private sector, developing the legal and institutional framework, preserving the environment, identifying the priorities of overall development.
However nothing was mentioned about,
Improving the image of Egyptian tourism types (Coptic, Roman, Islamic) at the international level, achieving the highest quality of services received by tourists, To take good care on measuring how far the services being offered along with flights are being harmonized in turns of cost versus the overall experience, developing plans to promote and diversify the tourism modes on a sustained basis in a way that meets the needs of overseas markets and the desires of the frequent visitors, launching promotional campaigns via mass media of the major exporters of tourists and expanding these campaigns via satellite channels, encouraging locals to take local trips, visiting historical monuments and going to beach resorts during off seasons, to make sure that the tourism sector has a constant flow of income.
From my opinion these are just the main pillars, but there are many creative ideas concerning seeking foreign and Arab business men in investing their money in Nile Cruises.
The Nile is an extremely underrated attraction, why aren’t we trying to increase the number of floating hotels? Why aren’t we incorporating Nile Cruises along with other attractions? Actually these cruises could facilitate tourists’ visits to archeological wonders in Luxor or Aswan.
There are many creative and wonderful ideas to pull tourists back into Egypt like a magnet,
None of which would yield in any positive results unless the fundamental issue is addressed, which is the security and safety of tourists, one wishes that the new government would be able to secure our country’s visitors and take quick control over the current situation, with the assistance of Egypt’s armed forces.
I managed to ask some people a few questions regarding the situation and how they got affected by the decrease in tourism, going to places like Khan El Khalili, bazaars around Cairo, shops and super markets in Hurgada and just plain ice cream shops in Alexandria, I found myself asking questions like..
How much are you eager for tourism to pick up again? How much were you and your business affected? 9 out of 10 of the people I asked said they were devastated by the downfall yet incredibly eager and hopeful for the near future, some said they were having a very hard time just making ends meet but that they know that Egypt has all the ability and potential to rise above all of what is happening.
To be quite frank, yes Egypt has it all, the land, the monuments, the adventure, the people, the beaches, the luxury and furthermore its ability to always find a way from adversity into prosperity.
I believe that the continuation of this feed will hold hopefully nothing more than positive, productive and proactive results of Egypt’s will, and will show a lot of results, proving that people from around the world are very eager to visit this country and know what it’s all about, and that they feel anguish and heartbreak when their visit is over and when they must head back home. Because yes this is the land of the Pharaohs but it’s also the land of the everlasting smile.
This country has always been known to be triumphant.