What is happening in Egypt is both sad and exciting. I have been going to Egypt for over 13 years and as a travel agent have sent thousands of people there during that period. After 911 the industry recovered in a couple of months, but now since the January uprising the Tourism industry has died completely with little chance of a fast recovery.
The Egyptian people are wonderful warm hearted people. With little money by western standards they have raised their families with no complaints, ensuring their kids get the best possible education when possible. Women can walk the streets at night without concern, even small kids do errands to the store and no-one thinks twice about their kids being kidnapped. Everyone treats kids like they are their own. Quite something when in the west we are frightened to talk or touch another person’s child for fear we are considered a predator.
I am sure that when Mubarak first became president his intentions where good and honourable, but like most dictators and the influences of those around him he became greedy and full of his own power at the expense of his people. Bribery and corruption became predominant. Ministers became rich and powerful as did those in the higher echelons of the military who he trusted to serve him well. If you could get in with the president or his minions you could do very well for yourself financially.
Bribery and corruption was an everyday occurrence. To get anywhere you had to pay the price and know the right people. We experienced this ourselves setting up our company in Egypt. As a result the rich got very rich and the poor suffered, managing for the most part on around $2 a day. As is the Islamic tradition the mosques help the poor as do those who are in a better financial position to do so. You don’t see skid rows, or masses of people homeless on the streets. Yes, there is the occasional person looking for a hand out, and tipping can be a hassle, but this is nothing when you consider this is a country of almost 90 million people living in a country smaller than the size of the Province of BC, Canada where I reside.
With the introduction of the internet and social media it was inevitable that at some point the young, well educated and the unemployed with little hope for the future would want more for themselves and any prospective families. The internet has made communication transparent, and it has become very hard for those in power to do anything without the world knowing what is going on.
With the downfall of Mubarak those who had made money from being part of the establishment are continuing to fight to keep their status quo. They have much to lose both financially and on a power level. I suspect that most of the problems now being encountered are created deliberately by those who have the most to lose.
Unfortunately many of the Generals now running the country, however temporarily, have been part of the establishment for many years and have much to lose. As do the wealthy business owners who made money from government contracts and contacts.
I believe that most of the current problems like the attacks on the Christian Churches and the Israeli Embassy, are being staged by those with the most to lose to cause widespread panic, and to attempt to show the people how much better off they were with Mubarak in power. After the Israeli Embassy incident were the Police held back until the thugs were inside the Embassy, the Government jumped at the chance to reinstate the unpopular Emergency Law that had been previously been in place for 30 years. The power struggle was evident during the revolution when prisoners where set free, and men on camels where paid to attack the demonstrators all in an attempt to scare the people into submission to the Government.
No-one mentions that it was the local Moslems who where right there with the Christian Coptics to clean up the mess in the damaged churches. Moslem and Coptics alike have worked hand in hand without problems for many years. Many Israeli’s have come and gone to Egypt without any problems. I believe the current issues are an attempt to disrupt the country in an attempt to show people they were better off before. Of course the Media is feeding right into this with all the negative publicity. I haven’t seen one story where anyone has interviewed a regular Egyptian for their opinions.
You have to remember that for years the general Egyptian population had no idea on what was going on in the world around them. Mubarak made sure of that with Government regulated TV and newspapers. In addition Egyptians are not free to travel the world as most of us in the west are free to do. It’s almost impossible for the everyday person to get a visa to travel outside the country. So they have been trapped in a country with a great deal of poverty and little hope for the future. The internet has introduced them to the possibilities of a better world for themselves and their families, and of course with little hope, they are prepared to fight for it.
On a tourism level it has been devastating. One in seven people worked in the tourism industry, The industry died overnight with the Media hype. I was there for a month in June and life was continuing as normal. The tourism sites are open but empty of tourists. Camel and Horse owners are having to sell their animals in order to feed themselves and those animals they can keep. Nile Cruise Ships have to be juggled to find one that is sailing due to lack of tourists. The demonstrations are ongoing but for the most part these are peaceful festive occasions with face painting and gifts for the kids. Lots of singing and flag waving.
The few tourists we have sent there these last few months, including some ladies travelling alone, have had a wonderful time. The media hypes the negative and of course those in the western world who do not understand the culture or religion are frightened.
The sad thing is that whatever the result of the Trial of Mubarak and his sons it is a no win situation. If they find him guilty, those in power with much to lose will make a desperate attempt to hold on to the power or escape depending on their previous roles. If he is found innocent the everyday people will feel cheated, and the families of those who died or where tortured at the hands of the Government will be up in arms. Either way it is a no win situation. Mubarak knows how to play the game he has been doing it for over 30 years. I have no doubt this man will play to win until the end.
Recently the Government attempted to cancel the Visas on arrival policy opting to have everyone obtain a Visa in advance. Fortunately this was quickly squashed by the large Tourism companies and their own Tourism Minister. This would have stopped tourism in it’s tracks. It can take up to 6 weeks to obtain a Visa through Egyptian Embassies, filling in forms, sending in pictures, forms and your passport and at many times the price of the $15 Visa on entry at the Airports in Egypt. Thankfully common sense prevailed, and Visas are available on arrival.
Egypt is a wonderful country with much to offer the tourist. Most of the worlds’ artifacts and ancient monuments are in Egypt. Hopefully, the new elections will bring in a new era of prosperity and hope, the return of tourism and improved standards.
I grew up in England in a town targeted by the IRA. However, we did not condemn a whole religion because of the problems of the few. There will always be radicals and extremists, but condemning a whole culture and religion because of the acts of a few is sad and very wrong.
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Avril Betts CHA and partner Khaled Azzam own A-Z Tours and Action Travel along with their own agency in Cairo, Egypt.
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