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Egypt: An Update on Egyptian Tourism, April 4th, 2002


An Update on Egyptian Tourism, April 4th, 2002

by Jimmy Dunn

Notation: Please be advised that the following commentary has been produced by Tour Egypt Staff, and in no event should be taken as an official commentary of the Egyptian government. Any and all views expressed are those of the Tour Egypt Staff, and any statements that might be construed to have political context reflect the views of our staff alone.

Today, I spoke to our Cairo manager. He is a German, and tells me that he has been all about the City of Cairo (today), and would have known nothing about the problems in Israel and the Palestinian territories were it not for Internet news. He tells me that the streets of Cairo are completely normal, with business as usual.

I think that there is a simple reason for this, that might surprise some of our readers. While people who may be making upcoming trips to Egypt may focus on the problems in Israel and the Palestinian territories, Egyptians are not dominated by these events. They do not spend their waking hours worrying about these events any more than people in the greater Los Angeles area spend their every moment worrying about conditions in East LA. Like in most of the world, their days are full of family, concerns for their work and many other daily matters

The calm streets of Zamalek, in Cairo

As most of our readers know, we normally keep very close contact with travelers in, and returning from Egypt, as well as foreign nationals in Egypt, and Egyptians themselves. We are monitoring safety and travel conditions in Egypt, and today, we have been speaking to a number of these people concerning the recent events in Israel and the Palestinian territories.

In doing so, we have specifically monitored the reports of the Egyptian government, the US Embassy in Egypt and other resources in order to obtain the clearest possible picture of travel and safety conditions in Egypt.

Let me begin by saying that there have been no specific warnings, either by the US Department of State, or by the US Embassy in Cairo, regarding safety issues in Egypt.

However, we are also monitoring other embassies, and find that the British Embassy in Cairo has a very honest, straightforward message to foreign travelers:

"Egypt has effective police and security forces, and considerable effort is made by them to ensure the safety and security of foreign visitors. Enhanced security arrangements are maintained, especially at tourist sites. British nationals should respect any advice or instruction from the local security authorities. Egyptian Police may insist on escorting travellers in some areas. Popular concern about the conflict between the Israelis and Palestinians is strong. Demonstrations in support of the Palestinians are usually well controlled, and confined to university campuses, but travellers need to be aware that there is a risk of public disturbances, albeit slight, and should be alert to news reports. In general, visitors to Egypt should avoid public political gatherings and demonstrations. Egypt was affected by domestic terrorism in the mid-1990s, but there have been no terrorist attacks in Egypt since 1997. The US led campaign against international terrorism, following the 11 September attacks, has had strong support from the Egyptian Government."

Addressing the current situation in the Middle East, the French Embassy in Cairo provides that the current situation in Egypt does not justify any special safety measures on behalf of French citizens, nor does it justify either the cancellation or deferral of trips to Egypt. It goes on to caution French tourists to show vigilance.

In recent messages by the Egyptian government, I believe it is clear that while Egypt does not support the current situation as it stands in Israel and the Palestinian territories, and while the government of Egypt will continue their quest for peace in the region, their main objectives remain inwardly focused. The government has, and continues to indicate that they have no interest whatsoever in interfering combatively with these disputes, but is rather directing its efforts to insure the safety and stability of Egypt itself, the Egyptian people, and Egypt's economy, including the tourism sector.

I would also like, however, to bring the message of an American in Egypt, who operates a tourism related business:

" In recent weeks, including this week, we have made several land tours and diving services for our customers. Ironically many are Americans, perhaps because they know we are an American managed diving center, have visited us recently. We have taken this opportunity to talk directly with our customers regarding their tours and all have said basically the same thing, they had a wonderful time and never felt threatened nor concerned about travelling in Egypt. Se have not seen or heard of any problems connected to the unfortunate crisis here in the middle eastern countries, only a sharp decline in business.

As an American, I feel much safer here than in the states. The only threat I feel is the direct negative impact on all tourist related businesses, including diving, this crisis is creating as it escalates.

The hearts of Egyptian people remain warm and friendly. They only hate what they know is happening to the people of Palestine, and frankly, it touches us all. We all pray for a quick, peaceful resolution."

Terri Fares, Sunshine Diving Center , Hurghada

His statement, "I feel much safer here than in the states", is not uncommon. I hear it frequently repeated by foreign nationals living in Egypt, and especially by Americans.

The Current Situation

I think that it is important for us to begin by saying that repeatedly, and regardless of their nationality, returning tourists have told us that they felt safe in Egypt, and that they most always comment on the friendliness and hospitality of the Egyptian people. This is a message that is repeated in just about every email I receive. I have received not a single, solitary email informing me of any hostile, threatening or even inhospitable reaction by Egyptians to any foreign tourist.

Basically, the only problems reported in Egypt have been limited to the Cairo University campus and the immediate area around it, where some student demonstrations have occurred. Sources at these demonstrations inform us that rarely have non-students joined in with these demonstrations. Of the several demonstrations that have taken place, mostly they have been limited to the campus itself, with the exception of a couple of breaches into the nearby neighborhood. Regardless, Egyptian security personnel have been effective in controlling these activities

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Springtime in Cairo

These demonstrations are not unique to the Egyptians. In fact, there have been similar demonstrations at a number of European universities, which tend to be less controlled then those in Egypt, and there have even been some demonstrations at American Universities. Recently, in Rome, over 100,000 protesters participated in a single demonstration against the Israeli occupation on the West Bank. This demonstration was magnitudes larger than any that have occurred in Egypt, and much less under control.

These are the only adverse incidences we know of related to the current Israeli/Palestinian issues, and because of their very limited scope, have not effected tourists to Egypt at all. Certainly, we will join in others with the advice that foreigners should not join such demonstrations, but for most travelers that goes without saying. Cairo is a big city, and most travelers simply will not ever realize that any demonstrations have taken place. In essence, tours and tourists will avoid the Cairo University campus and enjoy their stay, just as they would avoid ghettos and enjoy themselves on a trip to Los Angeles.

Outside of Cairo, our sources tell us that there is nothing to report. Tourist communities such as Luxor and Aswan , as well as the whole of Cairo with the exception of the Cairo University Campus, are all operating normally. We further understand that in resorts such as El Gouna and Sharm el-Sheikhon the Red Sea Nuweiba ), the situation is completely normal and tourism had not been effected at all.

I believe that one reason why tourism has not been particularly effected by recent events in Egypt is because of the old, traditional and professional nature of tourism in Egypt. To Egypt, tourism is a proud national heritage, not unlike the watch or banking industry in Switzerland, the beer industry of Germany or the wine trade in France. It is a source of national pride that Egyptians take very seriously. However, beyond pride, it is also a major Egyptian economic influence, bringing in considerable and material revenues, and providing countless jobs on which millions of Egyptian families depend. The Egyptian government takes tourist safety very seriously, and the tour companies, as well as individuals involved in the tourist trade actively work to make travel to Egypt an enjoyable and attractive experience.

How professional are Egyptian in the travel industry? As an example, I have gotten a number of emails from Israelis asking about their safety were they to visit Egypt, yet at the same time, I have been told by Egyptians involved in the travel industry on the Sinai East coast that they regret the recent lack of Israeli trade. To the Egyptians, it is an accommodation business that has little to do with ideological or attitudes.

I have received a number of letters from readers who believe that Egypt is unsafe because it harbors terrorists. People who believe this sort of thing are really very ignorant of Egyptian politics. In fact, nothing could be further from the truth. It was parts of the same group of people in Afghanistan who we hold responsible for the September 11th events that also are suspects in the assassination of Sadat, the predecessor of President Mubarak of Egypt. The same people have also plotted attempts on the life of President Mubarak, and have also made efforts to undermine his presidency. Hence, not only is Egypt aligned with the United States against terrorism, but it is their own, personal fight as well.

As a response, in 1997, Egypt made widespread arrests of extremist elements, who were either jailed, or fled the country. This was a tough policy, for which Egypt was criticized by many as a violation of human rights, though such cries have died out since September 11th. Nevertheless, it is possible to say that there are no known terrorists in Egypt, and further, that the Egyptian government has a very tight handle on matters. Egypt, absolutely, positively does not sympathize, much less support such activities. In fact, they are recognized as one of the leading peace brokers within the Middle East, and a staunch enemy of violence.

I want to reiterate the fact that there have been absolutely no incidences at all reported of any problems related to tourists in Egypt over the last several years. The last incident I do know of was a robbery which happened several years ago, and is a very rare occurrence in Egypt. In fact, crime is an interesting safety topic. In many cities of the world, crime is a major concern, and is one of the major contributors to tourist violence. However, in all the years I have dealt with tourism to Egypt, I have only heard of two robberies, and one of those was actually reported to me, but took place over ten years ago. Egypt is one of the safest countries on earth regarding violent crimes.

Good New?

Well, there will undoubtedly be another run on special deals . We already know that Nile Cruise prices have dropped dramatically since this time last year, as well as many hotel rates. Tour Operators have also been stretching every inch in of their budgets to produce often highly reduced rates for organized tours.

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