Egypt kisses tourist industry good-bye — starvation to follow

As I understand it, Egyptian president Mubarak — a relatively mild ruler — fell from power because many Egyptians could not afford to buy bread.  It was as simple as that.

But the unrest has been very bad for the tourism industry, which is a major part of the money flowing into Egypt.  That income dropped 30% last year.  The possibility of an Islamist government will not precisely encourage the US government to keep up its donations, which form another huge part of Egyptian national income. 

The tourist industry is vital.  In Luxor, when the tourists stopped coming after the Islamist massacres of a few years ago, it provoked street demonstrations in support of Mubarak!  So closely are the incomes of local people connected with the dollars-on-legs arriving at the airport.

I have not felt any special urge to travel there at the moment, but I didn’t feel that trips to Luxor, or Sharm el Sheikh, or the Red Sea Resorts were particularly dangerous.  Until today.

Today I read in the Daily Mail a story that crosses Egypt off the list of places that I would feel safe in visiting.

Security officials secured the release of two female American tourists and their guide, hours after they were kidnapped at gunpoint while vacationing in Egypt’s Sinai Peninsula yesterday. …

Three other tourists in the convoy were robbed of their cell phones and wallets as the kidnappers took the guns away from their police escort.

The kidnappers demanded the release or retrial of several of their tribesmen being detained by the Egyptian government. The demands are similar to those of the Bedouins who kidnapped 25 Chinese workers earlier this week.

The tourist group that was attacked was traveling back to the Red Sea resort town of Sharm el-Sheikh after visiting St Catherine’s Monastery in the southern part of the region.

I think that’s pretty much “game over” for Egypt’s tourism industry.  Sharm el Sheikh is a tourist farm, where tourists are farmed for money in return for sunshine and day excursions.  I’d always thought of it as entirely safe. 

The consequence of this must be yet further unrest.  The reason Mubarak was ousted was poverty — and now the poverty must be getting worse, as the supply of money is cut off.

This is sad, sad news for Egypt.


Fleshpots of Egypt to be closed down as un-Islamic?

Interesting article in al-Ahram on 13/12/2011:

Salafist party vows to ban alcohol, beach tourism in Egypt

Unlike Muslim Brotherhood, Nour Party promises blanket-ban on alcohol and beach tourism in event it takes power following polls.

The Salafist Nour Party would enforce a ban on serving alcohol to foreigner nationals and Egyptian citizens alike if it came to power, party spokesman Nader Bakar told tourism-sector workers in Aswan on Monday.?

 Speaking at a public rally in the Upper Egyptian city’s Midan El-Mahatta, Bakar clarified that the party would only allow tourists to drink liquor they brought with them from abroad, and only in their hotel rooms.

He added that the party did not plan to set any restrictions on tourism related to Egyptian antiquities, such as the Great Pyramids of Giza and ancient Egyptian temples.

Bakar went on to say that the Nour Party would establish a chain of hotels that would function in compliance with Islamic Law, while banning beach tourism, which, he said, “induces vice.”

On Saturday, Mohamed Morsi, president of the Muslim Brotherhood’s Freedom and Justice Party (FJP), told Ahram that his party, by contrast, did not plan on banning alcohol in hotels and at tourist resorts or, for that matter, prevent Egyptians from drinking liquor in their homes.

The Nour Party won 19 per cent of the vote in the first round of Egypt’s first post-Mubarak parliamentary polls late last month, while the FJP secured 37 per cent.

The Daily Mail article is here:

The end of Sharm el-Sheikh? Islamist parties call for ban on Westerners drinking, wearing bikinis and mixed bathing on Egyptian beaches.

  • 1.4m Brits head to Egypt every year on holiday – 70% of them to Red Sea beach resorts
  • Tourism down a third after violent unrest saw overthrow of former president Hosni Mubarak
  • Hardline Al-Nour party committed to imposing strict Islamic law in Egypt
  • Sharing of hotel rooms by unmarried couples could also be banned

Firstly, I don’t drink, have never worn a bikini, don’t use the pool, and, believe me, I won’t share a hotel room with anyone.  In Egypt a man needs dedicated toilet facilities 24/7.  Trust me on this.  All this is by way of indicating that I have no vested interest in the matter either way.

It may be that the views of al-Nour are really promulgated as a way to obtain power, rather than sincerely held.  If so, those policies will most certainly be put into effect, regardless of the damage to the tourism industry.  That ordinary Egyptians may starve will not weigh with those who gain power by it.  The examples of Gaddafi and Mugabe should indicate that.

The resorts on the Red Sea and Sinai are essentially isolated.  They are, in fact, places where tourists are farmed for money.   Luxor also is being transformed into a similar place.  There’s nothing wrong with that — it’s  good business.  It makes a lot of money.

But all this said, I have to say that I can, sort of, see al-Nour’s point of view.  Ordinary Egyptians have to work in these environments, because there is real poverty in Egypt.  Often young, surrounded by ready access to drink, and sometimes by lonely western divorcees and such like rough-trade, the result can be disastrous for young people.  So it must be, in all of these places where rich tourists are served in glittering hotels by poor locals.  A guidebook that I bought a couple of years ago highlighted the use of Egyptian toy-boys by western women — or perhaps the reverse.[1]

Egypt isn’t Ibiza.  It isn’t a booze destination.  The price of the stuff out there is enough to prevent that, while the fact that, a few years ago, some local Egyptian red wines were found to be poisonous should be enough to put anyone off.  I’ve known a female tour rep who wanted to “marry” an Egyptian.  No-one has attempted to entice me into casual sex out there in all my visits to Egypt, apart from one German girl who took me out to dinner (but I was too shy to realise what she wanted until afterwards).  Doubtless I am just so darned handsome that no-one thinks that I could possibly be available.  Yes, certainly, that must be it.  But no doubt there is some substance in the complaints.

As it stands the proposals would probably destroy the tourist industry.  The last thing anyone would want is bunches of Egyptian policemen inspecting you while you were on holiday to make sure you weren’t doing this and that or the other — and, no doubt, demanding bribes all the while.  It would be incredibly intrusive.  In Egypt, all too often, a law is passed merely to allow officials to make money by demanding bribes to ignore it.

I don’t quite know how this will play out.  Let us hope that normality returns to Egypt before long.

  1. [1]The Rough Guide to Egypt, 7th ed., August 2007, p.337: ‘Over the past decade sex tourism has quietlt become a way of life in Luxor, a “hidden” industry that turns many of the stereotypes of the sex trade inside out.  Egyptian women and foreign heterosexual males are left on the sidelines as local men and boys get together with foreign women and gays in feluccas, bars and discos.  Thousands of women have holiday romances in Luxor every year and word  has got home, encouraging others to come.  The exchange of sex for cash usually occurs under the guise of true love, with misled women spending money on their boyfriends or “husbands” until their savings run out and the relationship hits the rocks — but enough foreigners blithely rent toyboys and settle into the scene for locals to make the point that neither side is innocent.  Morality aside, it isn’t just their money that the foreigners are risking or that Egyptians are bringing home to their families.  HIV now exists on both sides of the river and AIDS could easily spread fast if nothing is done.  Yet locals are in denial about the problem and tourists hardly aware that it exists.  There has, at least, been a crackdown on foreign paedophiles in 2006.’