Egypt, Tourism and Political Unrest

Home to one of the Seven Wonders of the Ancient World, Egypt has long been a destination on many bucket lists. The magnificent Egyptian history and culture stands proudly alongside that of the Greeks and the Romans. Unmatched in their mathematical architecture and monumental grandeur it is no surprise that their relevance has always run as deep as the Nile itself. However with recent political strife and instability, the country enters a new period of crisis where tourism and travel is at a critical low. The question of Egypt’s future echoes throughout the country as the tourist crisis has no end in sight.

Egypt’s tourist numbers took their first dive after the ousting of President Hosni Mubarak in 2011 and then again after President Mohamed Morsi’s overthrowing in 2013. These political incidents lead to a decline in city tourism, primarily Cairo, Aswan and Luxor where a fear of demonstrations and street violence discouraged tourist travels. The most recent attack on Egypt, specifically the aircraft crash after take-off from Sharm El-Sheikh on the 31st of October 2015, has led to a devastating fall in tourist numbers once more, an all-time low.

At the end of the fiscal year in 2010, Egypt had its all-time high tourist revenue totalling $12.5 billion, this number now stands at a pitiful $7.3 billion at the end of 2015’s fiscal year. The impact is clear, the once revered Pyramids of Giza, a tourist beehive, stand in the desolate desert void of crowds and foreign interest. The crumbling pyramids now see a fraction of the number of tourists that once gathered in excitement to see this manmade marvel. Now instead of the respect and admiration usually directed towards monuments of historical importance, children climb up the tombs and vendors desperately try and squeeze dollars, euros and pounds out of whatever tourists do pass by. It is a sad if not fascinating landscape to experience.

On my recent visit to the capital, the lack of Western tourism was evidenced by my apparent celebrity status. As a Western woman, there is no shortage of local interest for a photograph with the white tourist. We are now a rare breed, a dangerous thing for a country so reliant on its tourist economy. Egypt is a beautiful, ancient country. Yet this new culture of fear and terror continues to grow and seep into our consciousness. The media images of Egypt are rarely without crowds of rioters and protesters, even our popular television screens perpetuate this concept, for example in the recent television adaptation of ‘The Night Manager’. The recent history of Egypt, its role in the Arab Spring has now overshadowed its rich past.

This isn’t just an issue in Egypt though. The media’s discourse on the Middle East in general is deterring tourists across the area. Tourist numbers to Petra have dropped from 800,000 in 2010 to just 400,000 in 2015. The Arab Spring was necessary, it has led to political discussion and change, but the turmoil and instability that accompanied this is having a continued disastrous effect on the livelihood and economy of these countries. Our fear of what is now a conceptual turbulence will prevent the development of these destinations into a new era of cultural heritage and relevance.

Terrorism, Revolution, Political Change; these are the principles we label Egypt and the Middle East with. These may be factors currently at play within their modern world but they do not define them. We don’t blacklist Paris or Brussels because of devastating acts of meaningless violence thrust upon them. We shouldn’t blacklist the Middle East either. There is beauty and adventure in these countries, there is kindness within their communities. It’s time to forget our fear and allow them to move on from their recent past by invigorating their economy once more with our cultural curiosity.

Words by Kat Hind.

Image by Dan H.