Political turmoil has overrun Egypt and Tunisia over the last few months bringing the usual sensationalist images of tourists (aka white Europeans) boarding any plane they can get to ‘safety.’ But how dangerous is the situation for us tourists. Well there have been no reported attacks on tourists and Sharm el-Sheikh, Dahab and Luxor remain open. The Pyramids of Giza on the outskirts of the ever-expanding Cairo reopened this week with a slow trickle of gazers.
Tourism is vital to Egypt, bringing in hard currency estimated at $14.7 billion annually, accounting for 11 percent of Egypt’s gross domestic product and provides 10 percent of its jobs. And this is in a country with 34% unemployment for men under 25. These kind of numbers alongside the poor education, infrastructure, bureaucratic inertia (an Egyptian civil servant were once found to do an estimated 11 minutes work a day!) and rampant corruption fed a frustration that exploded after Tunisia’s revolution a month earlier. It was never centred on Europe. Egyptians are smart enough to not bite the hand that feeds them.
Yet despite the protests being mostly peaceful and almost completely confined to central Cairo and the second city Alexandria, Sharm el-Sheikh is like a ghost town. An estimated 35,000 German tourists have left even though Sharm is a gated resort. Only the scuba divers have remained. Possibly a hardier bunch.
I’ve lived in Cairo and have also witnessed political unrest first hand in Mexico, Thailand and London! The student protest/riot in Mexico City was one of the best political experiences of my life. As a student interested in social anthropology and the notion of social capital, the solidarity between these protesting groups is impressive. They too are usually only asking for what we take for granted.
So rather than fleeing when the going gets interesting, don’t waste your time in your room. Modern 24 hour news needs your attention and images of police, tanks and isolated fires will do that. Rather than that, stick it out, eat at a local cafe and ask locals for information. Seeing the sights without the usual throngs is better too. On a more cynical side, it can also be cheaper straight after a crisis. Try to get around as much as possible. Hail a camel maybe. Hold your nose though. They stink.