I’ve had a lot of people ask me if its “safe” to go to Egypt these days. I haven’t been since December 2008 so I don’t have a definitive answer for them. So I tell them what my gut instinct is: GO!
Go to Egypt!
Let’s take a look back at the tourism situation in Egypt over the past few years. In 2010, the year before the Arab Spring, Egypt had roughly 14.7 million tourists. In 2011, that number dropped to 10.2 million and resulted in a loss of 3.5 billion dollars in revenue. Understandably, not too many people wanted to vacation in the middle of a revolution, but this loss hit Egypt hard because tourism is one of its primary sources of income. But the continued turmoil in Egypt has affected much more than just the tourism industry. It has also kept away foreign investors, forcing Egypt to take out loans from neighboring oil-rich countries.
In the first half of 2012, the number of tourists in Egypt rose by 23% to reach 5.08 million. However, this was before the election and the tumult and ensued. The election of president Mohamed Morsi in the first free election that Egypt has ever had (and the second ever with more than one candidate), concerned many involved in the tourist industry because of his association with the Muslim Brotherhood. In the months leading up to and immediately following Morsi’s election, people speculated that Egypt would become less and less secular, and that it would have less tolerance for non-Islamic visitors- a huge problem for the tourist industry considering that the overwhelming majority of tourists who visit Egypt are European (11 million out of the 14.7 million tourists in 2010). And even if Morsi doesn’t take action against Western visitors, people in the tourism industry are worried that he will target their favorite activities- segregating beaches by sex, forbidding bikinis, and limiting availability of alcohol. While many Americans might not see this as a very big deal because we tend to go to Egypt for the history and culture, many Europeans visit Egypt on beach vacations, and cracking down on beach-goers’ freedoms would put a serious damper on this section of the tourist industry.
To be fair, Morsi has not indicated that he is going to implement any of these measures that some of his more conservative colleagues are calling for, and has been very welcoming to Western tourists. But tourists and Egyptians who work in the tourism industry are still very wary. Morsi recently payed a visit to Iran, where he has been trying to court Muslim tourists, a move seen by some as an effort to introduce more Islamic influence into the tourist industry. Additionally, There has been a lot of unrest in the 8 months that Morsi has been in power, and he has not done a lot to try to win over the hearts of the people who work in tourism. A prime example can be seen in the tragedy that occurred last week when 19 people lost their lives in a horrible hot air balloon crash in Luxor, the very place where I experienced my first hot air balloon ride 4 years ago. Tour operators and hotel owners in Luxor are furious that Morsi has not made a public statement acknowledging the tragedy and expressing his sympathies for the families of the victims. This high profile crash was not good PR for poor Egypt, who can’t seem to convince people that the country is safe for tourists.
Sometimes you have to take risks if you want to enjoy life
All of that being said, I encourage people to go to Egypt for a number of reasons.
1) For once the country isn’t teeming with tourists, and you’ll get the chance to explore the beautiful temples, tombs and pyramids without having to share the experience with a thousand other people.
2) Egypt is going through a very interesting period right now. Quite historic in fact. Don’t you think it would be cool to be able to say that you witnessed history in the making?
3) All of the bad PR that Egypt gets when something bad happens to tourists actually makes people in the tourism industry and the government go even more out of their way to protect tourists. So I imagine that its actually quite safe.
4) You never know what could happen in the future. If there was another revolution that plunged the country into chaos, wouldn’t you be glad that you had already checked Egypt off your bucket list?
5) Support the Egyptian economy. The Egyptians had the guts to throw out an authoritative ruler who wasn’t serving the interests of his people, and as a consequence, their economy suffered. Shouldn’t you reward them for doing the right thing by going to Egypt and buying lots of souvenirs?
Until next time, مع السلامة