Saturday, January 26, 2013

Egypt: Land of the Pharoahs Increasingly Unpredictable, Tourism Declining, Visitors Be Wary

According to the The Guardian, fatal street clashes throughout many Egyptian cities continued today (January 25) as thousands of demonstrators took to the streets to protest against President Mohamed Morsi's Muslim Brotherhood, roughly two years following the 2011 revolution that deposed former President Hosni Mubarak.

According to local media, at least seven people died in Suez and 379 were injured across the country as riots broke out in Cairo's Tahrir Square and cities including Alexandria, Mahalla, and Ismailia. Police and anti-government protesters clashed nationwide bring most commerce to a standstill.

Also disconcerting is the fact at least nine female protesters were sexually assaulted in Tahrir Square, suggesting that despite false promises, the New Egypt is becoming increasingly volatile for tourists. 

COMMENT: Although Mohamed Morsi may have become Egypt's first democratically-elected president, as we all know, democracies come in all forms.

If you need a current-day example, look at Hugo Chávez who turned Venezuela upside down compared to its political and economic stature seen in the early 1980s.

Unfortunately, US politicians are overly wedded to the term "democratically-elected," and incorrectly view such governments as acceptable according to Western values.

Yet, Mohamed Morsi and his loyal followers in the Muslim Brotherhood hardly can be described as "democratic."

From my perspective, I had the advantage of working in Egypt during the period 1973-2005 and witnessed Egypt in both good times and bad. 

That being said, the New Egypt has brought with it very unpredictable and perilous changes that may well in the years ahead see Egypt become a conservative Islamist state. I hope I'm wrong, but I fear that may not be the case in the near term.

Seemingly, what the world does not need is another Kuwait or Saudi Arabia, where everything that is Western is banned or forbidden, including basic freedoms of expression, speech, assembly, press and religion.

The one dramatic change in the New Egypt is the continuing decline of tourism, largely as a result of visitors not knowing from one day to the next whether there will be riots in the streets that will prevent them from being tourists. Thus far, foreign tourism has declined by 22%, which is unprecedented.

Although I'm hesitant to suggest to foreign tourists to avoid Egypt, the reality is that tourists need to be prepared for the worst, including an interruption of local commerce and street protests either in support of or against the Morsi government.

All visitors should NOT travel without confirmed reservations (flights, hotels, tours, etc.) and be prepared for political changes in the streets of major cities.

Business travelers should obtain business visas if they are required and ensure that they have maximum local support during their visit, including ground transportation.