Monday, September 15, 2014

Egypt: Left Unchecked, Cairo's Strategy to Promote Foreign Tourism Will Result in Foreign Fatalities

Caution! This is not a quick-read! Make a cup of coffee or tea and thoroughly and intellectually process this timely report.

According to The Associated Press, the Egyptian government has optimistic plans to attract the 14 million foreign tourists it had the pleasure of hosting in 2010. 

Additionally, another media source referenced in this report includes:

Once a destination that all foreign tourists craved to visit, Egypt has seen its hotels, beaches and famed antiquity and archaeological sites sit largely empty since the uprising that toppled President Hosni Mubarak in 2011 that kicked off a period of prolonged social unrest. 

In 2013, the foreign tourists who filled Egyptian hotels in 2010, dropped to as few as 9.5 million, a pittance of its former self.

Once a prime destination, Egypt has seen its hotels, beaches and famed ancient sites sit largely empty since the uprising that toppled President Hosni Mubarak in 2011, kicked off a period of prolonged social unrest.

The number of tourists visiting Egypt dropped from more than 14 million in 2010 to just 9.5 million last year, according to government figures.

On Sunday, September 14, Egyptian Tourism Minister Hisham Zaazoua sat among representatives of the United Nations and the Arab League at a tourism safety and security conference in Cairo to unveil a series of expensive and comprehensive security initiatives that after three years of political unrest will miraculously restore tourism levels reminiscent to those not seen since 2010.

Minister Hisham Zaazoua spoke eloquently of the comprehensive security apparatus that would breathe life back into Egypt's dormant tourism industry that includes but is not limited to the following:

1.    Virtually endless surveillance cameras;

2.   Mandatory background checks for all tourism industry workers;

3.   Enhanced airport security at so many of the country's international airports;

4.   Background checks particularly for hotel staff, given a series of rape incidents against foreigners in recent years; and

5.    A new comprehensive staff health-monitoring standard for hotels.

Re-booting Egypt's tourism industry, long a crucial source of hard currency, could inject vitally needed salvation for the country's struggling economy. 

For our readers who have forgotten where Egypt has been of late, please review the below links:

Yet, convincing tourists in the near-term to return to a country that has made headlines for its protests and violent crackdowns since Mubarak's ouster could be a tough task, particularly after the military removed Egypt's first and former democratically elected president, Mohammed Morsi in 2013.

Since Morsi's overthrow last year, the military-backed government and newly-elected President Abdel Fattah al-Sissi and former Field Marshal of the Egyptian Army, presided over a wide-ranging crackdown against Morsi's Muslim Brotherhood, killing hundreds and jailing thousands more in prison.

Violence has simmered since Morsi's removal from power, with militants launching attacks primarily against security forces.

There was one case on February 16, 2014, however, in which extremists based in the Sinai Peninsula took responsibility for bombing a tour bus.

That blast killed three South Korean tourists and an Egyptian driver and injured nine South Koreans.

There also have been several recent cases of sexual assault against female tourists in resorts on the Red Sea coast.

Elhamy el-Zayat, the Chairman of the Egyptian Tourism Federation, said plans are underway to beef up security and clean the Pyramids of Giza area, in coordination with several government ministries. He said that the dozens of vendors at the pyramids site--who have been accused of overly-aggressive sales tactics--will be confined to designated areas. In an effort to "change the image,” he said, young people in official uniforms will assist tourists at the site.

El-Zayat said authorities are also planning to place janitorial services under private sector supervision and improve access to the area.

Zaazoua, the tourism minister, said he believes "the coming period will be better than the previous one," adding that tourism figures in July and August have shown signs of recovery. Over the summer, a number of key countries lifted travel warnings to the Sinai Peninsula.

Despite challenges to the tourism industry across the region, Secretary-General of the United Nations World Tourism Organization (WTO) Taleb Rifai told conference attendees that his organization projects tourism to the Middle East to triple between now and 2030.

COMMENT: Few in this world are a greater advocate of foreign travel than I, who has spent the majority of my adult life in foreign lands that includes being a long-term resident in eight nations and travel to 65 other countries.

Nowhere in the aforementioned five tourism upgrades described earlier by Tourism Minister Hisham Zaazoua did I see even a hint of any evidence of a formidable plan to counter DETERMINED, ARMED attacks on FOREIGN tourists.

Earlier in my career I was schooled from the outset to prepare and plan for the worst. That way…you're never…ever SURPRISED.

I dare say that neither the senior leadership of the Egyptian National Police nor the General Intelligence Directorate of Egypt were in attendance at the September 14 meeting chaired by Egyptian Tourism Minister Hisham Zaazoua. 

If Egypt attracts foreign tourists…violence will follow, particularly if  the country leaves its strategy for protecting foreign tourists in the hands of the tourism minister!

If it is Egypt's intention to professionally protect foreign tourists in Egypt, assign the Egyptian National Police and the General Intelligence Directorate with co-equal, but differing roles to implement a formidable plan to protect foreign tourists.

Egypt MUST do a great deal more to combat a formidable terrorism capacity than currently exists in Egypt!

Having spent most of my 50+ year as an adult analyzing violent crime and acts of terrorism, I ask our readership to bear with me just a bit longer as I draw a parallel between Kenya and Egypt.  

Please note that the credibility of surpasses that of the BBC, albeit only slightly:

Yes, Kenya and Egypt are very different in terms of government operations, history, culture, but dramatically different in their abilities to counter violent crime and political terrorism.

In this regard, KENYA has been INEFFECTIVE in protecting its residents from violence and terrorism whereas EGYPT has been VERY EFFECTIVE, although they have sustained high losses, many of whom could have been prevented.

What renders Kenya and Egypt very similar is that both have populations that embrace Islam, albeit with slightly differing demographics.

Neighboring Somalia, particularly the Muslim-based group known as al-Shabaab, which has conducted far more  terrorist operations inside of Kenya than in its native land.