The U.S. Embassy issued a warning about increasing incidents at or near the famous pyramids at Giza about a dozen miles from downtown Cairo. Most of the incidents are due to overly aggressive vendors who in some cases come close to criminal conduct, the embassy says.
"U.S. citizens should elevate their situational awareness when traveling to the pyramids, avoid any late evening or night travel, utilize a recommended or trusted guide, and closely guard valuables," according to a security message on the embassy's website last week.
Visitors going toward the ancient complex, roughly an hour's drive in traffic from central Cairo, are encountering Egyptians who work in the tourism sector and surround and pound on tourists' taxis and cars in what the embassy says may be an effort to pressure visitors to ride in their horse-drawn carriages.
In some cases, angry vendors have tried to open vehicles' doors, frightening visitors, the embassy said.
Egypt's minister of antiquities, Ahmed Eissa, insisted the Giza pyramid complex is safe. He said neither his office nor the tourism police have received complaints, according to newspaper reports.
Others who have traveled to the area say the problems are real.
"It's a new level of frightening," said Graham Harman, associate provost for research administration and professor of philosophy at the American University in Cairo.
Vendors began the practice of banging on cars pulling up to the pyramids within the first six months after Egypt's revolution in 2011. Once tourists enter the complex gates the harassment continues.
Visitors to Giza can see the depth of financial despair evident among those who work in the tourism industry, a main source of income for many Egyptians. Many vendors seem starved for travelers. Stable owners who offer horseback rides through the sprawling desert have fed their horses hay that was bought on loan while others over the past two years have been forced to sell their animals.I believe you guys love the tourists, Mr. Hussein, but it's hard not to worry. The Muslim Brotherhood that rules Egypt advocates barbaric shar'ia law. They want women veiled, alcohol gone, and Christians killed (just ask the Copts). Unaccompanied, unveiled women are often raped by gangs of Muslim men in Cairo itself. The only crimes police care about are those that are offensive to Islam, which does not include rape. Even though Egypt is dependent on tourists who visit its pyramids (and, remember, the Giza Necropolis is only a small portion of the pyramids of Egypt) and even though most Egyptians take immense pride in their pre-Islamist past, Salafist Muslim allies of the Muslim Brotherhood openly advocate for the destruction of the pyramids as "offensive to Islam."
Tourism is diminished across the country.
Ayman Hussein works for a travel agency in Aswan, a city in Upper Egypt not far from Sudan that is near a set of magnificent temples. He said tourism has dropped by more than half since the days before the nation's uprising.
"Please tell the people: Come to Upper Egypt," Hussein said.
Making matters worse, prices of electricity and basic foods have been rising.
"It's very hard," Hussein said, but he brushed off news that there may be dangers hundreds of miles away at the Giza pyramids.
"We love the tourists," he said. "Don't worry about this."
You feel bad for these people. I feel bad for these people. I dearly love Egypt and want it and its people to succeed. But my sympathy is somewhat limited. The Egyptians wanted to get rid of Hosni Mubarak. They knew what the Muslim Brotherhood stood for. We knew what the Muslim Brotherhood stood for and reminded them of it. They voted (actually voted in what was recognized as a generally fair election) the Muslim Brotherhood into power. Now that the Muslim Brotherhood's well-known hostility to the West and anything "un-Islamic" is killing the country, don't come bitching to me. We have neither the ability nor the inclination to rule your country for you. Help yourselves and get rid of the Muslim Brotherhood and its Islamist allies.
However bad this looks for Egypt, Walter Russell Mead argues that the US Embassy's report means things can only get worse:
This is the same basic message presented by a World Economic Forum report that ranked Egypt as one of the most dangerous places in the world to be a tourist.
This is less dramatic news than reports of the latest massacre in Syria or riot in Turkey, but it’s possibly more significant in the long term, for two reasons. First, it’s the US Embassy that has issued this warning; second it’s on the front page of USA Today, so plenty of people are going to hear about it.
Tourism has been hit hard by political turmoil in Egypt. Many travelers are avoiding the country or canceling trips. Hotel occupancy in Cairo is 15 percent or lower in some parts of the city.
The Embassy warning may be the sign that it’s time to stick a fork in Egypt’s tourism industry. The Egyptians can forget about a tourism revival anytime soon.
Foreign economic aid won’t be able to replace the lost tourism revenue, which, as the NYT reports, ”provides direct jobs for nearly three million people, critical income to more than 70 industries and 20 percent of the state’s foreign currency—now desperately needed to prop up the plummeting Egyptian pound.” And so the economic death spiral will continue.