With recent turmoil in Egypt, it’s no wonder tourism to the country has taken a nose dive. The country is in the midst of a revolution, and reported violence and protests appear in the news every second day.
President Mohammed Morsi, leader of the fundamentalist Muslim Brotherhood, was forcibly removed from power on July 3 2013 when the Military took temporary control of the country. The removal of Egypt’s first democratically elected President aims to give the country a second chance at democracy after Morsi began abusing his power.
The Muslim Brotherhood has vowed to continue protests throughout Egypt until Morsi is reinstated as President.
Josh Cahill of Go Travel Your Way has been situated in Cairo this past week, and gives us an insight into what is happening on the ground.
How long have you been in Cairo and how long do you plan to stay?
I just got back from Cairo, still high on tear gas but absolutely stunned by the city and its people. It was a great experience. I was there for a week after visiting Europe and Turkey for a week.
Why are you in Cairo?
For many reasons. First of all, Cairo is a beautiful city and of course you need to see the pyramids before you die.
The main purpose of my visit was actually my blog. Egypt used to be one of the most visited countries in the world before the Arab Spring started in 2011. Ever since that day the country has changed and I wanted to get a little glimpse of the current situation in Cairo.
Some may call me an action junkie, others may call me dumb, but I enjoy these extreme situations. The Four Seasons Hotel in Cairo offered to sponsor my stay and well, so I packed my bags and off I went.
Are you traveling on assignment?
No I’m actually independent. I sometimes find sponsors for my trips but I travel for my blog. I want to share an independent view. Most of the time newspapers don’t provide these.
Describe the situation on the ground right now.
The weekend was quite rough. More than 50 people have been killed during the turmoil in the past days. Sunday was the 40th anniversary of the “Ramadan War” (Between Egypt and Israel in 1973), and the Muslim Brotherhood organized heavy protests all over the city.
Big celebrations took place on Tahrir Square and the police tried to prevent them to get anywhere near it. When I left the hotel I witnessed it myself, the police lined up and faced about 1000 protesters. I stood literally one meter behind the police before they shot tear gas into the crowd. Everything became a bit messy and many people got arrested.
Have you witnessed any violence first-hand?
Yes, it was rather shocking to see how even random Egyptian civilians were bashing the protesters after they were arrested by the police. It was more or less tolerated. Some people even passed out because they been punched in their faces several times. Also the protesters throw big stones at the police.
Have you attended any of the protests?
Yes more or less. I was on my way to Tahrir Square when I saw the police, fully armed, lining up on the streets. I asked an officer what was going on and they said that thousands of protesters were on their way. So I waited a little bit and then saw an enormous crowd of people march towards the police.
They responded with tear gas and then ran towards the crowd. It became very ugly. It was just next to the Nile and many people jumped into the river to escape. The arrested about 40-50 people and lined them up at the wall. Every time the police pulled protesters out of the river they beat them pretty hard. That was when I decided to leave.
Are the streets safe/do you feel safe?
Totally. I didn’t feel unsafe at all. Downtown especially is well protected and no troublemakers can even get close to Tahrir Square. Also the suburbs and Giza, where the pyramids are located, is absolutely peaceful. I went for a stroll in the middle of the night. I visited the local markets and I felt very comfortable.
Is Cairo/Egypt safe for travelers?
Yes I would say so. All of the hotels are safe and the major attractions as well. Cairo may seem like a battlefield in the news but it’s nowhere close to that. At least not in the center of the city or close to any sights. I felt very safe and the situation seemed to improve as well.
When do you anticipate it will be ready for tourism?
Egypt has a long tradition of tourism. It’s not a question of being ready but rather a question of changing the image of the country again.
In 2010, a year before the unrest began, Egypt counted 14 million visitors providing a revenue of almost 13.6 billion dollars. This number has dropped to just 5 million arrivals in 2013. I went for a tour to the Pyramids and my driver told me I was the first tourist he had in a while. Egypt needs to find a solution for its problems, otherwise in the long run the country won’t be able to sustain itself without tourism.
Have you had contact with local Egyptians?
Yes indeed. I had some interesting conversations with local people about the situation in Egypt. Most of the people are tired of the endless unrest in Egypt. They don’t blame the Muslim Brotherhood in particular because they are, at the end of the day, also Egyptians.
People didn’t have much choice after the revolution, they could either vote for Mohamed Morsi, the head of the Muslim Brotherhood, or Ahmed Safik, Mubarak’s last Prime Minister. So the majority elected Morsi into power.
Have you come into contact with either the Military or with the Muslim Brotherhood?
Yes, I was forced by an army officer to delete some photos I took of the tanks. Apart from that I tried to talk to some of the soldiers but most of them don’t speak English very well. But they have been very nice and the Military is well respected within the country.
Not everyone who voted for the Muslim Brotherhood is a member of its actual party. It’s rather hard to identify someone as a supporter unless the are part of a big crowd protesting.
How do people on the ground (civilians) view the Muslim Brotherhood?
Some may call them Egyptians, others terrorists. It’s hard to say. They may have lost their right to rule the country in a questionable way, but I don’t believe violence is the right answer.
How do people on the ground view the Military?
The military and its leaders are highly respected in Egypt. They played a major key role during the revolution in 2011 and it was also the Egyptian military who dismissed and arrested the former President Mohamed Morsi. People blow kisses to passing tanks and hug the soldiers on every occasion. Nobody really questions the army unless they are supporters of the Muslim Brotherhood.
Is either side really equipped to run the government?
Maybe, but Egypt has to actually learn how democracy works. It’s a very hard and demanding task after 30 years of dictatorship. Even though the country wasn’t anywhere near a free democratic system it was always tolerated by the Western world (America and the European Union) due to its good diplomatic relations with Israel. It’s a long learning process that needs delicate decision making and a strong leader who understands the sensitivity of certain situations.
What, in your opinion, do the people of Egypt want?
The majority of the Egyptian people would love to see Abdel Fattah el-Sisi, the Chief-commander of the Egyptian Army as new President of Egypt. That also means that he would have to leave the Army and dedicate himself fully to politics, which is a move he is wary and perhaps scared of due to the responsibility.
Some people say it might happen, others are less optimistic. Most of the people I talked to prefer this solution. The country is tired of all the protests and a solution needs to be presented soon.
Should international governments become involved?
The pressure on Egypt is already heavy enough. As an example the United States has put a hold on delivery of all military systems. Also, a planned $300 million loan to Egypt will be halted due to the crisis and the lack of solutions presented so far.
It is in the interest of many governments around the world that Egypt is strong and united considering the current instability of certain regions.
What are the living conditions like?
They aren’t great, and that’s why the whole revolution in 2011 started in the first place.
You see literally unfinished buildings in the suburbs without proper windows. But people still live there. Of course in comparison to other African countries Egypt is still way ahead, but many major sources of income such as tourism, which generated 14% of income, have almost disappeared.
What do you believe needs to happen in Egypt?
I believe Abdel Fattah el-Sisi should withdraw from his position as Chief-Commander and run as candidate for the hopefully soon upcoming elections. He is well respected and also has the capabilities to run the country.
Once that has been accomplished Egypt will probably face a even harder task, to sustain itself in a democratic spirit. That requires a lot of patience. It’s a long road to success, but it will pay off one day and the whole world will benefit from it. Egypt has a once in a lifetime chance, it’s on them to make it happen.
Is this war more political or religious in nature?
It’s a political conflict. Egypt is very moderate and not an Islamic Republic such as Iran.
In late November former President Mohamed Morsi introduced a Islamic-backed constitution and that caused a lot of the protests resulting in the current situation. Egypt was also the first Arab country to establish diplomatic relations to Israel, what is still considered an enemy in most of the Gulf Region.
Is there a noticeable economic impact from the riots?
Yes, as I mentioned before, the tourism sector is really suffering the most. Good hotel rates and cheap flights are currently on sale to attract tourists to come and visit Egypt. But the most governments released travel warnings to Egypt. I don’t want to call it a sanction, but most development payments are on hold. That also affects the liability of the country a lot.
Are there currently any restrictions on everyday living – i.e night curfews?
There is a curfew every day from midnight to 5am in the morning. On Fridays the curfew starts earlier at 7pm.
Is there any propaganda throughout Cairo?
I didn’t notice any. The military makes themselves very present and celebrated, especially on the anniversary of the Israeli War, where they held airshows involving helicopters and jets. It was more or less a demonstration of power.
Would you describe Cairo as currently wrought with terrorism?
No, not at all, at least not in the capital. Even though a suicide car bomber killed four soldiers in Sinai on Tuesday, Hamas terrorists have been blamed for this attack. They say Jihadi terrorists in Sinai stepped up their attacks on Egyptian forces following the deposing of the Muslim Brotherhood’s Mohammed Morsi from the presidency.
Is the new military government expanding into a repressive regime?
Not really, it is not in any interest of the military to sustain its power for too long. It will be interesting to see if they can present a solution soon. But first they need to get the situation under control again to go for the next big goal, a free and democratic Egypt.
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