A recent article in the London Guardian dealt with the drop in tourists to Egypt, which depends on them. Since Mubarak stepped down – and liberation rallies continued – Egypt has seen tourism plummet. The extent of the fall depends on who you read, but may be up to 50% what it was in 2010. Fewer tourists visit Cairo than other sites (no surprise, since protests tend to take place in the city), but even the Sphinx is now largely unseen.
Worries about safety are high on the list of what keeps tourists away, but there’s another aspect of the changing Egypt that has people declining to book rooms in the country’s hotels. That’s the shifting political landscape. According to the Guardian, “The first post-Mubarak parliamentary elections have swept political Islamists into office with an overwhelming majority; 70% of seats in the legislature look set to be occupied by the Muslim Brotherhood and the Salafist al-Nour party. The latter has mooted the possibility of new restrictions on alcohol sales and bikinis on beaches, a move which many believe would deal an irrecoverable blow to Egypt’s reputation as a major tourist destination.”
Egypt without its beaches swarming with bikinied women from northern Europe is practically unthinkable. Except that it’s already happening. I don’t mean the bikini ban is on, but that fewer visitors mean fewer swimsuits of any sort. If the al-Nour party wants to see the end of the vibrant Egyptian economy, it need only visit a few seaside towns and look toward the water. Imagine that view undisturbed by Westerners in bathing suits, holding alcoholic drinks. Undisturbed by Westerners at all.
Empty beaches, empty coffers.
Some scoff at the notion that politics will drive away the good times. “’Maybe 20,000 out of 80 million Egyptians drink alcohol,’ said a party spokesperson recently, with evident irritation. ‘Forty million don’t have sanitary water. Do you think that, in parliament, I’ll busy myself with people who don’t have water, or people who get drunk?’”
Well, you might. Working on one issue doesn’t forestall working on the other. And if the price for rising within one’s party is compliance with hardcore conservatives, many men in office comply.
It’s not just hotels and beach bars that are affected by the drop in tourism. Anyone who supplies food and beverages is hurt, too. From chickens to milk, lettuce to lemons, farmers and middlemen have seen their sources of revenue dry up. Taxi drivers can no longer rely on fares. Shopkeepers lament the open purses of tourists, now disappeared. Hotels have laid off staff.
The world is watching Egypt. If it kowtows to the reactionaries’ wishes, the world will keep away. Tourists will hunt for other places, safer places along the easy-to-reach Mediterranean. It’s a big sea with plenty of coastline. Numerous countries have more relaxed attitudes toward beach attire and alcohol. There are lovely beaches in Croatia and Israel. And in Greece, which could certainly use an influx of euros, dollars, pounds and krone.
Tourists might even opt for the tried and true Italy. They just won’t book a cruise.