Egypt unrest scares tourists away from pyramids

Egypt's political instability has crippled its once thriving tourism industry.

2011 the worst year in decades for Egyptian tourism

2011 was the worst year in decades for Egyptian tourism 3:27

Political instability left in the wake of the violent ouster of President Hosni Mubarak crippled Egypt’s once thriving tourism industry in 2011. But many are hoping the industry can bounce back as the country’s interim military rulers prepare for the transition to a democratically elected civilian administration.

IMF Bailout

A declining economy following a year of social discontent and political instability has led the country to turn to the International Monetary Fund, which issued Egypt a second loan is as many years, this time worth $3.2 billion US. The support package was announced mid-January amid fears the loan could saddle the country with austerity measures that could affect national food and fuel subsidies.

Masood Ahmed, the IMF’s Middle East and Central Asia director, is aiming to put those fears to rest.

"The program developed by the Egyptian authorities and its key policies are currently being discussed with emerging political parties to ensure broad political and social support," Ahmed says.

In 2010, tourism accounted for $11.5 billion of the country’s $500 billion GDP. A decline in revenues generated from the country’s third largest economic sector is putting a squeeze on tour operators, including those at one of the greatest attractions in the world, the Great Pyramids of Giza.

"My life is at the pyramids and my job is at the pyramids. My family eats because of the pyramids," says Farag Abdul Hanima, a third-generation horse and camel tour operator in Giza.

The slowdown in tourists has forced Hanima to sell all but six of the horses in his stable, which once held 35 animals. He refers to 2011 as a "black year" for business.

In the past, Hanima says up to 1,000 tourists a day would visit during the winter months, many paying upwards of $100 US for a two hour tour of the pyramids and sphinx — good money when you consider the average Egyptian income is less than $200 a month.

Political instability has brought tourism in Egypt to a near-standstill. (Evan Mitsui/CBC)

Tourism Minister Mounir Abdel-Nour recently told the state-run Al-Ahram newspaper that revenues from Egypt’s tourism sector were down over 33 per cent in 2011. The number of tourist visits last year was 9.8 million, down from 14.7 million in 2010.

But the Freedom and Justice party, the political arm of the Muslim Brotherhood that won nearly half the votes in recent parliamentary elections, said that its economic plan would respect the spirit of competition and economic freedoms some Western investors feared would disappear under an Islamist leadership.

CBC coverage

CBC News will be inside Cairo on Jan. 25, the first anniversary of the massive uprising in Tahrir Square that led to the end of President Hosni Mubarak's authoritarian regime.

We'll have complete coverage of the extraordinary changes put in motion by Arab Spring.  Our correspondents will deliver stories that illustrate the new Egypt and its dramatically shifting political and social landscape:

  • Complete radio coverage by Margaret Evans on World Report, World this Hour and World at Six;
  • Correspondent Saša Petricic will re-visit Cairo for The National with Peter Mansbridge.  He'll look at the major changes still underway as Egypt moves away from authoritarian rule;
  • Nahlah Ayed will also offer her perspective on the massive shift brought about by Arab Spring;
  • Complete coverage of daily news by, plus a slide show from our online journalism team inside Egypt;
  • News Network:  Live, up-to-the-minute coverage of the historic anniversary.