Despite being a textbook example of how peaceful protests can lead to the removal of a despised dictator, the recent events in Egypt have severely damaged the tourist industry and dented the economy.
From the red sea resorts to the Pyramids, the Nileside temples and ruins, Egypt’s economy is heavily dependent on tourism. It is estimated that during the crisis over one million tourists left the country. We experienced this in minutiae while staying in the small Sinai resort of Dahab.
The layout of Dahab funnels visitors down one seaside street where travellers and tourists are politely assailed on both sides by shopkeepers and restaurant touts. If one is polite in return and willing to engage the enemy in conversation this low rise canyon of hassle, a couple of hundred yards long, can take a hour to navigate. Touts use all their cunning to get tourists into their store or restaurant and tourists, if they are smart, try to lose as gracefully and cheaply as possible.
When we’ve had too much and are not in the mood for such banter, our tactic in these situations is usually to walk behind rich looking tourists in the hope we would be ignored.
Day by day we lost our human shields as the street emptied of visitors until the normal rules of engagement between hunter and prey were suspended. When Egyptians have lost the will to hassle, and backpackers to hussle, you know things are at a low ebb.
Though we were in Dahab for six weeks from before the first days of protest in Egypt to after the fall/push of Mubarak, we never once felt unsafe. There was a brief period when fuel supplies were beginning to run low, affecting deliveries of food and water, and serviceable bank ATM machines were difficult to find but otherwise we would never have known we were in a country in revolt.
When we left Egypt a week after the removal of Mubarak it seemed travellers were beginning to trickle back. Visitors to Dahab are more independent minded than those to the larger resorts but, as travel advisories downgrade their warnings, sooner or later neighbouring Sharm el Sheikh will begin to fill up too (though perhaps it’s best to avoid the area around Mubarak’s villa – he might be a bit grouchy) and the opportunity to have resorts like these to yourself will be lost.
If we weren’t already two weeks past our visa expiration date we would have headed to Giza for the once in a lifetime chance to have the Pyramids to ourselves.
There are still some problems: strikes, disruption and the police not learning their lesson will continue to keep the masses away for a little time yet presenting a glorious chance to show your solidarity with a brave and morally courageous people and have a fascinating country all to yourself.
The tourists and the Egyptians are one.