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Egypt hopes tourism will revive soon

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STEVE CHIOTAKIS: In Egypt today, the top prosecutor ordered the assets of ousted president Hosni Mubarak to also be frozen. The unrest in Egypt a few weeks back sent more than a million tourists away from the country.

From Cairo, Marketplace’s Mitchell Hartman reports on the effects that’s having on the ground.

MITHCELL HARTMAN: An old man in long robes and a turban plays the ‘rabab’ — a little Egyptian stringed instrument. He hawks the rababs to tourists on a bridge over the Nile. But he’s got no audience, and the commercial odds are against him — way more sellers than buyers.

Eric Bonnemason is a 22-year-old architecture student visiting from France. A few days ago, he went to the great pyramids at Giza.

ERIC BONNEMASON: We were nearly the only tourists up there, so we had all the pyramids for ourselves.

Magda Kandil of the Egyptian Center for Economic Studies says, without much oil, and with 7,000 years of history to market, Egypt is uniquely dependent on tourist dollars — not to mention Euros and yen. They support five million jobs — 20 percent of the economy. Kandil says the tourism sector needs stability, and for the tanks to come off the streets. Problem is, with Libya next door, this is an increasingly tough tourism neighborhood.

MAGDA KANDIL: The biggest effect of the crisis on Egypt from an economic point of view is the loss of tourism income which is estimated over a billion dollars a year.

Egyptians are working hard to lure tourists back.

KANDIL: They’re going view it as ‘I don’t want to be on a plane crossing the Atlantic or crossing the Mediterranean to go to Egypt.’

A group of young people who participated in the revolution decided to print their own ID cards and stamp them “National Museum Youth.” Now, they’re painting the cast-iron grillwork outside the Egyptian museum.

YOUNG MAN: We paint gates, and pavements, and we sweep the floor and the grounds.

HARTMAN: Why are you painting here?

YOUNG WOMAN: To make our museum beautiful, and to regain its rank among people, again.

And at last Friday’s rally in Tahrir Square, as people sang the national anthem, a man held a sign reading: “Tourism Now Better — Come to Egypt — World Spot Amended.” The English isn’t great, but the sentiment’s clear. This is a ‘new Egypt.’

I’m Mitchell Hartman for Marketplace.

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