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In Egypt, political turmoil hits tourism business

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Egypt’s tourism sector has struggled since the 2011 revolution, with many tourist frightened away by protests, political upheaval, and a lack of security. But this year, tourism started to rebound, and was on track to reach pre-revolution levels, according to the Egyptian government.

That is until this past week, when a military overthrow of the government and violent protests brought that recovery to a grinding a halt. Several countries, including the United States, Great Britain and Canada warned their citizens to avoid or be cautious about traveling to Egypt.

This means the millions of Egyptians working in the tourism sector are competing for business from an even smaller pool of tourists, and some are getting desperate.

At the Giza pyramids, groups of men try to block the street and waylay tourist-laden taxis, trying to convince the occupants to go for a camel, horse, or carriage ride. Sometimes the vendors can get aggressive, leading the U.S. Embassy in Cairo to issue a security message to citizens, warning that “the degree of aggressiveness in some cases is closer to criminal conduct.”

Atreis Ali Atreis admits some of his fellow vendors at the pyramids can be a bit aggressive, but he says it’s only because they are all desperate. He hasn’t had any customers for his horse and camel rides since before the protests that outsted President Mohamed Morsi.

A few local families still take carriage rides, but Atreis says they don’t spend as much money as the rare foreign visitors, who are often in tour buses where the vendors on the ground can’t solicit them.

So men line the streets leading up to the pyramids, scrutinizing each car and taxi that goes by to see if it’s one they should target with a sales pitch. Atreis says it’s all they can do to survive, especially since the political situation in Cairo doesn’t look to be calming down any time soon.

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