CAIRO – Tourists are staying away from Egypt, two months after the start of a popular revolution that ousted long-time President Hosni Mubarak, dealing another blow to a nation already staggered by inefficiency, corruption and poverty.
Protesters compared Mubarak to the ancient Pharaohs. Their tombs, in time-worn and time-honored pyramids, rise majestically in Egypt’s desert.
Now the sand-swept sites stand nearly empty. Turmoil during the pro-democracy revolution that overturned the government frightened tourists away.
Anti-government protests started Jan. 25. Officials have said more than 210,000 tourists fled the country in the last week of January and the first few days of February.
The government has estimated that the unrest cost the nation about $1.7 billion in the span of about two weeks, with more than half that figure stemming from tourism losses.
The effects are dire. About two million Egyptians make their living from tourism, which amounts to 5 to 6 percent of the nation’s gross domestic product. Unemployment is already widespread, and underemployment, or jobs that pay very little, is even more common.
Some new patterns are emerging while foreign tourists reconsider their options.
The few tourists now in the country make pilgrimages to Tahrir Square in downtown Cairo, where hundreds of thousands gathered in anti-government protests. Sidewalk merchants line the circumference of the square, hawking T-shirts, flags, bookmarks, tissue boxes, hats, badges, stickers and wall hangings dedicated to the revolution.
Fueled by the same renewed national pride, Egyptians are visiting tourist sites once packed with sunburned European visitors.
Children clamber up otherwise deserted pyramids. Their parents relax on the large stone building blocks below, enjoying the spring sunshine. But they don’t have the cash of their foreign counterparts, who fueled this crucial segment of the Egyptian economy.
Young Egyptians use the moment to stage a colorful plea for tourists to come back. Dressed up as Pharaoh kings, they pose by the Nile and the pyramids.
“The tourist is our guest, be generous with them,” one of their signs reads. Another man holds up a sign declaring, “Egypt is a country of safety and security.”
But there are precious few foreigners around to read them.