3 days ago I told you something exciting was happening and that I would tell you later – well here is the something exciting but it is more heartbreaking than exciting.
The Souk (Market) people here have a kind of committee of which a young gentleman named Bekhiri is the spokesman (remember I met him in Gen. Hafez’s Office the second time I went there) . Bekhiri had told the people in the Souk that on Saturday (tonight) they should all go to the Maglis Medina (Governor’s and Council Offices) to meet the Minister for Tourism. Now, this being Egypt I need to correct this and say that – this is what the guys in the Souk understood. No. 1 reason for this meeting was to be about the money handout the government were supposed to have sent/be sending to Luxor to alleviate the suffering for the market people, the calesh drivers, the fellucca people.
Some of my friends in the Souk insisted that I go along with them to the meeting – saying that I was now one of them, going so far as to tell me that should I ever have a problem they would all be with me. Wow! That shocked me and actually brought tears to me eyes, seriously, I can’t tell you the last time someone said that to me – I have always been a lone swimmer so to speak, and it’s lonely out there. Anyway, a percentage were going not because of the measly money that was rumoured around the streets but to ask what was being done about bringing tourists back to Egypt – a much more serious subject.
So, briefly – the Souk people and some calesh people turned up at the Governor’s Offices and ……. no Minister for Tourism. Bekhiri told me he would not be there until……(I have no idea because I don’t understand the Ramadan Calendar, but sometime next week anyway). Needless to say the guys were not happy. General Hafez (remember from my previous post he is the ex-Chief of Tourism Police and head of the Viking Group). What it boiled down to is that in the end the guys were demanding the removal of the Minister for Tourism, Hisham Zaazoo on the grounds of lack of action for the past year, as well as the local reps of some tourist organisations such as Sarwat Agamy and Mohamed Othman of the Chamber of Tourism. In the absence of concrete information, as usual rumour runs wild and there were many allegations of money going into the wrong pockets – a leftover from the Mubarak era. The writings on signs for the night read:
- Purge the Chambers of Tourism
- We demand our rights, we do not want charity
- We refuse Hisham Zaazoo as Minister for Tourism
- No monopolies in Tourism
There was much to and fro going on, different policemen speaking and being spoken to. In the end it boiled down to Gen Hafez offering on behalf of the Minister for Tourism the following
- some feed for the horses to be distributed from Brook Animal Hospital
- for those shops renting from governmentt – no rent paid for two months
- for those shops renting from private sector – gvt pay for electricity up to 1000 Egyptian Pounds (107 euro or $143)
- Fellucca people – I don’t know, after all neither animal feed or electricity apply to them.
- workers from the souk who are no longer working there – not addressed as they were not there.
The calesh people declined the feed offer, preferring a cash per calesh to ensure deliver. I got kinda lost in the end but understand that there will be some kind of answer on the subject from Min. Tourism via Gen Hafez in 5 – 7 days.
Their greatest fear is that when all the excitement has died down the same people from the Mubarak era will have a strangle-hold on the tourism industry here – a monopoly. They fear that when these people in positions of power have filled their boats and hotels they will not exert themselves to improve the numbers coming to Luxor or the way the industry works here. It cannot just go back to the way it was pre-2011 because even then the money from tourism did not go far beyond a certain level. Those at the lower end such as the souks, taxis, calesh and fellucca captains were fighting each other for leftovers from the Table of Tourism – which is one of the reasons for so much hassle in the streets. They know things have changed and are now finding their voices. Tourism in Luxor has to be better than they were before – for both the tourists and the tourism workers.
Let me put all this into some kind of human, understandable context. On Jan 25 there was a revolution in Cairo – sorry to anyone objecting to this but really it was mostly in Cairo, resulting in the ousting of President Mubark. Consequently the entire tourist population left Egypt more or less overnight. Now, funnily enough the world was rather taken by the romance of the “Arab Spring” and, once the initial shock subsided, tourists dribbled in and out of Egypt for the remainder of 2011 and up to mid 2012. Both Christmas periods were ok, even in Luxor. All this time the Red Sea tourism trade continued more or less unaffected – in the sense that it has a 50% hotel occupancy rate. Summer 2012 to June 2013 coincided with the rule of Muslim Brotherhood leader Mohamed Morsi as President of Egypt. During that time it was commonplace for crackpots to be featured on foreign media making stupid statements such as covering pharaonic sites with plastic and fighting about bikinis and alcohol. Not a single one of these idiocies was followed immediately by a rebuff from the Presidency or the government. This probably contributed to the further fall off in tourists during this time.
Mid 2012 to present time the occupancy rate in Luxor has been down to 2 – 5% with the exception of a few weeks at Christmas. What this has meant for hotels is a serious reduction in prices for 4 and 5* hotels – the knock on effect of this has been disasterous for the smaller hotels – many now closed and shuttered and some (including one new big hotel) repossessed by financiers.
For the workers in the Souk….pre-revolution the system in those shops was maybe one worker per shop paid a wage and everyone else on a commission-only basis, meaning they got paid commission on whatever they sold. What it currently means is that most of them are now not even going to the Souks, they are out of work with no alternative source of income and no payments from the State. Most shops are now staffed by the owners and family members only.
For the Calesh people – no aid from the State, horses emaciated and miserable looking for the most part. If they can’t feed their families how can they feed their horses? What do they do? They try to find green areas that they can take them to graze a little on – now in Luxor there are not many of those. Alternatively, they turn the loose in a farmer’s field and you know where that can lead! Many horses have just collapsed and died.
Now for the people caught up in this silent tragedy. How have they survive 2.5 years? Many had some savings. Now there is a desperate situation developing because the savings are gone, the gold they bought for wives and daughters (their way of investing) has been sold, their furniture, TVs and luxury items are all gone. Some have family members dead or dying because they cannot afford operations and/or medicines. Is there free health care here? In a sense if you can get through the paperwork at the hospitals and Maglis Medina etc. Children are not going back to schools because there is no money for the uniforms and books. Some University students will not be returning to College also for the same reason. The generosity of extended family for food is and has been exhausted. Communal breakfasts are more common during the Ramadan period due to lack of money. Forget buying new clothes. While it is easy for some Egyptians to tell tourists of their plight they find it extremely difficult to let their neighbours know of their difficulties so they suffer in private Inability to provide for their families is especially difficult emotionally for the men.
Remember this was a third world country to begin with and in the tourist industry not much money was trickling down beyond the Travel Agent level. Before the revolution it was a dog eat dog industry anyway resulting in everyone competing on lower and lower prices….how low can you go before you collapse completely? Lower prices eventually end up in lower standards, resulting in a budget tourism industry. Years of pressure to lower and lower prices by internet booking engines and foreign tour operators have and would have eventually anyway destroyed tourism for this area. The revolution simply meant it has come sooner. There has been no education and no development, no new ideas, no changes, no improvements made in the tourist industry in Luxor prior to 2011 and for sure this has gone from bad to worse since 2011.
For me the past two and a half years have been incomprehensible, ridiculous and un-necessary. Foreign media has tarred the entire country of Egypt with the same brush. Reports of the sit-ins at Tahrir and the occasional flare up protests which even Caireans were oblivious to outside of the actual areas they happened, usually ended in the sentence “and in other areas of Egypt” etc. Egyptians are equally to blame for this. Due to the extremely low level of crime, especially street crime here pre-2011 the revolution shocked them to the core. They all bought into the idea that Egypt was not safe for tourists.
Let’s put the crime rate in perspective. According to the crime index Cairo has had less crime in 2013 than Auckland, London, Newcastle Upon Tyne in the UK, Perth, Washington, Moscow, Paris, Brussels, Geneva, Naples, Rome, LA, Las Vegas, Rotterdam, Rio de Janeiro, Miami, Milan, Tucson, Turin, Atlanta, St. Petersburg, Bermingham, Galway, Chicago, Christchurch, Cleveland, Huston… WOW!
Luxor does not even make it onto the list!
Egypt as a country, according to the crime index has a lower crime rate than USA, Russia, France, Italy, Greece, Argentina, Costa Rica, Venezuela, Puerto Rica, South Africa, Ukraine even Brazil where the world cup is being held!
Now the entire country has, with their feet voted Morsi and the MB out of office on the 30th June. Anyone could see that millions more people around the entire country turned out than it took to oust Mubarak – well we could see it but foreign media did not go outside Cairo. The Luxor protest against Morsi on the 30th June filled the entire Cornishe El Nile st. Since then we have been drowning under the unrelenting onslaught from foreign media and social media supporters of the MB rejecting the decision of the 30th June. Foreign Governments have not helped with their interminable bleating about democracy and pleadings for Morsi to be released – HE IS UNDER CRIMINAL INVESTIGATION FOR SPYING AND COLLABORATING WITH PALESTINIAN HAMAS and who knows what else.
One thing we do know is that while Egyptians were queueing for days on end for fuel for their cars – that fuel was being poured into 38 tunnels taking it to Gaza, while we were being told that pro-Mubark people were paying for drivers to take it to the desert and pour it onto the sand to undermine Morsi. Nice, a couple of days ago US Secretary of State finally decided it was not a coup. Had he and the rest of the world powers done this earlier we might not be where we are today.
Where are we today? Muslim Brotherhood are now 5 weeks into a sit-in at Radaa Al Adaweya and outside the University at Giza in Cairo. Around the country we have periodic marches – never the same day at the same time – so we are presuming they are bussing the same groups from location to location for the cameras. They are torturing unfortunate people they capture at random, they are terrorising the communities where they are encamped – they have put cows in the local school and are using children to arouse sympathy around the world by having them dress in burial shrouds, carry coffins and declare they are ready to die. HELP! Despite the mandate from the majority of the people to clear the squares and move onto real democracy, General Sisi and the Egyptian gvt have not moved.
It is now a toss up to see who is going to die first – the people in the Cairo sit-ins who refuse to give an inch and want to impose Islamic dictatorship on the rest of the Egyptians OR the workers in Luxor who can no longer feed their families. Imagine your Christmas day without Christmas dinner and Christmas morning with your Santa. Explain that to your kids.
There is absolutely no reason for tourists NOT to come to Luxor. There is absolutely no reason for the police NOT to return to the streets and if the Egyptian gvt are still under the impression that because we are not in LA LA LAND anymore as regards security there is no reason they cannot deploy the army to the streets of Luxor…..the tourists would use it as a photo op!
On a closing note – I am totally baffled by the US embassy withdrawals across the entire middle east – if they buckle like this today under some non-specific information as they are saying then that is giving the entirely wrong signal to terrorists. I am sure the internet, phones and other tech methods of communication will be buzzing with bomb and death threats after this – after all, if this is all it takes to have the US running scared….well, wouldn’t you?
On the other hand if we all get nuked here today or tomorrow…..Bye!