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Hope for Egypt’s Declining Tourism Industry?

What should be an industry booming from its rich historical sites and culture is now a place where you can find yourself alone inside the tomb of one of Egypt’s greatest rulers. So why has Egypt become a place where only the most unwavering travellers are willing to visit? Many reasons have affected this, the crashes of Metrojet 7k9268 and EgyptAir flight 804, terrorism threats, and political unrest.  

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Since these incidents have caused many countries to warn their citizens sternly against travelling to Egypt , the country is seeing a decrease in its international travel. Although the threats are still rated “high” by the Foreign Office, efforts to enhance the safety of tourists and the industry are being put into effect.

Since 2011, Egypt has seen the threat of revolution, a military coup that ended the rule of Hosni Mubarak and overthrew Mohamed Morsi, the crashes of two airliners, and several terrorist attacks.

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Tourism makes up 11.4 percent of the country’s GDP, and with these incidents crippling many tourists’ confidence in visiting major historical sites and cities, there is little income flowing from one of Egypt’s main sources of wealth. With the lack of tourists, funding for museums and other sites has declined. With the decrease in activity and increase in price for many attractions, even fewer tourists are willing to pay. In 2015, Egypt lost over a billion dollars in revenue after the industry declined by 15 percent.

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Throughout 2016, tourism rates decreased by 40 percent, making everyday life for working Egyptians more expensive. The industry makes up a large portion of Egyptian economy, and with it becoming only a fraction of what it used to be, the economy is worsening more and more each day.

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This economic decline has caused many people to have to close up their shops and restaurants because prices keep skyrocketing, and has even subsidized goods like sugar and rice. The country may have to devalue its currency for a second time this year, all while a loan was approved for 12 billion dollars from the IMF to help pull Egypt out of economic crisis.

Less funding for historical attractions means less safety and security for those visiting them. In June of 2016, the Karnak temple hosting the statues of Ramses IV and Queen Nefertari was attacked by a suicide bomber.

Statues of Ramses II as Osiris in Karnak Temple, Luxor (Thebes) Egypt.
Statues of Ramses II as Osiris in Karnak Temple, Luxor (Thebes) Egypt.

Incidents like this bring more fear for international visitors, as well as poor road conditions and the turmoil brewing in North Sinai. These problems are concerning, and many foreign countries have advised their citizens to be wary of travelling to Egypt. The UK and Russia have banned all direct air flights and several Western countries, including the United States, have placed travel bans and advisories.

There still could be a silver lining, however. Egypt’s tourism minister, Yehia Rashed, has created a “Six-Point Plan” to renew the crippled economy. This new plan aims to work with international tourism organizations, enhance the infrastructure, advance service and product levels to meet international standards, attract foreign investors, and develop eco-friendly commodities. Rashed has stated that these goals are “ambitious” but he believes that in order for the tourism industry to rise again, ambition is a good thing. This new plan will help initiate a focus on the most important factors in reinvigorating Egypt’s most affluent source.

Al-Qaeda in the Arabian Peninsula

The civil war in Yemen, which began in 2011, has resulted in extreme chaos. This conflict occurred because the presidency was handed over to Abdrabbuh Mansur Hadi by the former authoritarian president Ali Abdullah Saleh. Hadi was unable to handle many of the issues that arose, including food shortages, corruption, unemployment, al-Qaeda’s control of the south, and the populace remaining loyal to Saleh. The Houthis, a Shiite tribe in northeastern Yemen, who had previously fought against Saleh, decided to exploit the government’s weakness and took control of the northern province and Sana’a, Yemen’s capital, and the areas surrounding it. Many ordinary Yemeni citizens joined the Houthis as well. With their growing power, the Houthis were able to put Hadi and many government officials under house arrest. They might have succeeded, but their endeavors finally caught the attention of Saudi Arabia and other states, due to the Shia Houthis’ intention to take control of the entire country. Pro-Hadi forces backed by the Saudi government were able to push back the Houthis from Sana’a and its other provinces after four months.

In the late 1980s, the Saleh government had been reinstating many Yemeni soldiers. One of these soldiers was Osama bin Laden, who had fought against the Soviet Union in the Afghan War. These soldiers – including bin Laden – were brought back to fight against the Marxist government that was implemented in southern Yemen. Bin Laden later began training a group that advocated for the domination of global jihad. That group of militants formed the group Islamic Jihad in Yemen, which lasted from 1990 to 1994, one of the groups that would eventually become Al-Qaeda in the Arabian Peninsula (AQAP). Other groups formed were the Army of Aden Abyan, and al-Qaeda in Yemen (AQY). AQY was responsible for many attacks directed toward Western powers, including a bombing on the USS Cole which killed seventeen US soldiers, and the suicide bombing of French oil tanker M/V Limburg which killed one of the crew members. After 9/11, the Bush administration pushed the Saleh government to begin counterterrorism operations against AQY. A US drone strike conducted in 2002 killed the leader of AQY, Abu Ali al-Harithi. After his death, there was a large decline in membership in the organization. Around this time, the current AQAP started to form.

AQAP was able to benefit from the fractured political system by creating an insurgency in southern Yemen. Because the civil war had caused Western forces to withdraw from the area, as well as simultaneously focusing the Saudi government’s attention onto the Houthi rebels, AQAP was able to successfully take control of the southern provinces. By providing basic needs and integrating itself into the population, AQAP (Al-Qaeda in the Arabian Peninsula) has been able to control the provinces it seized. It has withstood arrests and attacks by implementing a “hierarchical, decentralized, and compartmentalized system.” In the regions it controls, it acts as a local government, collecting taxes from locals and providing protection from outside forces. A man living in the port city of Mukalla, an area controlled by AQAP, stated, “I prefer that Al-Qaeda stay here, not for Mukalla to be liberated. The situation is stable, more than any ‘free’ part of Yemen. The alternative to Al-Qaeda is much worse.” Along with governing the provinces it has seized, the organization also extorts money from international ships and imposes fees on their ports.

AQAP was formed after the remaining members of AQY (Al-Qaeda in Yemen) merged with 23 escaped terrorists from Sana’a Prison in 2006. Based on intelligence from 2014, there are an estimated 100,000 members of the organization. AQAP has carried out many attacks on others since 2006, including the assassination attempt of the Saudi prince Mohammed bin Nayef, suicide bombings aimed toward Japanese and Belgian tourists, and attacks on Italian and British embassies. The organization’s goal is to rid the world of Western influences and replace secular governments with Islamic regimes that implement Sharia law. To achieve this goal, AQAP aims toward overthrowing the government regime in Sana’a, assassinating members of the Saudi royal family and Western nationals, while also attacking the US homeland and embassies. For these reasons, many believe that AQAP is one of the more dangerous branches of Al-Qaeda.