A Blog by the Editor of The Middle East Journal

Putting Middle Eastern Events in Cultural and Historical Context

Friday, September 9, 2011

Faced With Declining Tourism, Egyptian Cabinet Shoots Self in Foot (or Possibly Head?)

OK, for my rocket scientist readers and others, ponder this one: You've got the world's most ancient civilization (OK, Iraq has a case, but tourism isn't big there right now), the only surviving one of the Seven Wonders of the Ancient World (pointy structures conveniently near your capital city with lots of five-star hotels), a huge and longstanding tourism infrastructure with many guides speaking European languages,  and are dependent on tourism for hard currency. And, since you had this little revolution thingy a few months back that was on all the TV channels, your tourism revenues are sharply down this summer, though starting to improve a bit. So what do you do about it? You there with your hand up, yes, you: The Egyptian Cabinet, you say? And your answer is . . .

Let's tighten the visa requirements so visitors can't get visas at the airport anymore!

Oh, that makes sense . . . wait . . . What?

Also see here, and here, which suggests this is not some kind of fever hallucination.

While a certain amount of incoherent stammering seems the proper reaction, a lot of Egyptian bloggers and tweeters immediately noted the seeming insanity of this move. Yes, the US and most European and major Asian nations require prior visas for entering Egyptians. Yes, a certain reciprocity would be preferable. (Good luck with that on the eve of the 10th anniversary of 9/11. Muhammad Atta was Egyptian, and so's Ayman al-Zawahiri.)

I know: it doesn't apply to tourists arriving in groups Good: you only severely wounded your tourist influx, and didn't strangle it outright. Yes, when I was going to Egypt in the 1970s and early 1980s you needed a visa beforehand (But the US didn't even have diplomatic relations when I first went out, and tourism was at a historic low ebb.) Yes, there's an undercurrent of xenophobia right now, but you still need the tourist trade. Yes, there's an undercurrent of popular paranoia about foreign spies. Hint: they're already there as diplomats, businessmen, or somebody else that stays longer than tourists.

Did the Egyptian Cabinet come up with this in response to rising xenophobia, or was it the SCAF in response to their own sensitivity about foreign influence? Or did somebody in the bureaucracy just decide, hey, let's try this?

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