Revolutions might inconvenience travelers, but they change nations
If you really want to go somewhere, my advice is: go while the going is good. Egypt had been on my to-visit list for a long time before I grabbed the opportunity to visit exactly two years ago. I left the U.S. on January 29, 2009, and arrived in Cairo the following day. Now, I am glued to CNN, watching history unfold as Egyptians unleash a tidal wave of discontent with their government.
In 10 jam-packed days with Society of American Travel Writers colleagues just two years ago, I spent time in Alexandria, Cairo and on the Nile. Fabulous sites and sights, but an undercurrent that all was not right in overcrowded cities and with so many people struggling economically. The undercurrent has now boiled over, and Cairo, Alexandria, Suez and other cities are filled with protesters pressing for the removal of President Hosni Mubarak, who has been in power for some 30 years. His rule has been marred by unsustainable population growth,cronyism, pollution, overcrowded cities, high unemployment, a region where religious extremists have political power and human rights abuses — and now, a crackdown on communication with the Internet all but shut down. Protesters protested, opportunistic looters looted and the government imposed a curfew and unleashed the army. It has been a toxic political mix that is affecting not only Egyptians over the long haul, but also visitors right now and will impact tourism for some time to come.
I favor the right of citizens to break the shackles of dictatorships everywhere and to enjoy personal freedoms. I hope that Egypt can find a quick resolution to present situation and an end to violence. I hope that Egyptians can experience and the the world can witness the installation of a non-dictatorial, non-extremist government. Beleaguered and perhaps soon former President Hosni Mubarak has imposed a curfew, cut off Internet and cell phone service. The government has been trying to control what he surely views as an insurrection, but that its moves have just served to further enrage protesters and outrage the world. Supporters of Egypt’s protesters have gathered in Washington, Chicago, New York and elsewhere. Still, this blog is not about geopolitics, but about travel. But just as Egypt’s antiquities have survived power shifts over the millennia, I hope that when things settle down again, visitors will once more be welcome and feel comfortable seeing the country’ s wonders.
The Egypt Ministry of Tourism, if it is functioning right now, is laying low about visits to the country, 11 percent of whose revenues come from tourism, which is of course in jeopardy right now. According to new reports, tourists in Cairo are being warned not to leave their hotels and especially warned not to attend any political gatherings or demonstrations. EgyptAir and some other airlines (and I don’t know which) have reported suspended Cairo flights, as others are trying to readjust their schedules to accommodate a government-imposed curfew. The international airport is crowded with travelers trying to get out of the country. Cruise ships are aoviding the popular port of Alexandria and shifting their itineraries. For travelers, asll this, so far, is an inconvenience. For Egyptians, it is no less than a revolution — not the first in its long history. Now, I’m going back to CNN.
Addendum: According to a January 30 report in The Telegraph (also reported elsewhere, “group of nine men broke into the Egyptian Museum, which is on the edge of Tahrir Square, the epicentre of protests, searching for gold. They broke into ten cases to take figurines. When they discovered that the figures did not contain gold, they dropped them and the items broke. They then seized two skulls of the 2,000-year-old mummies and fled.
“Dr Zahi Hawass, the director of the museum, said: ‘Demonstrators in collaboration with security forces stopped the thieves and returned the relics to the museum – but they were already damaged. Only their heads were intact. Egyptologists described the smashing of the irreplaceable artefacts [sic] as “devastating”.
Ironically, a new museum has under construction and scheduled to open in 2013 at Giza. If it were already open, it and its irreplaceable teasures would much less accessisble to mob action than the present museum near Tahrir Square.