Egypt lacks 'pharaoh' to provide for unsettled nation

Tue Sep 3, 2013 10:45am EDT
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By Kevin Liffey

GIZA, Egypt (Reuters) - The pharaohs of Egypt's Fourth Dynasty knew what they were doing. As soon as they ascended the throne, they began building a pyramid that would not only see them through to the afterlife, but also give work and purpose to an unsettled nation.

In a way they still provided for modern Egypt 4,500 years later, their pyramids attracting the tourists who accounted for 10 percent of its national income and one in eight jobs. By contrast, Egypt's rulers of the last 2-1/2 years have failed utterly to provide for a nation that is once again unsettled.

Before 2011 the pyramids of Giza, which stand on a desert plateau overlooking modern Cairo, and the Great Sphinx that guards them below drew thousands of visitors a day, most bringing foreign currency with them.

But on one day last week two armored vehicles stood at the gates and a bus park easily big enough for 100 tourist coaches lay empty. In the burial chamber deep inside the 136-metre (448-foot) Pyramid of Khafre, a Reuters reporter had only the pharaoh's granite sarcophagus for company.

The army's overthrow two months ago of Islamist Mohamed Mursi, Egypt's first freely-elected president, is just the latest in a series of upheavals since the autocrat Hosni Mubarak fell in a popular uprising in January 2011.

Tourists have increasingly stayed away since then, put off by hundreds of thousands or even millions taking to the streets every few months, to say nothing of the killing of hundreds since July when security forces cleared Islamist protest camps.

In Cairo, only 17 percent of hotel beds were occupied in July, according to the hotel research firm STR Global, compared with 53 percent a year earlier and 70 percent in July 2010.

Even in Sharm el-Sheikh, a Red Sea resort largely shielded from the political upheavals in Cairo and other big cities, occupancy tumbled to 49 percent from 79 percent two years ago.   Continued...