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Wednesday, 30 January 2013

Will the Revolution in Egypt ever end?


When I arrived in Egypt in 2007 President Hosni Mubarak was in power and had been for a VERY long time.

Many Egyptians didn't have work; health care and education were not good, if they existed at all, for a large proportion of the population; wages were exceptionally low for those with jobs (unless they were in high level jobs - which needed a good education - where salaries could be quite excessive); freedom of speech was discouraged and could land you in a lot of trouble; freedom of movement around the country was curtailed (it was almost impossible for an Egyptian to get into a tourist area unless he had a job, family or business there or was rich enough to afford to actually stay in one of the tourist hotels). The wealthy and well-pain would tell you that Egypt was a 'free country' but that was not the reality for the majority of the population.

On the other hand petrol and diesel were REALLY cheap (in 2007 I paid LE1.25 per litre for petrol - at the time around £0.13 Sterling) as were bread, food and local transport.

There was an amazingly large gap between rich and poor with the rich getting richer and the poor not moving at all.

People wanted change. They wanted an end to government corruption and a better life for themselves and their children. In short, they wanted a better share of the cake, better health care, better education, better job prospects. They also wanted to live their lives the way THEY want to live and not the way the government decided they should live. They wanted the freedom to go wherever they wanted in THEIR OWN country when they wanted. They also viewed the corruption of the past within the government as a form of stealing from the masses and they wanted this money returned to the general population.

Who can blame them?

So, against all the odds and risking imprisonment or worse for actually airing their views, which would be seen as anti-Mubarak and carry heavy penalties, they actually got themselves organised to form a demonstration in Tahrir Square.

They used social networking and mobile phones to organise themselves and finally they all got together in key areas like Tahrir Square in Cairo and the main streets of Alexandria. It is noteworthy at this time that Mubarak's government managed to cut off all external communications. The internet in Egypt was down for several days (by order of the government) and mobile phones could only make strictly local (i.e. within the same town) calls. No international calls could be made or received neither could any calls between the cities. SMS was also restricted to local recipients. If your friend travelled to another city you could no longer call him/her!!!

However, the rest is history now. Mubarak was toppled.

Then followed a strange sort of hiatus. The military took control but promised free and fair elections while the wheels of democracy were supposedly built and honed ready for the New Egypt to emerge. The mood was expectant.

This was a strange time. No-one liked the ruling military council but could not see any other way. However, every time they made any decision at all there would be new demonstrations in the streets and squares of the major cities. Fortunately, the tourist areas remained quiet.

Sadly, however, the pictures on the international news channels discouraged potential tourists from coming to Egypt - they simply found other places to go. During the revolution itself many countries actually evacuated all their nationals and halted all flights to Egypt until some form of 'normality' was restored.

This was exceptionally painful for the very large number of Egyptians working in tourism. Many of the hotels and tourist centres closed and the staff in other hotels were being laid off without pay.

So, the poor just got even poorer.

Nonetheless, people were optimistic. Elections were planned and they were sure that once these elections were over the tourists would come flooding back and they would see a new era dawning.

It became obvious quite early on to the educated (who took advantage of the fact) and to outsiders that many Egyptians simply did not understand the democratic election process. In the early elections for the Lower House a large proportion of the population turned out to vote. The campaign had, from a foreign point of view, been quite interesting with all the candidates adopting a unique symbol - an aeroplane, an iron, a cup of coffee, a palm tree, a jeep, a food mixer, etc. The reason was, on reflection, quite obvious. With such high levels of illiteracy how could people know whose name to check on the ballot paper without a symbol to help them.

The wealthy and the organised (like the Salafis or Muslim Brotherhood) encouraged everyone to vote but did not seem to interfere too much in persuading them who to vote for.

Then came the elections for the Upper House. Again there was a high turn out but with slightly more pressure from the wealthy and the organised about who to vote for.

It came as no surprise when the Muslim Brotherhood gained a large proportion of the seats in both houses but it did worry some as there was much talk about the imposition of Sharia Law in Egypt.

Tourists DID NOT come like before. The people were very disappointed. Some hotels managed to re-open but by no means all. The increasing tourism of previous years meant that many hotels were under construction - this work stopped now. There were no more jobs and people were no better off than before - in fact many people found themselves worse off.

But Egyptians are nothing if not optimistic. They would often say to anyone who asked that Sharia Law cannot happen here because the people won't let it. And they prayed for tourism to increase at least to former levels. They would then tell you that the coming year would be a good one and people will always come back to Egypt.

Unfortunately it seems they were wrong. Tourism in the first quarter of 2012 was only 25% of the tourism in the same period of 2011. We must remember here that the revolution effectively cancelled ALL tourism for 6 weeks of the first quarter of 2011 and that overall tourism in 2011 was down by 32% on 2010 levels. You don't need to be a member of MENSA to realise that business in 2012 was VERY poor indeed. In fact, local Egyptian newspapers recently described the tourism industry here as being on the verge of collapse.

Many people did not get their jobs back, as they had hoped, and hotels did not re-open en masse.

Rather, more pain and suffering was inflicted on the people of Egypt. Since the presidential elections there is a fuel shortage. The result of this where I am living is that you can only buy petrol or diesel twice a week and the price has rocketed. There have been reports of retailers charging more than LE4 per litre against the LE1.25 of before. The bottles of butane gas used for cooking were previously LE7 to exchange. However, with the present shortage you can only find butane once a week and can be charged up to LE100 for the same exchange. There is a lack of fuel for the local power station which means that there are regular blackouts in the town.

Increased fuel costs can only mean one thing. The cost of EVERYTHING goes up. So everything is more expensive now but incomes have gone down. It's a case of the poor now being much poorer than before which is not what they bought into during the revolution.

But they hang on in there for the day when the tourists will come back.

Personally I don't see this happening yet because the revolution doesn't really seem to be over.

We still have large crowds in Tahrir Square, on the streets of Alexandria and the key cities of Ismalia, Port Said and Suez mounting protests at anything and everything that they believe restricts their freedoms or impoverishes them further. Only a few days ago there was a major riot which resulted in President Morsi declaring a State of Emergency in Ismalia, Port Said and Suez following several deaths related to the demonstrations there.

The problem here is that the violent clashes and deaths in these far-flung but important cities are NEWSWORTHY. This is what people around the world see on their TV screens or social media and hear on their radios. These are the images that stick in their minds. This is what they think about when they are sitting comfortably in their lounge at home or in the travel agent's shop trying to book their holiday. With all this in on your mind would you really book a holiday to Egypt?

The answer is obviously a resounding "NO" because people are simply NOT coming here.

Those who have already been during more peaceful times and understand the lie of the land are contacting their friends living here and actually asking us if it's safe in the local area. I live in a touristic area and IT IS SAFE HERE - PLEASE DO COME. Nothing bad will happen to you here.

On the other hand I think it is clear to the whole international community that the revolution in Egypt is far from over yet.

I support the Egyptian people in their dreams for themselves and their families. They deserve to experience real personal freedoms with good education and healthcare for all, affordable food and housing and many of the other enviable benefits they perceive that those outside Egypt enjoy.

But if they are relying on tourism to boost the jobs available and their household incomes then they really need to bring the revolution to a close so that the pictures on the TV screens around the world are of a peaceful and stable Egypt. Then the tourists WILL come back.

After all, EGYPT HAS IT ALL - culture, sunshine, the Red Sea, a beautiful desert. It is an ideal place to relax and enjoy some time away from the rat-race faced by many in other countries.

So, when will this happen? Who can say? I certainly can't but I do hope it will be VERY SOON.

     ________________________________________________________________________

For those interested in statistics and more technical information please continue reading.

TOURISM STATISTICS

Year
Number of Tourists
Income from Tourism
Notes
2008
12.8million
$11billion

2009
11.9million
$10.5billion

2010
14million
$11.5billion

2011
10million
$9billion
Revolution started in January and "ended" in February

NOTES

Official reports and statistics show tourism fell by 32% in 2011 following the revolution. However, businesses working within tourism reported a much larger decline. They suggest that official figures were propped up by counting all the Libyans, Sudanese and Palestinians who fled to Egypt during crises in their own countries and that they are not really part of the normal tourism.

This problem arises because when calculating the official figures the authority responsible for collecting the information (the Central Authority for Public Mobilization and Statistics) relies on data from airports and border controls. This means that ANY non Egyptian who enters the country with a visa (which can usually be purchased at the point of entry) is considered a tourist.

Tourists from Europe and Russian have always been the mainstay of the industry in Egypt and 2011 saw these figures fall quite dramatically. For example, tourists from Europe accounted for 11.1million of the 14million visitors inn 2010. This figure dropped to 7.2million in 2011, down by 35%.

Calculations of tourist spending shows that the average dropped from $85 per tourist per day in 2010 to just $72 per tourist per day in 2011. Coupled with the decrease in the number of tourists this had a significant financial impact on the industry.

Many directly involved in the industry at high levels claim that the situation would have been very much worse were it not for the fact that during 2011 prices were slashed quite dramatically throughout the country.

Egypt earns most of its foreign currency from tourism with contributions via remittances from Egyptians living abroad and revenues from the Suez Canal. The steep decline in tourism returns in 2011 saw the foreign currency reserves halved to just $18billion by the end of the year.

Even the Tourism Minister, Mounir Fakhry Abdel Nour, is concerned about the ongoing situation and is quoted as saying, "The impact of the revolution has been dramatic on tourist inflow and on the level of prices".

Figures for 2012 are not yet available. Official figures for the 1st quarter showed tourism down 25% on 2011. Hoteliers throughout the Red Sea are reporting average occupancy rates for 2012 as between 45% and 50% with some hotels having closed completely. Other official surveys have highlighted that during 2012 the average daily spend for those tourists who did come was only $50 per day.

ELECTION PROCESS IN EGYPT

Extracts courtesy of Wikipedia:

THE LOWER HOUSE - People's Assembly
Turnout was between 62% and 65%
The election was conducted under a parallel voting system. Two-thirds of seats were elected by party-list proportional representation. The remaining one-third were elected under a form of bloc voting in two-seat constituencies.
The election to the People's Assembly took place on the following dates:[17]
·                    first stage: 28–29 November, run-off on 5–6 December;
·                    second stage: 14–15 December, run-off on 21–22 December;
·                    third stage: 3–4 January, run-off on 10–11 January.
There are a total 508 seats in the Lower house: 498 seats are elected, and 10 seats appointed, in this case, by the Military Council, and usually by the President.
Under the parallel voting system used, out of 498 total seats, two-thirds, meaning 332, were elected by means of party list proportional representation. For these seats the public voted for parties or coalition-lists and the result was determined by the largest remainder method with a 0.5 percent threshold, in 46 districts.
The remaining 166 seats were elected by bloc voting in two-seat constituencies, with the possibility of a run off. In the election voters each cast two votes, which could not be for the same individual. 

[Author's note: Rules were introduced to ensure that farmers and labourers were included in the process and achieved seats in the People's Assembly.  Organised political parties had to field at least 1 woman candidate.]



THE UPPER HOUSE - Shura Council
Turnout was around 12.2% with many citizens boycotting the election citing it as a waste of time.
At the time of the election the Shura Council had 270 seats, of which 90 were appointed and 180 elected. Of the 180 elected seats, 60 were elected by majority voting in single-member constituencies, and 120 by proportional representation based on the total number of votes cast in the constituencies. Voting was compulsory for men, with a potential £20 fine for non-voters.
Party lists had to include at least one woman candidate, and had to pass a 0.5% electoral threshold to win a proportional representation seat. For the constituency seats, candidates were required to win over 50% of the vote and for there to be either a farmer or worker elected from their constituency in order to be elected in the first round. Run-offs would be when no candidate won over 50% of the vote in a constituency, and in cases where two candidates achieved over 50%, but neither of them were workers or farmers, the candidate with the highest number of votes would be declared elected, and a run-off held between the highest ranking workers and farmers.


 PRESIDENTIAL ELECTION
Turnout around 43%.

The presidential election was a two-tier process. After the first round if no candidate had achieved more than 50% of the vote there would be a run-off between the two leading candidates.
  
The first round took place on 23 and 24 May 2012. There was no clear winner from the first round so there would have to be a run-off between the leading candidates; Mohamed Mursi (Muslim Brotherhood) and Ahmed Shafiq (former Senior Commander in the Air Force and interim Prime Minister from 31 January 2011 to 3 March 2011 appointed by Mubarak in response to the uprising).

The final result was very close with 51.7% recorded for Mohamed Mursi and 48.3% for Ahmed Shafiq. To this day there are those who still believe the election was somehow 'rigged'.

A very large proportion of the population refrained from voting because they did not believe either candidate was suitable to be their President.

Wednesday, 23 January 2013

OK - how many of you actually use a map before you travel?

I only ask because.....

I am working at a dive centre in the south of Egypt. Recently we received a very nice email from someone advising us that he and his family would be staying in a nearby hotel for their holiday and explaining that they want to do some diving. This person gave me an idea of the certification levels and experience of the divers and stated that there would be some children with the group who would want to go on the boat with them. He then asked a series of questions. At first the questions seemed quite simple:

Can you collect us from our hotel?
Answer - Yes, it's only 5 minutes away.

Do you offer boat diving?
Answer - yes we do. Our boat is moored in a Marina about 30 minutes by road from the dive centre.

Can children come on the boat with us?
Answer - Of course, no problem.

And so on. These are quite normal questions that a lot of people ask.

Then we hit a problem.

We had special requests for sites they would like to visit. This is very common and the examples I have used here were not all from this one source but are common queries from over the last months. It starts with, "can we visit" or, "which day do you go to" followed by a name of a well-known dive site. In the last year these have included:

Thistlegorm
Dunraven
Brothers Islands
Samaday (Dolphin House)
Daedalus

And more.

So here are a few facts that convince me the people who ask did not look at a map first. I believe they have researched diving in the Red Sea with searches such as "dive red sea" and come up with the prime candidates. They have then booked the holiday without making sure they are staying at least somewhere near their desired dive site. So, here is some information that can be found quite quickly on the internet or by using a map/Google Earth.  First a map of Egypt:




If you look closely you will see that El Quseir (also spelt Qusayr or Kosseir) can be found on the map between the 'e' and 'd' of the word 'Red' in the 'Red Sea'.

Now here's a map of the key dive sites:


And this is what I found out:

The distance from the Mediterranean Sea to the border between Egypt and Sudan is approximately 1024kms at the longest point.

The distance from the Mediterranean Sea to El Quseir is approximately 650kms which means the distance to our dive centre is approximately 670kms and to the port where our boat is moored it is approximately 710kms.

The Thistlegorm, Dunraven and Brothers Islands all lie to the north of us. The Thistlegorm is approximately 220kms away, the Dunraven 210kms away in the Ras Mohamed National Park near Sharm El Sheikh and the Brothers Islands approximately 60kms. To get to any of these sites using our boat you have to add 40kms from the port to the dive centre. 

Our day boat is good by Egyptian standards and has a cruising speed of approximately 9knots or around 17kph. Therefore, assuming we run the engine for long stretches of time at maximum cruising speed the time needed to reach these sites would be 15 hours; 14½ hours; and 6 hours respectively. That, of course, is ONLY to GET THERE. There is the same journey back to base afterwards. It therefore becomes obvious that we cannot do these trips with a day boat.

Daedalus and Samaday are both to the south of us so I can take the distance directly from the marina instead of the dive centre. Daedalus is around 140kms or 8 hours away while Samaday is about 68kms or 4 hours and is by far the nearest. But it's still 8 hours of boat travel to get there and back.  Add in the road transfers, setting up diving equipment, 2 dives and a surface interval with lunch and even for here you have a 14 hour day!!!!!!!!!

So it's better, when you come to the Red Sea to dive to either:

Decide on the sites you wish to visit first THEN find accommodation nearby

OR

Decide on your destination then check out the local dive sites (e.g. type in 'dive quseir').

It saves a lot of hassle and frustration later.

BUT IT IS NOT ONLY DIVERS WHO NEED TO CHECK A MAP.

When I was working as a Tour Leader/Rep I would collect my guests from the airport in Hurghada (also in the Red Sea) during a Friday evening. I take them to the hotel, get them checked in and tell them where to get dinner and breakfast.

The next morning I would hold my welcome meeting. I would start out by introducing myself (again - many guests would be almost comatose with such a long day travelling when they arrived) and welcoming them to Hurghada - one of the major cities in Egypt, a country that straddles two continents with Sinai being in Asia and the rest of the country in Africa. I would show them this on a map.

At this point there would usually be someone who would complain. They would complain that they did not know when they booked their holiday that they would be arriving in a 3rd world continent. They did not know that Hurghada was in Egypt and even if they did they did not know that Egypt is in Africa.

Why didn't they know this?

Because no-one told them (and I suspect they never asked while they booked the holiday).

Personally, I just don't understand how anyone can set off from home for a 4 hour flight and not even know which country they are going to land in. I had the impression they expected to end up  at Brighton in the sun in some long lost part of the UK.

Still, perhaps it's a lesson learned and they WILL use a map next time.

By the way, I have been in Egypt for 5½ years now and it really is very civilized.