Published on January 26th, 2014 | by Pete Miers
What’s happening in Egypt and what it means for travellers
Read time: a bit over 3 minutes
I’m not going to attempt to summarise the seven millennia of Egyptian history up to the present day, but to bring you up to speed, we should start with the Arab Spring.
President Hosni Mubarak had been in power for 30 years when the Arab Spring came to Egypt in February 2011, and its fervent atmosphere of change gave the Egyptian people voice to express their desire to oust a government that had become complacent and moribund. Unemployment was high and many young Egyptians felt the government was not doing enough to give them an opportunity to pursue the lifestyle they aspired to. Mubarak’s regime was rooted in military power and those who protested against it wanted more democracy, more freedom and change. Opposition to the regime united Egyptians from a variety different backgrounds into one roughly common political theme.
As the protest movement took root and grew more powerful over the course of a few weeks, the government became increasingly nervous as crowds grew to massive proportions. The epicentre of the demonstrations were in Tahrir Square in downtown Cairo, right next to the Egyptian Museum. A change was inevitable then, when confrontation between thousands of protesters and military authorities became violent. And for several days the eyes of the world were on Cairo as the struggle played out. Mubarak first dissolved his government then announced that he would not seek another term in elections (scheduled for later in the year) in an attempt to assuage dissent. But as calls for his removal increased and key members of the government began to defect to the opposition, Mubarak resigned from office and there were scenes of jubilation across Cairo and the country as protesters claimed victory in their ‘revolution’.
An interim military junta stepped in and announced that elections would be held in due course, which were eventually scheduled for the end of June 2012. Those who has participated in the protests had great hopes for the future but their hopes were dashed as the numerous opposition candidates split the protest vote. Cruelly, the Egyptian electoral system meant that the two most popular candidates would face off in an ultimate vote that, once the various opposition candidates were eliminated, came down to a vote for Mohamed Morsi (of the Muslim Brotherhood) and a candidate of the remnant of the Mubarak regime. The Muslim Brotherhood were organised and garnered enough votes to prevail, leaving the majority – secular, anti-government voters – to ponder how their revolution came to be hijacked by the democratic process.
President Morsi pledged to govern for all Egyptians, not just the Muslim Brotherhood supporters. But from early on it appeared this would not be the case. While the Brotherhood is relatively moderate in terms of Islamic doctrine, the majority of Egyptians looked on in despair as Morsi’s government made one unpopular decision after another and appeared to be taking Egypt down an uncertain path. Protests commenced anew to mark the first anniversary of his election and after several days of unrest, in early July 2013 the military took the opportunity to seize power, and Morsi found himself overthrown to more scenes of jubilation from secular Egyptians.
The Muslim Brotherhood responded with protests of their own to demand the reinstatement of Morsi and his government which were brutally put down by the military authorities. The world watched on, concerned for the country’s democratic future as Egyptian society divided along sectarian, political, social and cultural lines. The one thing Egyptians have in common is that they yearn for peace and stability to return to the country.
Naturally, the unrest and instability has had a profound effect on tourism to the country. Visitor numbers came to a virtual standstill after the violence of February 2011 and Geckos cancelled all tours for two months at that time. When tours resumed, travellers returned and stated that the Egyptian people were extremely welcoming, friendly and happy to see them. Tourism is crucial to the Egyptian economy as the livelihood of 15% of Egyptians is tied closely to the tourism industry. Traveller numbers were down, as people took a long time to regain confidence in Egypt as a safe destination, and the events since July this year have seen another round of cancellations. While Egypt continues to settle down and to remain safe for travellers it might be some time before they return in big numbers.