Tourism and Egypt. Reflections on the future of the country through one of its leading industries

On 28 February 2014, the Italian Ministry of Foreign Affairs issued a communication discouraging visits to the ‘Sinai peninsula including the seaside resorts in the area’[1]. Such a recommendation proceeded on the trails traced by the Dutch Ministry of Foreign Affairs the day before[2] and consequently to violent events taking place in the area. Amongst such events it is worth mentioning the terrorist attack on 16 February that caused the death of three south-Korean citizens who were on a bus direct to Taba[3].

Terrorist attacks against tourists, however, should not be considered as uncommon events in the Egyptian history. On 17 November 1997, in Deir al-Bahari (Luxor), took place one of the most violent attacks against tourism in Egypt that caused the death of 62 people, 58 of whom were tourists[4]. The attack was led by the radical group ‘al-Jama’a al Islamiyya’ who, at that time, had been involved in a long fight against the Mubarak’s regime[5]. Interestingly enough, the attack had deep effects on tourism since it took two years before tourism could return to its previous figures. The solar year 1998, in fact, saw a reduction in the number of tourists visiting the archeological sites in the country or embarking on a cruise on the Nile.

After the attack in Deir al-Bahari, Egypt did not experience other relevant cases of violence against tourists until the years 2005-06. During those two years, as a consequence to several popular uprisings against the Mubarak executive, new terrorist attacks killed tens of people in the country. The new attacks took place in Cairo and Sharm el-Sheik and, also this time, the government needed to work both on internal security (which could be better described as repression) and international credibility in order not to discourage tourists from visiting the country. In the very substance, terrorist attacks against tourists had been successful in undermining one of the most important industries of the country.

Tourism, in fact, has a considerable weight in the Egyptian economy. In the period 2008-10 the number of tourists visiting the country increased from 12.8 million to almost 15 million. On a qualitative level, in 2010 (also known as ‘the year of records’) tourism accounted for about 15% of the Egyptian GDP with 12% of the Egyptian work force employed within this sector. With these figures in mind it is easy to understand how the 2013 figures presenting a dramatic decrease in the industry constitute a founded reason for alarm for the Egyptian executive. In 2013, in fact, the number of tourist reduced by 30% (5.5 million tourists less than 2010) with the business producing less than half than three years before[6]. Translating this into concrete data this meant that in 2010 tourism accounted for €9.3 billion whilst in 2013 the same industry produced €4.3 billion hence, this meaning that there were less tourists who spent much less than in the past.

From the previous historical and statistical premises, we intend to introduce a brief reflection on the present situation and the future scenario for Egypt taking tourism and the attacks against it as a guideline. In fact, considering the terrorist attacks against the tourists in perspective, it is possible to notice that they took place in very delicate moments in the political life of the country[7].

On 3 July 2013, general al-Sisi arrested the President of the Republic Mohammed Mursi causing a strong reaction by the supporters of the deposed President. Such a reaction grew more radical and violent consequently to the ban of the Muslim Brothers (the group to which Mr. Mursi belonged) and the contextual return on the scene of the military. The military, in fact, were alleged to have committed several illegal actions: first, they seized power at the expense of a democratically elected President who is also currently under process. Second, they had driven out from the political competition a whole political force representative of over 10 million citizens. Third, the military suspended the 2012 Constitution issuing a new one that is ultimately playing in favor to the military and it is allowing all the (repressive) measures against the Muslim Brothers. In addition to it, it should be considered that general al-Sisi will run in the presidential elections that will be held later this year and he will very likely win them[8]. All these reasons combined together provided the input to the most radical fringes of the movement to abandon the verbal dialectics and resume their previous modus operandi: violent methods to raise tension.

In such a perspective, the increase of tension through terrorist attacks driven in particular against tourists has a two-fold effect: first, these attacks are successful in calling into question the ability by the executive to guarantee the internal security in the country both to its citizens and foreigners. Second, and most important, terrorist attacks involving the death of tourists attract the attention of international media who, both directly and indirectly, let the group that committed such actions obtain large international visibility[9].

In sum, the situation that is configuring in the country seems a return to the past where not even the 2011 revolution have produced tangible changes in the country. As already written in a previous article[10], the new Constitution lacking substantial means to enforce and protect the rule of law and the democratic process will bring the country back to its previous status.. In addition to this, the likely run by general al-Sisi to the next election (and his close to certain victory) will re-establish that principle of order that had characterized the past history of Egypt. If general al-Sisi, both acclaimed and feared, will be able to set an end to the terrorist recreate the apparently safe environment for tourism. A sufficiently intense tourism, in fact, entails an acceptable internal security and stability within the country. Exception made for the military who will definitely profit from stability, nobody will be entirely satisfied from a return to the previous status quo but anybody will be unhappy since he or she will have some possibility to gain from tourism either directly or indirectly.



Master of Arts in International Relations at L.U.I.S.S. “Guido Carli”


[1] Source:

[2] IlSole24Ore, 2014, ‘Niente vacanze nel mar Rosso: la Farnesina sconsiglia viaggi in Egitto’, IlSole24Ore, 28 February 2014

[3] Morsy A., 2014, ‘Tourism targeted, Al-Ahram Weekly, Numero 1185, 20 febbraio 2014

[4] Goldschmidt A. jr., (2008), A Brief History of Egypt., Facts on File, New York; and, Meijer R., (2011), ‘The Egyptian Jama’a Al-Islamiyya. A Social Movement’, Social Movements, Mobilization and Contestation in the Middle East and North Africa., ed. Beinin J. and Vairei F., Stanford University Press, Stanford

[5] The most violent chapter of the confrontation had started at the end of the 1980s when the situation in Egypt had worsened due to a complex economic and social crisis.

[6] Kingsley P., (2014), ‘Tourist desert – Egypt desperate to woo back visitors after years of unrest’, The Guardian, 11 February 2014

[7] In 1997, the attacks followed a period of major confrontation between the executive and the group ‘al-Jama’a al Islamiyya’ who, according to figures contained in The Cambridge History of Egypt’ (1998, 388), killed over 1.200 people in the period 1992-97. In the same line, the terrorist attacks of the years 2005-06 took place when organized groups (e.g. Kefaya!) started to directly contest Mubarak and contextually asked for the actual protection of rights within the country.

[8] Ezzat D., (2014), ‘Sisi-mania, Sisi-phobia’, Al-Ahram Weekly, Numero 1186, 27 February 2014

[9] On this occasion the Egyptian internal politics has reached even South Korea which is very distant from Egypt not only geographically but also in terms of concrete interests.

[10] The article (in Italian language) entitled ”Tre anni dopo piazza Tahrir, una nuova Costituzione e la restaurazione del potere militare in Egitto’ [Tahrir Square, Three Years Later: a New Constitution and the Restoration of the Military Power] can be found in, 24 January 2014

This website uses cookies to improve your experience. We'll assume you're ok with this, but you can opt-out if you wish. Accept Read More