Pyramid guides urge tourists to return to Egypt
Hundreds of Egyptian tour guides gathered on Monday in the shadow of the Sphinx and the Great Pyramids to urge tourists to return to the country following the fall of Hosni Mubarak's regime.
The upheaval of recent weeks and media coverage of days of violent clashes have combined to scare off visitors and stifle Egypt's key tourism industry, threatening thousands of jobs.
Inspired by the success of political protests in bringing down the regime, workers in several public and private sector industries have launched a wave of strikes to demand pay rises.
But the message from tourism workers was simpler.
The guides — whose business has been badly hit by the crisis — gathered at the Giza Plateau site, bearing Egyptian flags and banners in English, French, Russian and German reading: "Egypt loves you."
One by one, the guides mounted a tribune to plead for tourists to return in a variety of languages.
Behind them a handful of Egyptian visitors were at the site, but there were no foreigners to be seen and Cairo's hotels and gift shops stand empty.
"We need to make tourism come back to Egypt. We want to send the message to tourists all over the world that we they are welcome here. They will discover a new country and new people," said 27-year-old Hossam Khairy.
Khairy was one of the tens of thousands of protesters who seized central Cairo's Tahrir Square and occupied it for two weeks as part of the nationwide demonstrations that bought down Mubarak.
But some of those working at the pyramids opposed the revolt, fearing it would harm their trade.
Workers from tourist stables charged the demonstration on horses and a camel during an attack by stone-throwing pro-regime thugs on Feb. 2.
On Monday, however, politics was forgotten, and the guides were simply concerned with persuading their foreign guests to return.
"The return of tourists is in our interest, but also in the interest of the entire country," said 37-year-old Hazem Hashem.
Tourism accounts for 6 percent of Egypt's gross domestic product, and February would normally be the height of the holiday season.
The sector brought in $13 billion in 2010, with a record 15 million people taking their holidays in the Land of the Pharaohs.
Strikes by government employees have erupted throughout the country to demand higher wages and benefits, despite Egypt's newly-formed government vowing to raise public sector salaries and pensions by 15 percent.
By Daphne Benoit
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