Tourism: High Egypt in crisis, bets on mining sector

Aswan Governor, we're seeking alternatives for jobless people

09 December, 11:58

    (ANSAmed) - ASSUAN (EGYPT), DECEMBER 9 - ''Whoever drinks the water of the Nile returns", is a cherished saying many people in Egypt are seeking to believe, especially the hundreds and hundreds of hotel-owners, ship-owners, restauranters, small traders, artisans, boaters and cabbies of the South, often obliged to leave their jobs, after the downing of the Russian Airbus in Sinai made the presence of tourists increasingly scarce.

    From Luxor down to Aswan, on the banks of the Nile - which at this point becomes wider and is dotted by lush, green islands covered in palms and mango trees - the economic situation is dramatic. ''Out of 1 million and 400 thousand inhabitants in the whole province of Aswan - said governor, Mostafa Yousry - 60% is employed in the tourism industry and the remaining 40% in agricolture. Cultivations of sugar cane mainly". The consequences of the 2011 revolution have been devastating here.

    In the golden era, he said, there was not a room to be found in the whole of Aswan.

    ''Now we reach just 25% of our capacity''.

    Out of approximately 300 cruising boats which used to sail the Nile, only about ten are working.

    On board there are mainly British and German tourists as well as a significant number of Chinese.

    The numbers are depressing also at major sites from Luxor to Karnak, from Edfu to Kom Ombo and up to the Great Dam.

    Ticket offices lie in total desolation.

    From the Valley of Kings boasting the tomb of Tutankhamon (rather sparse, but still fascinating) Thutmosi III (excavated in the rock and adorned with frescoes despite its incomplete state) or Merenptah (with its reliefs intact and painted), there are only ''approximately 3 thousand tickets sold. Before the 2011 revolution entries were around 7 thousand a day" said the keepers.

    Things are not any better in Aswan.

    Dozens of shutters are closed, the jetty is deserted, souvenir vendors are so desperate they have become a nuisance.

    That is why explained Yousry, ''since two years ago we have started to diversify, developing the mining sector: granite, iron, phosphate. Our reserves amount to several million cubes (700 for granite, 600 for phosphate, 420 for iron)''.

    Authorities intend to establish new industrial zones '' to create jobs and offer opportunities to these people".

    Together with Koreans, he added ''we are about to build a granite factory which will become the most important one in the Middle East".

    At the moment, however, the economic fortunes of High Egypt remain tied to the security guarantees the central government will be able to offer tourists.

    ''What happens in the Sinai (the latest attacks against a hotel in El Arish or the Egyptian armed forces in other parts of the peninsula) will occur again. We are expecting more", concluded the governor.

    Egypt, and the most precious jewels on its crown - scattered along the Nile valley until Nubia - do not deserve to pay more than they already have.

    Despite the warning of the Italian Ministry of Foreign Affairs regarding the Sinai - excluding Sharm El Sheikh - classical Egypt, the land of the Pharos - as well as the African coast on the Red Sea have been excluded from it. However, "there are no Italians to be seen" say guides, shop-keepers and cabbies. On the contrary, once strolling through the dusty alleys of Luxour and the majestic remains of the temple of Philae dedicated to goddess Isis, or admiring the precious artifacts at the Nubian Museum of Assuan, tensions and worries disappear until they dissolve into the warm air of a sunny December day.

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