In many ways, Egypt typifi es the contrasts found in the Middle East. It is a meeting place of East and West; it is mysterious and yet highly accessible. Cairo is the hub of the air routes between Europe, Asia and Africa, while the Suez Canal is one of the world’s most important shipping routes. Egypt is the most populous of the Arab countries and a cultural centre for the Arabic-speaking world. Its people are the inheritors of an ancient civilisation that fl ourished many centuries before the rise of Islam, and in many respects, the way of life of the fellahin (peasant farmers) along the Nile has changed little since the time of the Pharaohs. The Nile is also a reminder that Egypt has strong connections with sub-Saharan Africa to the south. The bulk of Egypt’s territory is desert, but we should make a distinction between the dune-covered expanses of the Western Desert extending into Libya, and the rugged scenery of the Eastern Desert and Sinai Peninsula. In between, lies the narrow green ribbon of cultivated land along the Nile, widening in the north as the Nile Delta. Just as in ancient times, Egypt is ‘ the gift of the Nile ’ , highly dependent on the river’s vagaries. Although it is the most highly industrialised of the Arab countries, Egypt is not self-suffi cient in petroleum and its economy cannot provide enough jobs for a population exceeding 70 million. In this context, the contribution made by tourism is crucial as it fi lters down to the lowest levels of society and employs 12 per cent of the workforce. The government recognises this and has had a long involvement in tourism. The fi rst formal tourist authority was established in 1935, and the present Ministry of Tourism dates from 1967. In addition, the Supreme Council for Tourism, chaired by the Prime Minister, acts to co-ordinate public sector actions in tourism. The aim of the Ministry is to upgrade tourism infrastructure, improve the image of Egypt and diversify to include new products such as golf tourism. Travellers from the West have visited the Pyramids at least since Roman times, although modern tourism did not begin until the late nineteenth century. To a large extent, this was due to the British travel company, Thomas Cook, who inaugurated steamship services on the Nile, luxury river cruises and the development of Luxor as a winter resort. Since the 1960s, tourists from other Arab countries, visiting primarily for recreational rather than cultural reasons, have formed a growing share of the Egyptian market. Arab visitors tend to stay during the summer months, when the Mediterranean coast around Alexandria is cooler in comparison with the stifl ing heat of the Arabian Peninsula. Most Western sightseers arrive during the winter season, which is pleasantly warm and much drier than other Mediterranean destinations. Egypt is the dominant destination for international tourists in the Middle East. In the 1950s, there were fewer visitors but they stayed for an average of one month, and even in the 1980s, the main reason for visiting was to view the cultural sites. However, recreational tourism has become increasingly important and international arrivals rose steadily in the 1990s, despite the setbacks of terrorist attacks and the Gulf War, and exceeded 10 million by the middle of the fi rst decade of the twentyfi rst century, comprising both Western and Arab markets. Although there are few charter services, most tourists arrive by air in Cairo. Domestic tourism is also signifi cant, and this includes social tourism as well as travel by a relatively affl uent middle class. Most of Egypt’s 5000 hotel rooms are found in the capital or, to a lesser extent, in Alexandria and Luxor but there is also signifi cant growth in Sinai. The government encourages investment in the accommodation stock by both Egyptian and foreign companies, and tourism is given priority at the highest levels of government. The Tourism Development Authority was set up to identify potential areas for growth. Egypt is therefore attempting to widen its resource base by encouraging conferences and special interest tourism. The objective is to tempt tourists away from the Nile Valley, where the tourism industry is competing with other economic sectors for scarce water, power and land resources. This is problematic as Ancient .
Most Western tourists stay fi rmly on the cultural circuit, the highlights of which are:
● The Pyramids of Giza just outside Cairo, which are the only survivors of the ‘ seven wonders ’ of the ancient world;
● The temples and other antiquities near Luxor, which is the main centre for touring Upper Egypt, including the world famous Valley of the Kings and
● The temple at Abu Simbel near Aswan, which UNESCO campaigns saved from inundation by the Aswan High Dam project. Although the very dry climate of the Nile Valley has ensured the survival of artefacts for over 4000 years, safeguarding the monuments from pollution for future generations is a matter of concern. Tourist pressure on the Pyramids has led the government to implement drastic conservation measures, including attempts to curb the activities of unauthorised guides and entrepreneurs. A popular way of visiting the sites in Upper Egypt is by a river cruise on the Nile, as an alternative to road transport or domestic air services from Cairo. In fact, Nile cruises have long been Egypt’s best-known tourism product. The emphasis on the relics of the Pharaohs has obscured the fact that Egypt has a more recent heritage and many other attractions. This is particularly true of Cairo, although the congestion in this city of over 15 million people can be a traumatic experience. In addition to early Islamic buildings such as the Citadel of Saladin, there are Coptic churches, a reminder that this early form of Christianity was fl ourishing in Egypt centuries before Islam. But for most tourists, the main attraction is shopping in the bazaars for an assortment of souvenirs. Other tourist resources include:
● The Fayy û m oasis, 100 kilometres to the west of the Nile Valley is culturally interesting and a good deal less hectic than Cairo. A number of hotels have been built in this area.
● Sailing in a traditional felucca on the Nile offers a more authentic experience of rural Egypt than a luxury cruise in a ‘ fl oating hotel ’ .
● Trekking in the Sinai Desert, including a visit to St. Catherine’s Monastery with its biblical associations. The greatest potential for attracting a wider market lies in the development of Egypt’s coastal resorts where a year-round season is possible, and there are good facilities for water sports.
● The Mediterranean coast, west of Alexandria, has long attracted well-off domestic tourists, with beach resorts such as Mersah Matruh. This area also appeals to military history buffs as the theatre for the Western Desert campaign, culminating in the battle of El Alamein, in the Second World War. Alexandria is a cosmopolitan seaport with Greek and French cultural infl uences, but much of its former elegance faded after the 1952 revolution, which overthrew the monarchy and brought Nasser to power. Almost nothing remains of the ancient city of Roman times, although there are exciting proposals for the world’s fi rst ‘ marine archaeological park ’in the harbour, centring on the long-lost palace of Cleopatra.
● The Red Sea coast, promoted by the Ministry of Tourism as the ‘ Red Sea Riviera ’ , has clear water and coral reefs that are a major attraction for divers. Tourism on a small scale took place during the Israeli occupation of the Sinai Peninsula between 1967 and 1982, but the impetus for growth came when the Egyptian government provided generous loans for hotel development. The resorts of Hurghada, Nuweiba and Sharm al Sheikh are now established holiday destinations for Western tourists, and include luxury hotels with conference facilities among their amenities.
Within an area not much larger than that of New Jersey, two nations –Israel and the Palestine National Autonomous Region (NAR) –have so far failed to fi nd a formula for peaceful co-existence. With a population of little more than seven million, Israel has a signifi cance out of all proportion to its size . The country is poor in natural resources, but has the asset of a workforce that is enterprising and highly skilled in the latest technology. Few other countries can offer such a great variety of scenery and climate, including the snows of Mount Hermon in the north, the sub-tropical fertility of Galilee, and the heat and aridity of the Dead Sea, which lies more than 400 metres below sea level. People’s perceptions of Israel are largely coloured by their political or religious background, for example:
● To Jews, a nation dispersed in exile since Roman times, Israel is their homeland. Jewish religious observance plays an important role in this otherwise secular state.
● To Christians, the world over Israel is largely synonymous with the Holy Land, containing most of the places associated with the Bible. Christian Arabs historically formed a signifi cant minority, which is decreasing, in both Israel and the Palestinian territories.
● To Muslims, a number of these sites are also of great religious signifi cance. Many regard Israel as an intruder and are sympathetic to the cause of the Palestinian Arabs. Moreover, Muslim Arabs form a substantial minority in Israel itself.
Since the founding of Israel in 1948, the Jewish state has been under siege from its Arab neighbours. Internal security is also threatened by the Palestinians in the occupied territories of the Gaza Strip and the West Bank (Cisjordan), which Israel acquired after the ‘ Six Day War ’in 1967. The Oslo agreement in 1994 laid the foundations of a Palestinian state by giving autonomy to Gaza and most of the West Bank. However, the Palestinian Intifada (uprising) since 2001 has been a major setback to the peace process and tourism development, and the situation deteriorated further when the hard-line Hamas party gained power in Gaza. The Palestinian Authority was unable to restrain terrorist activity, while the Israeli government, faced with the problem of absorbing large numbers of immigrants from the former USSR, had permitted the growth of Jewish settlements in the occupied territories. In response to the threat from Palestinian shaheeds (suicide bombers), Israel has implemented a security barrier around the West Bank. This, together with the existing military checkpoints, has, in effect, fragmented the territory of the Palestine NAR and disrupted the tourism-based economy of Bethlehem and other Palestinian communities. Security is a major consideration for travel in Israel itself, and El Al, the national carrier, routinely carried armed air marshals on its fl ights long before 9/11 made it a global issue.