Opinion

The Not So Great Pyramid of Giza

The Not So Great Pyramid of Giza

Egypt has recently been embroiled in political turmoil that has threatened Egypt’s stability both economically and politically. Last weekend, feeling the need to visit several tourist sites around Cairo and see what has changed in the past two years, I decided to visit the Pyramids for the first time since the January 25 2011 Revolution.

What I saw was shocking, depressing, disappointing, and very worrying. However, for the sake of optimism, I will start with the positive aspects of my trip. Click here to skip through to my eye-opening experience at the Pyramids.

Mena House Oberoi

[Update: As of January 1st, 2013 The Oberoi Group – which had been managing Mena House since 1972 – has announced that they are no longer managing Mena House]

Any Egyptian knows that before going to the Pyramids, one has to stop by the historic Mena House Oberoi. Mena House hosted Australian troops during both World War I and World War II, the first peace settlement talks between Egypt and Israel in 1977 (which led to the Camp David Agreement), and a host of historic figures such as Winston Churchill, Richard Nixon and Jimmy Carter, Charlie Chaplain, Cecil B. DeMille and many more.

Cairo hospital 1915 Mena House Hotel, 2 Australian General Stationary Hospital (2 AGH)

The hotel has managed to retain its charm, and its interior design makes you feel like you have traveled back in time. Having a nice (albeit expensive) lunch or just coffee with the Pyramids in the background is a priceless experience.

The view from the entrance of Mena House
The view from the entrance of Mena House
View from inside the 'Carter Suite' which hosted Jimmy Carter. Many of Mena House's rooms feature similar views.
View from inside the ‘Carter Suite’ which hosted Jimmy Carter. Many of Mena House’s rooms feature similar views.
The decoration inside was spectacular.
The decoration inside was spectacular.
One of the wedding venues that was being set up at the time.
One of the wedding venues that was being set up at the time.
Feeling artistic. The view from one of Mena House's restaurants.
Feeling artistic. The view from one of Mena House’s restaurants.

Unfortunately we were running short on time and so I could not get many more photographs from within, but if you need more convincing to visit Mena House if you’re ever in Egypt, then you should definitely check out their hotel’s website and Google images.

A photo from Google Images. Who wouldn’t want to go for a swim in the shadow of the pyramids?

Words cannot describe how much I would recommend spending at least one or two nights (if not then simply a day) at Mena House Oberoi. It is a trip back in time that will also provide you with the luxury and comfort of modern hotels.

The Pyramids

Unfortunately, Mena House was the best part of my day-trip. I was completely unprepared for what I was about to experience next and almost wish I had simply gone home after Mena House, thus retaining a wondrous image of the Pyramids. Right outside the gates which lead to the entrance to the Pyramids a dozen of men (mainly in their early twenties) attempted to force our micro-bus to park. They stood in front of the micro-bus, banged on it, jumped on top of it, and in some cases shouted. Why? Well, they are trying to tell you that you are not allowed to visit the Pyramids with a vehicle, and instead must use one of their horse-drawn carriages (or camels). However, this is a complete lie and scam (unfortunately I witnessed a few tourists who fell for it).

What were security officers doing about this? What security officers? There is a very limited presence of security, and in most cases they do not intervene.

This is the security at the entrance of the Pyramids. None of them are keen to chase away the harassing merchants  or youth.
This is the security at the entrance of the Pyramids. None of them are keen to chase away the harassing merchants or youth.

I brushed off the incident – which would probably scare any tourist – and assumed that inside the Pyramids’ complex the situation would be different. I was wrong.

Merchants waiting for tourists to step into the complex. More harassment awaits!
Merchants waiting for tourists to step into the complex. More harassment awaits!

Thankfully, a security guard requested that he accompany us – a luxury that many tourists are likely to miss out on – thus keeping us safe from the constant nagging of merchants wishing to sell us little souvenirs or offering a ride on their camel.

Finally inside the complex.
Finally inside the complex.

The security guard who accompanied us told us that everything changed after the revolution: the police officers no longer had any authority due to the lack of respect from the Egyptian people. The security vacuum, he told us, meant that the presence of merchants (and especially scammers and thugs) multiplied, and that many rules (such as no camels or horses allowed around the vicinity of the Pyramids) were no longer abided by: they had no control over them due to a lack of personnel and facilities.

Even the police officers broke the rules and rode their 'security' camels within the vicinity of the Pyramids.
Even the police officers broke the rules and rode their ‘security’ camels within the vicinity of the Pyramids.

To clarify once again: the huge presence of merchants means that tourists are unable to actually enjoy their time at the Pyramids, and are instead forced to say “No thank you” every few minutes while being harassed by one of them. It also means a huge presence of horses and camels. They whiz right in front of you, causing a huge safety concern – you could get trampled accidently quite easily. Moreover, the stench of piss and shit was horrendous throughout the whole complex: camels were pissing everywhere, and shit covered the area surrounding the Great Pyramid – you had to watch every single step in order to avoid it.

Normally I wouldn't take photos of this, but I wanted you to see that  I am not joking. Take this picture and multiply it by 10000.
Normally I wouldn’t take photos of this, but I wanted you to see that I am not joking. Take this picture and multiply it by 10000.

When I watched Karl Pilkington’s An Idiot Abroad: Egypt I thought he had exaggerated a bit too much when he stated,  “It’s not even bits of old pyramid..you’ve got bricks here from council houses…it’s literally like people brought shit and dumped it here.” This was almost two years ago: Karl would be astonished with what I saw last weekend.

Curious as to why the situation had deteriorated so much, we spoke to some of the merchants on the scene. They said that every since the revolution, there had been literally no tourists and no security whatsoever. This meant the increasing presence of thugs who would often threaten and intimidate them. Many were appalled at what has happened, as according to them, if the tourists aren’t happy, then they don’t make money.

One of the hundreds of camels you could ride.
One of the hundreds of camels you could ride. In the past, you weren’t allowed to stand on the blocks of the Pyramids like all those people in the background.

Not being able to stand the stench and due to the general shock we were all feeling, we asked the security guard to take us to the observatory. Thankfully, it was much more peaceful and relaxing up there.

On the way to the observatory. It was a quite a cloudy day.
On the way to the observatory. It was a quite a cloudy day.

The view from the observatory is spectacular. It was here that I was really taken back by the beauty and the wonder of the Pyramids. It is also the perfect location to take photos with the pyramids – especially in large groups. Fortunately, there is also much fewer merchants here and there were only two camels present (and surprisingly, no shit at all). The security guard told us that before the revolution, you were not able to drive up to the observatory so easily as the road would be filled with tourist buses and cars taking them up there. He tells us that the lack of tourists is unprecedented in Egypt’s history. This was very noticeable: I only saw a handful of Asian tourists – the rest were all Egyptian.

The view from the observatory.
The view from the observatory. In the past, that road to the left would have been filled with tourists buses lined up.

Yet, I am glad there is a lack of tourists at the moment, because until the situation at the Pyramids improves, then tourists will be appalled at how poorly maintained the complex is. Even the current Minister of Antiquities – according to the guard – was shocked and depressed upon visiting the Pyramids a week earlier.

The government has been encouraging tourism, yet are neglecting Egypt’s number-one tourist attraction. The deterioration of security, economy, and every-day life in Egypt has directly reflected on the Pyramid of Giza. The Ministries of Interior, Tourism, Antiquities and the Presidency itself are directly responsible for the maintenance of this wonder and for the significant deterioration that it has faced.

Meanwhile, the media is also responsible for remaining silent on the serious issues that occur on Egyptian streets. The media continues to focus on politics almost 24/7, while neglecting the deterioration in Egypt’s quality of service within the tourism sector – especially in such historical locations. The media continues to state “tourism has increased by (insert a magical number here)” while failing to report that there are no tourists at the Pyramids, at Khan il Khalili, or at any of Egypt’s Islamic and Christian sites (which I also visited on the same day). If the Pyramids were located in any other country, these magical numbers they tend to throw at you would be at least 10-times higher.

Perhaps more responsible are the Egyptian people themselves. I was embarrassed for each tourist who was at the Pyramids. I was embarrassed that Egyptians who have been blessed with the only remaining ancient Wonder of the World could treat it with such carelessness. Egyptians have the most precious Wonder of the World in their backyard, yet they fail to give it the careful attention it requires.

If we ever want to become the great country we once were, we all must wake up and face reality. We all must look around us and notice the flaws which we have come to accept – the unacceptable flaws which cannot be ignored by those that truly care about their nation and about their history.

El Gouna: Paradise on the Red Sea
Step down, Mr. President

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  • Noura Amr Allam

    Hi i’m an Egyptian and reading this article nearly brings me to tears because in reality it’s true and as i try to do my part and get the other people around me to do theirs, I really hope to see Egypt one day the great country that it really is. But to clarify something Egypt is not that terrible and a lot of the things portrayed about it aren’s true; like the really high rate of women oppression, I live there and I can confirm that it’s not like it’s being portrayed at all.

    • JohnC

      I have visited Egypt. This account of chaos and harassment is, if anything, an understatement. And I visited in 2006, before the revolution.

  • Jyotsna

    I totally agree- this is an extremely accurate representation of what happens in Giza. Some words of caution:
    1. If you show a student ID, all tickets are half price. They want an ISIC, but we were able to get away with our UVA and UTA student IDs.
    2. Everyone asks for your ticket, as though they work at the Pyramids, but this is not true. There is no need to show any random person your ticket, and after a few times of being fooled, we started asking them for their security badges. They seemed to get a little scared and backed off after that.
    3. A man who claimed he worked there, decided to take us on a tour of the pyramids, and after showing us a few tombs decided that we had to take a camel or horse ride around the pyramids. Conveniently there is one of his guys waiting with 2 horses just for you! I would advise you walk back towards the entrance where there are more horses/options so you can get a good price. He earns your credibility by fending off other vendors who harass you, and by saying “don’t give money to people outside the tombs”, as though he is on your side. But all the while, he just wanted to milk us!
    4. Many times people will say things that will spur certain emotions in you- don’t fall for it, because they use it on everyone! My husband and I heard this several times “you look Egyptian (at me), and you are a lucky man (towards my husband). Did you have to pay 1000 camels to be able to marry her?” Another one we heard was “don’t care for money- make sure you have a good time. As long as you’re happy, I am happy”. Who is he to tell me to care or not care for money?!?!!!!!?
    5. People call us by “ayyyy”. If we don’t respond, they said “hey Indian”, or “ay kareena kapoor”. I guess the advise is not to get flustered by the lack of basic respect!
    6. You are not supposed to take photos inside the pyramids, but the guards there will offer to take pictures for you, and then expect some money in return. It is bribery, and I leave it up to you to decide what is best!

    Hope you have a good time! It is incredible to go visit the only standing wonder of the ancient world!

  • Hi This is really an eye opener. I’m visiting Cairo in late July for the only reason to visit the pyramids. I wonder if the situation has changed in the last two years. I’m very interested to take photographs inside the Great Pyramid, something which I read is not allowed. I have read that security at the entrance will not let you take cameras inside. Has anyone had experience with this? Is it easy to baksheesh the guards to take a camera inside and take photos? What about inside the pyramid, are there many guards? Can they be paid to let you take photos?

    • Hello,
      I personally visited the Pyramids in December 2012 and we were allowed to take photographs (though that may be because we had a security escort and so he may have ‘broken the rules’).

      Let me know if you have any other questions!

    • eLaReF

      There are stories of guardians accepting the baksheesh and then reporting you as well. You then get, as a minimum, your chip confiscated.
      Your Choice

    • Also, this article was posted in December. Since then, the government has hired a private company to restore the site’s integrity by cleaning up all the garbage, animal dung, etc.

  • Sandy Robertson

    The antiquities of Egypt belong to humanity, not those morons. It’s a disgrace. But the pyramids will outlive this buffoonery as they have everything else.

  • I like the valuable information you provide in your articles.
    I will bookmark your blog and check again here frequently.

    I am quite sure I will learn lots of new stuff
    right here! Good luck for the next!

  • eLaReF

    Whilst it is a Great Picture of the Mena House, it is a very old one. The pool was filled in a couple of years ago and the pool moved to behind the garden wings

  • I started visiting Egypt in 2001. I moved here in 2009 and I have lived here for 4 years. I lived through the revolution and I must say the pyramids were always horrible to visit!!! In 2001 I was kidnapped by camel men and told I couldn’t get off the camel until I went to their shops and bought stuff! The revolution didn’t make this problem worse. It was always terrible beyond belief.

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  • I’m visiting Egypt again in April and have been told to be prepared for the shock of the deterioration of the country. I was there when the Revolution occurred and went back again four months later. The change in that four months was dramatic, so two years on …. I don’t think I can begin to imagine what it’s going to be like.

    • The country has gone through tremendous deterioration – though there are certain locations (such as the Red Sea) where that deterioration is less visible. I wish you a safe trip! Hopefully it isn’t much worse than the last time you visited.

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  • Anne Hamamen

    What a shame wake up Egyptian you have such a wonderful country the media together with tourism minister should take the initiative to educate these people and put into their heads that if they want a better llife they should encourage tourists .my granddaughters left Egypt today they still called their trip amazing although they experienced some annoying youths at pyramids thank God they had a fantastic guide
    .I must say their time at luxor and Aswan was hassle free

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  • This is heartbreaking. I studied Egyptology at AUC and met my husband there. We left shortly before the revolution and have not had a chance to visit. Thank you for sharing your experiences. I know there are lots of other horrible things going on in the country but it is a shame that things have deteriorated to such and extent here as well. I am glad to hear that the Mena House is still such a nice place though. I stayed there when I first arrived in Egypt and count many of its employes as friends and have wondered about them since Jan 25.

    • It is interesting: I know a lot of foreigners who have visited Egypt many times – whether for work and study or simply for tourism – and I have come to the conclusion that foreigners care more about such precious landmarks than Egyptians do. If only Egyptians started caring half as much, then maybe this deterioration would not impact our monuments.

      I hope your next visit to the Pyramids (if that is planned) is much better than mine was.

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