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Stories Under the Pyramids: Lives Threatened by Egypt’s Revolution

Stories Under the Pyramids: Lives Threatened by Egypt’s Revolution

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Tourists to one of the world’s most cherished wonders have vanished – threatening the lives of many local Egyptians.

By Mohamed Khairat, founder, EgyptianStreets.com

Once one of the world’s most visited tourist attractions, Egypt’s Pyramids have been void of tourists since the 2011 revolution. For thousands of Egyptians whose incomes rely on tourism at the Pyramids, the lack of tourism has hit hard.

Near the Pyramids, once vibrant shopping streets now feel cold: tour operators have shut down, souvenir shops are soulless, and cafes once popular with tourists are empty.

At the Giza Necropolis – housing the Great Pyramids of Giza – hundreds of vendors and horse and camel operators are desperately searching for hope that tourists would return. In 2010, 14 million tourists from across the globe visited Egypt. Today, that number has declined by more than 50 percent – with the majority of tourists visiting locales along Egypt’s Red Sea.

Nevertheless, local Egyptians working in the tourism industry at the Pyramids remain hopeful that tourism – their lifeline – will return. Below is a set of photographs – including short interviews – with some local Egyptians.

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The moment anyone enters the complex of the Pyramids, they are greeted by dozens of local Egyptians looking to make some money: from the camel operator to a faux-tour guide.

DSC_0666Further away from the entrance, it is easier to get away from the nagging vendors to enjoy the full-view of the Pyramid. In the shadows of the Pyramids, dozens of local Egyptians visiting the Pyramids for the weekend were milling around with their children in their arms.

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Despite the breathtaking view, it is difficult to ignore the sight of struggling Egyptians. This old woman said she had been working at the Pyramids for “years” without difficulty. Today, she struggles to make a sale and has been forced to reduce her prices due to an increase in competition as a result of the lack of tourists.

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Camel and horse operators have also struggled. Dozens of camels stood at the Pyramids with no one to ride them. According to one camel operator, in the past it would have been difficult to find a camel to ride because of the high demand.

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Many young children have been forced to leave school to help their struggling parents in the tourism industry.

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While security has returned, said Mohammed, a horse operator, the tourists have not. A year ago, visiting the Pyramids was so risky that the US Embassy warned its citizens from visiting the only remaining Ancient World Wonder.

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The dried up revenues from the tourism industry – which were once as high as $US 11 billion – have also affected the lives of the horses and camels used by locals. Mohammed revealed how not only does he have to feed his family, but also his horses. With little revenue, feeding his horses has become increasingly difficult – with many ending up in poor health.

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With a lack of tourists, visiting tombs at the Giza Necropolis no longer requires waiting in a line. In the past, photographs were not allowed in these tombs. However, less moderation means that such rules are no longer followed.

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While many photographs are taken with the camera facing the Pyramids, the opposite view provides a haunting image of a spiralling city and a struggling economy that is quickly encroaching on the Giza Necropolis.

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Along the road to the panorama, several camel and horse operators are seen admiring the Pyramids. With a lack of tourists, many workers have been forced to simply wait for the situation to improve.

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At the panorama, the vendors and operators were equally desperate. For this man, selling one scarf for a mere 15 Egyptian pounds ($US 2) allows him to buy food for several days. The smile upon his face when I decided to give him a few pounds still resonates in my mind.

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Prior to the 2011 revolution, that pale grey road on the left side of the photo above would be filled with tour buses leading up to the panorama. Today, such buses are no where in sight. In fact, during this visit, there was not a single tourist at the panorama.

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A short car (or horse carriage) ride away, on arrives at the Sphinx – also void of tourists but filled with local Egyptians seeking to make a living.

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In the shadow of the Sphinx was this young, green-eyed girl who confused us for Turkish tourists and attempted to speak Turkish. She sells a pack of 10 Pharaonic-themed bookmarks for 10 Egyptian pounds ($US 1.45). Whatever little money she makes goes to helping herself and her family through each day.

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Near-by, souvenir stands were left unattended and untouched. Prices for many of these souvenirs have plummeted in the past two years. One local vendor stated that he has had to reduce his prices by more than 60 percent in order to compete with other vendors and to earn the business of Egyptians visiting the ancient monuments.

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Despite the increased difficulties, many locals are adamant to continue working, hoping that one day tourists will return in numbers that challenge the years prior to the 2011 revolution.

About the author and photographer: Mohamed Khairat is a 21-year-old university graduate, currently completing his Juris Doctor of Law at the University of Melbourne. As the founder of Egyptian Streets, Mohamed aimed to shed light upon the dire day-to-day situations that many Egyptians face. For the personal opinions and daily adventures of Mohamed, follow him on Twitter: twitter.com/khairatmk

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  • Ralph Hawkins

    I’ve visited Egypt 5 times and the vast majority of people are very friendly. The vendors at the pyramids were always more aggressive than they are at other sites where a very firm no thank you is usually adequate for most. Regardless Egypt is an incredible place to visit and I will return as soon as possible.

  • Nicholas

    The people at giza are 90/10, 90% nasty hustlers 10% people happy to meet you. This article is misleading especially about the old women lowering prices. Anyone who knows the culture will attest to the fact there is no price, they have a 5,000 year old haggling game. They will charge you 5 to 10 times what an Egyptian pays. If you go inside the pyramids be ready to have fake tour guides following you demanding tips. Don’t take pictures with any friendly well dressed men, they will claim to be models and demand payment. Same goes for the camels, take a picture get ready to be heckled.
    The horse operations are owned by two families so be ready for a good rape. There is no such thing as egyption hospitality, get ready for tea (the hook) and then a “my sister is getting married tomorrow” sales pitch. The hotel’s are over priced 120 us average per night, after your in the staff is 50/50. Half will ignore you and the other half is well spoken and polite.
    If you have not been to Hong Kong or Thailand then you are not ready for egyptian peddlers.

    IT IS NOT SAFE

    I just got back and two students were shot dead while I was there. Dagger eyes in many places even with my very local look. I am a Marine Sniper and my spiderman senses were wild while in cairo.

    Not for kids or women not willing to cover up.

    Just a fast word or two on my expression. Still who knows how long the pyramids will remain open.

  • Reblogged this on Xpat Dive Guide and commented:
    The Pyramids of Giza are incredible. We’ve started tours to Cairo from Sharm about 4 weeks ago and people are thrilled to be able to go back again. Guided tours are the best way to see Cairo so relax and book your trip!

  • Pingback: Stories Under the Pyramids: Lives Threatened by Egypt’s Revolution | Bahebek Ya Masr()

  • Reblogged this on Dawn of Thoughts and commented:
    Hoping that the situation returns to its normal state soon

  • Hi Mohamed,
    I worked for a few years on a plan to upgrade the Giza site and know a few things first hand.
    Even before the revolution the Giza site had more vendors and animal drivers than it could sustain, and while people have a right to earn a living from tourism – and not just the big tourism companies and the state – a lot of the vending is about hustling the visitors, and is underlined by a dark web of monopolisers and the local security forces that also exploit children and young women.
    What is needed is a general plan to open up more tourist sites along the Memphis necropolis, and manage both visitors and vendors within them so that these sites are preserved and continue to both hold our heritage and create income.
    This is something that requires the big tourism companies to agree to send tours to other less known sites, and also, a complete retraining of the vendors and their adherence to a strict code of conduct that a syndicate(s) for them can over see, as well as the site managers. This can only happen through participatory approaches and having antiquities authorities that have proper site management training.
    At the end of the day, tourism is a very vulnerable industry that has both booms and busts and we must learn to ride the booms and save for the busts – a national fund is also a requirement to deal with low or no business.

    • Anonymous

      I agree with you Yahia. The vendors and peddlers become aggressive because of the competition and scare off the Tourists and let’s be honest, many Tourists get ripped off and pay way above the going rate for horse and camel rides. A few years ago while I was working in the Hotel business, the Ministry of Tourism launched an Ambassador program. This was going to be a training and mentoring program using people from the Hotel and Tourism industry to educate peers in cultural awareness of the various nationalities that visit Egypt and was aimed at encouraging return business as many people come here and sometimes are made to feel uncomfortable from the overzealous peddlers and vendors, as well as women being harassed and so do not want to come back. I have experienced this first hand when visiting Tourist sites with my family over the years I have lived in Egypt. I thought the Ambassador program was a great idea but after the launch party, I never heard any more about it. My daughter was recently in Luxor with her family and they were scared from the khantour drivers because they were arguing over who would take their business. Let’s hope once Tourism comes back to Cairo we will be ready to give our visitors a real Egyptian welcome and make them want to come back again and go home with wonderful stories and memories of the great Egyptian people post revolution.

  • Reblogged this on Oyia Brown.

  • Lucia Gordeau

    I feel so sorry for the Egyptian people, I know they have to struggle these days.
    I visited Luxor 2 times this year and spoke with a lot of vendors.
    Not being able to feed their family , their horses….
    It breaks my heart, i tried to help a little, but tourist need coming back soon.
    Luxor is completely save !

  • Are the gangs by the below the entrance harassing anyone trying to drive up to to the parking still there? Last time I was there, they tried to break up the window on our car and blocked the road. It was terrifying.

    • Hi Bjorn,

      Unfortunately, right out side the complex entrance they are. While driving in, a few banged on the cars trying to get us to stop in order to “take a horse carriage because driving to the Pyramids is not allowed” (an absolute lie).

      The issue will continue until security forces decide to confront them. However, if you go as part of a tour – organized by a tour operator or your hotel – you shouldn’t find any problems as the driver of the vehicle will likely know how to deal with them.

      • I live in Cairo. We have actually gone there once with our own security guards, and that helped of course. But, it’s supposed to be a nice thing going there. Not a high security military operation..

        The security forces are not likely to interfere I think, because I think they are the ones keeping the gangs at the entrance in the first place.

    • Nicholas

      Yes they are! I came in from the south in the morning. Later in the early afternoon I came up that road to the ticket offices and the gang of young men tried to block the road and we’re hitting our car. This is in view of the police and men in sand color camouflage.
      It’s all a big joke to them, no respect to tourist. If your not paying me your a dog.

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