Wednesday , October 18 2017

With tourists scarce, Egyptians ‘struggle’ to maintain heritage

CAIRO, Jan 3, (AFP): With a shaky economy following years of unrest and a huge drop in tourists, Egypt is struggling to preserve its fabled archaeological heritage. From Alexandria on the Mediterranean to the Great Pyramid of Giza — the last of the Seven Wonders of the World — and Aswan to the south, the North African country is home to impressive ancient monuments. For years, the sites were able to rely on a steady stream of ticket sales to finance their upkeep.

But since Egypt’s 2011 revolution, the number of tourists visiting the country has dwindled, leaving authorities scrambling to make up for lost revenues. “Since January 2011, our revenues have fallen sharply, which had a strong effect on the state of Egyptian monuments,” Antiquities Minister Khaled el-Enany told AFP.

From more than 15 million in 2010, the number of tourists visiting Egypt dropped to 6.3 million in 2015. Years of political tumult after the 2011 uprising that unseated strongman Hosni Mubarak and a jihadist insurgency following the army’s 2013 overthrow of his Islamist successor Mohamed Morsi have discouraged many from visiting.

Revenue from entrance tickets to historical sites dropped to about $38 million in 2015, from about $220 million in 2010. “It’s catastrophic,” said Fayza Haikal, an Egyptologist and professor at the American University of Cairo. Zahi Hawass, an archeologist and former antiquities minister, said the country’s heritage has suffered as a result. “With the lack of funding, you cannot restore anything. Look at the Cairo museum. It’s dark,” he said, referring to the famed Egyptian Museum in the capital’s Tahrir Square. “And you cannot ask the government to support you because the economy is not that good. And antiquities are deteriorating everywhere,” he said.

Administering the country’s antiquities takes about 38,000 employees, including on-site workers, technicians, Egyptologists and inspectors, the ministry says. The government has relied on foreign handouts since Morsi’s overthrow, and fi nally decided to fl oat the pound last year as part of an economic reform program connected to a loan from the International Monetary Fund. An important part of an economic revival would include the return of tourism, a main hard currency earner for Egypt. Until then, Enany is trying to limit the damage. “I try to do extra activities to increase revenue,” he said.

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