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Fifth anniversary of uprising sees Egypt trying to change image of war zone

January 25, 2016 - EGYPT

The fifth anniversary of the 2011 revolution sees Egypt scrambling to change the country's image and bring back the tourists. It will be a tall order; the 17-day uprising that forced former president Hosni Mubarak from power left indelible images of a war zone.

Five years of successive security crises, compounded by political chaos, have further undercut Egypt's allure.

The tourism ministry is introducing new security measures at its holiday resorts after suspected militants armed with knives wounded three European visitors to Hurghada in early January.

Intelligence reports suggesting the Russian plane that crashed in Egypt on Oct 31, 2015, killing all 224 people on board may have been brought down by a bomb leave very little allure for undercutting.

The country already became a tougher sell for travel promoters on Sep 14, 2015, when security forces killed 12 tourists and injured 10 more in the Western Desert, mistaking them for insurgents. Eight of the dead and several of the injured were from Mexico. The other dead and injured were Egyptians.

Amid mass demonstrations calling on him to quit, Islamist president Mohammed Morsi was toppled by the army a year after his election in 2012. His supporters took to the streets. Now Egypt's president, military leader Abdel Fattah al-Sisi has cracked down on pro-Morsi demonstrations, largely suppressed violent opposition to his own government, but added to the climate of political and religious discord . Meanwhile, the increasing attacks in the north Sinai by Islamist militants linked to Al Qaeda and Islamic State, or ISIL, have robbed the beach resorts in the south Sinai of visitor appeal.

Elhamy el-Zayat, chairman of the Egyptian Tourism Federation, told Al-Monitor that many countries believe Egypt has no security or stability for the present. He noted that Egypt is the heart of the Arab world, now a constant source of violent news, complicating the challenge of changing the country's image.

To encourage greater and faster growth in tourism, the country is awarding a U.S. $68 million, three-year contract to New York advertising agency J. Walter Thompson Co. (JWT) to run a public relations campaign in 27 markets around the world.

The treasure trove of antiquities and beach resorts of Egypt might help some tourists to cast aside misgivings. Comparing the first half of 2015 with the same period in 2014, Egypt's tourism revenues have risen 3.1 per cent and the number of tourists has increased by 8.2 per cent, according to an Al Monitor report on Egypt's efforts to change its image. The report, however, was issued before the Russian plane crash in Oct 2015.

Egypt earmarks $68 million to promote tourism (Al Monitor 3 Sep 2015)

Egypt secures billions of dollars in aid and investment (Al Jazeera 15 May 2015)

Egypt's tourist industry counts the cost of terrorism fears (FT 5 Nov 2015)

Date written/update: 2015-11-05