New Age Islam Edit Bureau
14 April 2018
Saudi Arabia, the US and Political Islam
By Ahmad Al-Farraj
Is There Still Time To Stop The Normalization Of Chemical Weapons?
By Dr. Azeem Ibrahim
Turkey Shows the Way in How to Deal With the Reality of Refugees
By Sinem Cengiz
In Lebanese Politics the Devil Is In the Details
By Eyad Abu Shakra
Lebanese Women Take a Stand against Exclusion from Nation’s Politics
By Diana Moukalled
The Increased Importance Of Cultural Diplomacy
By Zaid M. Belbagi
Can Any US-French Strike Deter Syria’s Brutal Regime?
By Randa Takieddine
The Slippery Slope of Egyptian Tourism
By Mohammed Nosseir
Compiled By New Age Islam Edit Bureau
Saudi Arabia, The US And Political Islam
By Ahmad al-Farraj
13 April 2018
There is no doubt that political Islam movements, i.e. the Muslim Brotherhood and its affiliates like the Sururist movement, have been trying for decades to drive a wedge in relations between Gulf countries, especially Saudi Arabia, and the Western world more particularly the US.
Any reading of the literature of these organizations, dating back to the 1950s and 1960s, shows that they specialized in demonizing the US. This position is not drawn from any religious principle, but it is just a tool to worry the countries they belong to, including the Saudi kingdom, based on the conviction that these states’ presence depends on America’s support to them. This is all because political Islam’s main goal is to attain governance and remain in power for as long as possible.
We have all watched the desperate actions of these political Islam groups during the occupation of Kuwait in 1990. We all saw how the Muslim Brotherhood in Egypt and its branches everywhere supported Saddam Hussein’s occupation of Kuwait. They stood firm against the use of friendly forces to liberate the country from the tyranny of that abhorrent occupation that created a bleeding wound in the Arab world and caused devastation that we still suffer from to this day.
The most active affiliates in this regard were the Muslim Brotherhood in the Gulf. Although the region overcame this high treason, these groups struck again through the September 11 attacks. These terror attacks were carried out by al-Qaeda, another offshoot of the Muslim Brotherhood movement. The goal behind this attack was to break relations between Saudi Arabia and the US, but this plan was foiled thanks to a lot of effort and wisdom.
Political Islam groups celebrated a lot during the presidential term of Barack Obama who supported the project of enabling these organizations to rule the Arab world. This project was launched during President Bill Clinton’s term in the late 1990s through meetings between Muslim Brotherhood leaders, the most prominent of which was Khairat Al-Shater and some American politicians. This cooperation, between the group and the US, completely discredited the Brotherhood’s claim of being anti-American.
Today, these organizations feel defeated as they watch the revival of the Saudi-American alliance with its pristine glory. However, these groups continue to work through their select mediums, like the Al Jazeera television channel and its subsidiaries known as Azmi cells, to cause a rift in Saudi-American relations. They will continue doing so as they know that such a rift is the only way to achieve their final goals. However, they are bound to fail, the same way their other attempts failed in the past.
The Assad regime seems to have come to the realization that despite having the support of the Russian air force and Iranian militias, an outright military victory may not be possible against a population which is willing to suffer considerable affliction to see a Syria that is free of the Baathist regime.
With an out-and-out military victory off the cards, Assad also seems to have realized that the only way he can achieve control over Syria in its entirety, is if the population tires of the war believing the cost has become too high and simply surrenders.
Therefore, to facilitate and speed up the surrender process the people have to be thoroughly and regularly terrorized. And nothing quite terrorises like sarin gas.
The use of chemical weapons, and possibly nerve agents, is therefore not a tactical battlefield decision which furthers territorial gain but a strategic calculation. The aim is not to kill large numbers of people per se but to kill in the most brutal fashion as a lesson for other Syrians as to what to expect.
Victims lose control over all bodily functions resulting in drooling and foaming at the mouth, vomiting, urination and defecation. The objective is to watch your loved ones slowly lose their dignity before they lose their lives.
A decisive and clear signal must be sent that reverberates around the globe that the use of chemical weapons will never go unchallenged
The UN Commission of Inquiry on Syria believes Assad has used such chemical weapons at least half a dozen times though many NGOs on the ground put the number much higher.
Assad it seems did not destroy his chemical weapons stockpile as famously stated by President Obama when he claimed to have achieved a significant triumph by “not following the Washington playbook” and refused to enforce his own red line.
So it is not surprising that Assad feels untouchable. Russia has used its veto for the 12th time to protect Syria from any penalty. Four times it was used to halt UN investigations into the use of chemical weapons and once to thwart sanctions on Syria for using those chemical weapons.
So we now have a situation where the use of chemical weapons is being normalized with the key lesson to all global despots that there will be no international repercussions as long as you have a powerful patron to veto any international consequence.
It’s easy with hindsight to argue counter-facts but this situation was completely avoidable. A retired US Air Force General I spoke to in 2013 told me it would take less than a day for the US to destroy the entirety of Assad’s air force and create a no fly zone putting an immediate end to the barrel bombs which continue to kill indiscriminately.
A safe zone could also have been established on the Turkish-Syrian border to arrest refugees overflowing into Europe.
Before Russia and Iran entered the Syrian domain, a strong military response to Assad’s brutality would quite likely have forced him to the negotiating table – especially when you consider his regime, according to many insiders, was only weeks away from collapse.
He would have been forced to take the Geneva Peace Talks seriously and could have even been pressured to step down and take a dignified retirement to Latakia province after agreeing a federalized solution similar to Bosnia.
Not ideal, certainly, as there can be no peace without justice but ending the conflict would have required uncomfortable compromises on all sides. Unfortunately, there are no longer any good options. Any military action now has to be calculated with Putin in the equation.
It is highly unlikely Putin would be willing to risk war with the US for Bashar al Assad. Nevertheless, a decisive and clear signal must be sent that reverberates around the globe that the use of chemical weapons will never go unchallenged.
April 13, 2018
Given its geographical location, as well as shared social, cultural and historical ties with its neighbours, it is no surprise that Turkey has been a destination for people seeking asylum and refuge for many years. Today, it hosts more refugees than any other country, a record of which it is proud — but which has not been easy.
It is hard to fault the Turkish government’s long-standing refugee activity, whether you like its foreign policy or not. From the very beginning of the Syrian crisis in 2011, Turkey did not hesitate to open its doors to millions of people fleeing the war-torn country, even though there was no concrete long-term plan.
The first Syrian refugees crossed the border on April 29, 2011. Almost seven years later, there are 3.5 million Syrians in Turkey. There are also a considerable amount of Iraqis, Iranians and Afghans. But the Syrian crisis was particularly difficult, posing challenges to Turkey in the realms of economics, politics, security, social policy and foreign policy.
How, Then, Is Turkey Coping With The Crisis?
The country has managed to pursue a far more humane refugee policy than its neighbors. It operates an “open-door policy” toward Syrians and has established several refugee camps, providing all kinds of services with generosity to the tune of $30 billion — even granting citizenship to about 60,000 Syrians. About 300,000 are in camps while the rest are living in cities on monthly allowances provided by the government.
Turkey’s response to the crisis not only significantly enhances its image in the region, but also sets an example and teaches considerable lessons on how to deal with the reality of refugees.
Moreover, Ankara’s refugee policy is not limited to its borders. The Turkish army’s results-oriented operations in northern Syria, called Euphrates Shield and Olive Branch, have offered the possibility of a return home for Syrians who want to do so. According to recent reports, more than 150,000 have returned to northern Syria, where the Turkish military liberated a number of key towns and cities from Daesh and the Kurdistan Workers’ Party’s Syrian affiliate, the People’s Protection Units.
The policy of creating the necessary humanitarian conditions for all Syrians to eventually return home was first mentioned after a high-level security summit in the Turkish capital on Jan. 23. The meeting concluded: “Our operations will continue until the separatist terror organization is fully cleared from the region and around 3.5 million Syrians who are now sheltered in Turkey are able to safely return to their homeland.”
In line with this, the authorities in Ankara rolled up their sleeves and engaged in a twofold policy. Firstly, a comprehensive strategy to integrate Syrian refugees into Turkish society in case many of them choose to remain in Turkey. Secondly, government agencies started to construct infrastructure — including homes, hospitals and schools — in Turkish-liberated Syrian towns for the benefit of those who want to return. In buildings where once Daesh was carrying out public beheadings, there is now the joyful sound of children playing.
The main aim of Turkey’s dual policy is to decrease the flow of refugees across the border and ensure Syrians can return to their normal daily lives in their homeland. As another part of this policy, Turkey also granted scholarships to 20,000 Syrian students to prepare them to help in the future reconstruction of their country as “friends of Turkey.”
Nearly 500,000 Syrian children are enrolled in Turkey’s public-school system, according to the United Nations Children’s Fund, and an additional 230,000 are at accredited “temporary education centres,” which teach an Arabic-language curriculum. Providing education has been a significant aspect of Turkey’s refugee policy. Needless to say, when the chance of education is taken away by war, it is not just a loss to the individual child, but a loss to the whole of society and its hopes of recovering from the conflict.
Many young Syrians have obtained degrees at Turkish institutions and do not know life in another country.
Beyond its borders, Turkey also built camps for refugees in Syria, particularly Idlib province, where Euphrates Shield was launched in the summer of 2016. Turkey also established a refugee camp in Daraa province, an opposition stronghold with a population of 2.5 million. In addition, Turkey’s disaster agency is currently focusing on two humanitarian operations in Afrin province: Refugee camps for the possible movement of civilians in Afrin, and humanitarian aid for civilians in towns where the Turkish army has carried out military operations.
While discussing the Afrin operation during the Ankara summit held last week between the so-called Astana trio — Turkish President Recep Tayyip Erdogan, Iranian President Hassan Rouhani and Russian President Vladimir Putin — Erdogan proposed that Putin agree to build a mobile hospital on the edge of Damascus, which the Syrian army has taken over, to help treat civilians from formerly opposition-controlled parts of Eastern Ghouta. Just last week, volunteer doctors in Turkey treated 2,500 Syrians living in refugee camps in Aleppo as part of the Healing with Goodness project. Erdogan also proposed building housing on both sides of the border. “We can save these people from tents and container cities by building housing” he said. “We can, all together, make that zone safe.”
Humanitarian assistance is one of the common points that the Astana trio agreed to cooperate on. Recognizing the diversity of voices among refugees, whether they want to stay or return home, Turkey seems to be providing options that are genuinely in the best interests of the displaced Syrians, who started their journey with dashed hopes but can now dream of a more hopeful future.
At the CEDRE Paris Conference last week, which aimed to rally international support for an investment program to boost the Lebanese economy, French President Emmanuel Macron underlined the importance of “following up” on the outcome. Stressing that it would be meaningless “unless radical changes” take place in Lebanon, Macron added: “If we help Lebanon we will help the region, and subsequently, help ourselves.”
These are important words, more so when looking at the commemorative photograph taken at CEDRE of Macron with the Lebanese delegation, which included Prime Minister Saad Hariri, and ministers Ali Hassan Khalil (Amal Movement), Gebran Bassil and Cesar Abi Khalil (both from President Michel Aoun’s Free Patriotic Movement) and Youssef Fenianos (Al-Marada Movement). The four ministers represent political groups supportive of the Syrian regime.
Incidentally, this comes as the international community seems to disregard what that regime has perpetrated for more than seven years, embarking on a process of “rehabilitating” after the completion of what remains of the required “demographic engineering” in Douma (greater Damascus), Al-Rastan and Talbisah (Homs Province), and areas in the Golan Heights and Hawran in southern Syria.
Even Hariri, who since aligning himself with Aoun has regarded almost every decision taken as an “achievement,” has virtually become part of the Lebanese scenario integrated with the Syrian settlement. Indeed, through agreeing the electoral deal favored by the Hezbollah-Aoun alliance, Hariri opened the door officially for Iran — the main sponsor of the Damascus regime — and its henchmen to reclaim the political initiative in Lebanon.
Thus, the reservations expressed by more than one participant at CEDRE reflect the intention to ignore the results of the Lebanese parliamentary elections scheduled for May 6 and conceal the expected gains by the Tehran-Damascus axis.
Most observers believe that Hezbollah’s silence hides its satisfaction with the outcome, especially when it is accompanied by liquidating the Syrian popular uprising after besieging it with extremist organizations. These groups were allowed to take over the rebellion and then divert it to give credibility to the accusations by Damascus, Moscow and Tehran that the uprising was “Daeshist.”
CEDRE did not give Lebanon carte blanche. The international donors did not give the Lebanese unconditional financial support, but rather insisted on a follow-up mechanism to monitor the promised reforms. However, even this mechanism remains part of the semi-concocted reservations about the reality of the Lebanese situation; and since both the French president and the Americans are aware of the details, there seems to be a race between the solution and the impasse.
Such a race cannot be separated from the overall regional picture. We are now at a crossroads, with regional conflicts extending from Iraq to Syria, Lebanon to Yemen, and to the occupied Palestinian territories.
In fact, there are signs of increased complications in Russian-American approaches toward most Middle East issues. And if Iran feels that it is now well placed to freely maneuver or impose its conditions, Turkey seems to have gone the opposite way from its NATO position, allowing itself to exchange tactical services with Russia, its historical enemy. This means that Israel, always a beneficiary from its relations with both Washington and Moscow, is the only regional player able to continue its own project with little adverse effect from the current tension between the two major capitals.
Contrary to what some may think, Israel’s project is not limited to finalizing the status of the occupied Palestinian territories and preparing for their demographics. It also includes making official the deals and tacit considerations between Tel Aviv and Damascus, and subsequently — in the light of portraying Lebanon as the “new Syria” — between Tel Aviv and Beirut.
Furthermore, it has become obvious to serious observers that bringing down the Damascus regime is not a priority for Israel. Had it been so, Israel would have pushed for it in major Western capitals, including Washington, which, as we recall, has been placing it on the list of countries supporting and sponsoring terrorism for decades.
However, how Washington deals with Iran’s regional project, namely the future of Syria and Lebanon, is a matter of utmost importance. Also important is monitoring the cooperative and yet competitive relationship between Russia and Iran in Syria, and whether Washington and Paris are willing to relinquish their shares in Lebanon to Russia, after peacefully coexisting with Iranian hegemony — through Hezbollah — over Lebanon during the Barack Obama presidency.
Returning to the CEDRE conference in Paris, among the issues discussed there was that of Syrian displacement. This is raised from a sectarian and antagonistic standpoint by Hezbollah and Aoun, albeit each for their own interests, but from an economic and livelihood standpoint by some in the Sunni-inhabited areas who welcomed the Syrian refugees and displaced, and for this reason were punished and persecuted after being accused of collusion with terrorism.
Hence, to speed up the imposition of the status quo on Syria, what is happening in Lebanon is that the Syrian refugees and displaced are being deprived of a nationalist and Sunni society. There are joint efforts being made to that end, supported by most major capitals, each for its own motives. On the other hand, there has been a trend among the Lebanese Sunnis to go along with this policy hoping it would rid them of the economic cost of the displaced and improve the chances of attracting and benefiting from foreign money.
Based on the above, the May elections are an extremely important landmark for all parties, although those who hope Lebanon will emerge with credible programs and policies are not very optimistic.
The electoral coalitions have been temporary, interest-based pacts, and the nature of the proportional-representation voting system will cause further fragmentation under the excuse of broadening representation. As a result, the size of parliamentary blocs will not allow for any realistic discussion of Hezbollah’s weapons, its relationship with the Lebanese state, and how independent it is from Tehran.
So, the promises look beautiful, unlike the devil in the details.
The history of politics in Lebanon shows that it has long been unjust to women. The Parliament did not open its doors to females until after the war ended in 1991, and even then in very low numbers because of sectarian considerations or political inheritance.
Women were also let down time after time as they tried and failed to change Lebanese laws to end inequality, marginalization and violence against women.
The current electoral law, adopted in 2017, did not include a quota for female representation, as had been promised by some of the big political parties, and so they were able to easily break their pledges of gender equality when drawing up their electoral lists.
Lebanon has long been known as one of the worst countries for the representation of women in politics, whether in the Cabinet or Parliament as a whole. Thus, the Lebanese elections scheduled for May 6 are remarkable for the level of participation by women. The number of female candidates has reached 111, which is 14 percent of all those standing. This is unprecedented in the history of Lebanese parliamentary elections.
It is noteworthy that 43 of the women are standing as independents or for civil society or political forces not part of the power elite, and that women are completely or largely absent from the lists of the more powerful parties.
There is no female representation on the candidate lists from Hezbollah, which announced from the start of the election campaign that it would not nominate women because parliamentary work is too “exhausting” for those with family obligations. Nor are there any women on the lists of the Progressive Socialist Party, headed by Walid Jumblatt.
Hezbollah’s negative and backward-looking position was highly criticized, but the other major parties did not keep their promises regarding the number of nominated women. The rate on the lists of the other major parties varies between 5 percent and 10 percent, which is very low.
The most remarkable thing is the great enthusiasm of the female candidates to run and prove themselves against the male-dominated lists of the main parties. The perfect proof of this are the “Women of Akkar,” an all-female list in Akkar, north Lebanon, where five women decided they did not need men to put them on a list so they could run for election.
Also remarkable is the fact that the lists of independents include high-profile women from the civil and cultural arenas, who delivered candidacy speeches calling for the modernization of laws and declaring political stands on major issues such as the rejection of Hezbollah’s arms and the necessity for the state to wield its power fairly.
The electoral laws and the security and political circumstances mean that there is little doubt that that the elections will result in the return to power of the existing political elite in Lebanon in high numbers. However, the growing presence of women, and their impressive and enthusiastic electoral campaigns — even those who have extremely limited financial resources make excellent use of social media and direct interaction with the public — is a very important and vital political development.
Yes, there is a change in female representation that we are starting to feel. Even if that change is not reflected in the election results, it will absolutely reinforce a trend that will grow in the years ahead.
The Increased Importance of Cultural Diplomacy
Joseph Nye coined the term “soft power” in the 1980s, explaining that whereas hard power relies on coercion, power can also be derived from attraction and persuasion. Writing in the pre-Internet era, his work has been transformed by the speed and volume of information exchange in the digital age.
Within this crowded environment, culture is an important tool in allowing states to project themselves. As a currency of soft power, culture has an important role in influencing public opinion through increasing the cultural appeal of states.
Cultural diplomacy is not a phenomenon of the digital age; it has existed for centuries. Explorers and traders have acted as cultural ambassadors, facilitating cultural exchanges in language, art, science, religion and business. Rome gave the known world a legal system, central authority and the clear parameters of the state. Britain’s mastery of the seas made the English language the lingua franca of international business.
Despite the colossal footprint of the US overseas, Britain and France continue to top soft-power rankings, in great part due to their cultural attractiveness. Investment in cultural diplomacy is central to successfully navigating the ever-changing international system.
Cultural diplomacy is broadly a force for good. The establishment of frequent exchanges of information, and a willingness to share culture, are clear examples of deliberate efforts to invest in cultural diplomacy.
Historically, the interaction of peoples, and the exchange of languages and ideas, have broadly improved relationships between people. Chinese green tea is central to Moroccan culture, and chillies from the Americas are what gave Indian food its spice. Whereas cultural diplomacy was once on the periphery of international relations, it is now a growing focus for practitioners, becoming a theory in its own right.
Relations between divergent groups can either be governed by hard or soft power. But the deployment of military might can have long-term consequences, and is a somewhat blunt tool to achieve influence. Cultural diplomacy can allow states to be more attractive.
Professor Simon Anholt, who conceived the term “nation branding,” argues that in the last century the international system has grown more competitive; in a world of customers and competitors, the profile of countries is of great importance.
From the standpoint of attracting trade and competing for influence, “countries with powerful and positive reputations spend less to achieve more, while those with weak or negative reputations spend more to achieve less. In short, countries with a good image trade at a premium; those without trade at a discount.”
Concerning smaller states, their size prohibits them from projecting force to a transformational degree. Lacking the strategic mass to hugely influence military matters, cultural diplomacy is of great importance.
Though military force has historically been the favored approach of governments to achieve their aims, the increased connectivity of the globalized international system favors the importance of exchange as opposed to conflict to guarantee prosperity.
Successive French governments have taken issue with the domestic policies of the Arab states. But now, under a new administration, it seems the government is only too keen to become involved in cultural pursuits across the region. The loaning of billions of dollars in art and antiquities to the Abu Dhabi Louvre, and the readiness to get involved in Al-Ula project, reflect a longer-term strategy to influence allies by projecting French culture.
The decision to involve France in Al-Ula illustrates how impressive its cultural influence is. A member of the Saudi delegation to Paris noted: “There is nobody better than the French to whom to entrust this task. We will be relying heavily on French expertise in preserving and promoting our culture.”
As he came to rule a large and disparate empire ravaged by civil war, Roman Emperor Caesar Augustus reformed coinage to display his face. That did more to unify the multilingual and multi-ethnic peoples of the empire than the endless campaigns that Rome’s legions embarked on.
Soft power relies heavily on culture. In an age where posts are shared within seconds across borders and speeches are televised and kept as a record online, it is imperative that governments that seek to have an impact invest in making their nations more attractive. The travelling businesspeople of today are inundated with choices of where to invest. In this context, building a positive image is critical to the long-term prosperity of nations.
The shocking pictures of the recent chemical attack carried out by the Syrian regime has led US President Donald Trump to make insulting remarks against Bashar al-Assad. Trump received two phone calls within 48 hours from French president Emmanuel Macron to coordinate their stances following the brutal chemical attack on Douma, which claimed more than 50 lives including a large number of children.
France’s efforts at directing the negotiations towards an interim phase in Syria have failed due to Russia’s stubbornness on keeping Bashar al-Assad in power, despite him destroying Syria. Russia likes to entertain the belief, mostly supported by Assad, that the Syrian regime succeeded and regained areas it had lost.
However, it has actually regained wrecked cities and a country where millions of its people have been displaced and will not return. Moreover, without real American support for the Kurds, Turkish interests are growing more than ever in Syria. Meanwhile, Iran is present in Syria in a way that threatens Russia which still needs its alliance with Tehran at this stage.
Vested Interests of External Powers
Macron has stated many times that the use of chemical weapons in Syria is a red line, and if this line is crossed, the bases from where these chemical attacks were launched will be struck. In reality, everyone knows that Bashar al-Assad has crossed all red lines of brutality and cannot be stopped by Western powers.
This is even if precise strikes against military installations and bases are carried out since he is protected by the dictators of Russia and Iran who do not care about their people’s opinions and whether they approve or not of military intervention in Syria. For example, there’s controversy among people in Iran about the use of military intervention in Syria and the spending of huge sums of money to fund Hezbollah and its fighters in Lebanon. However, the regime in Tehran does not care about its people’s opposition.
Russia has benefited from its intervention in Syria as the world has recognized that President Putin is the key to any solution, since the West, especially the United States, is no longer prepared to engage in any direct military intervention following the disaster of the Iraqi war.
Trump won’t change his mind, as he has tweeted that he wanted US troops to withdraw from Syria. He is prepared to strike the “animal” to punish him, but the move will be limited to a certain location. Meanwhile, democratic countries are weak at confronting the brutality of the Syrian regime after its huge failure following the overthrow of Saddam Hussein’s regime in Iraq and Gaddafi’s regime in Libya.
Russia Rules The Roost
These countries have grown to be extremely cautious when it comes to sending troops or carrying out strikes to overthrow the Syrian regime, even if the latter is responsible for displacing a great number of its people to neighbouring countries, Europe and other states. This major refugee problem has become a burden on neighbouring countries and the international community must bear part of the responsibility.
Unfortunately, the only solution now lies in the hands of the Russian leadership which will not hesitate in keeping its forces in Syria as long as Assad has handed it the keys to his country.
It is important to note that the three countries — namely Russia, Syria and Iran — have denied using chemical weapons when in fact all the pictures prove the contrary. If the United States and France strike military bases in Syria, the regime will not be deterred from continuing, along with Iranian and Russian support, to destroy the country and the region.
The solution lies in reaching an American-Russian agreement over the new situation in Syria that guarantees a transition without Assad, but no one believes in the US policy because it is totally tilted in favour of Israel which has always sought to protect Assad’s rule. This does not give much room for optimism for the future of Syria. The solution remains problematic. Democracies will not militarily intervene to confront Iran and Russia, and hegemony will remain for the forces on the ground without a final solution.
The Slippery Slope Of Egyptian Tourism
Several years are necessary to develop a successful tourism industry, but it can easily be destroyed in a much shorter period, even with the best of intentions. This is happening with Egypt’s tourism industry, which reached its peak in 2010, when roughly 15 million foreigners visited.
Since then, several factors have led to a significant deterioration in the number and quality of tourists that we have hosted, and our policy of slashing tourism prices has exacerbated this downward trend. Egypt’s tourism management has been using a single tactic to counteract this crisis: Trying to raise hotel occupancy by consistently reducing tourism destination prices, at the expense of tourism receipts.
The significant drop in tourism revenues has dragged us down a slippery slope. We are offering lower-quality services that attract tourists who tend to not conduct themselves well during their stay, and end up downgrading our tourist destinations and facilities.
Egypt’s tourism crisis is often defined as being externally caused, the result of British and Russian boycotts of Egypt due to terrorism. But Egyptians who work in the tourism industry need to realize that the crisis is not due to the collapse of our facilities; it is more the result of a mentality that is unable to compensate for the loss of tourists from these two countries by promoting tourism from other countries in a sound and professional manner.
Hotel managers argue that it is much better to keep their properties operating and pay staff salaries than shut the properties down. This is a losing proposition that has led to inferior services and lower-quality food, and has drawn in tourists who tend to treat facilities carelessly. The result is that the bulk of the tourists who currently visit Egypt not only pay less but also damage our facilities.
Many argue that hotels cannot, and should not, ask tourists to alter their behavior. I argue the opposite; we must have a code of ethics that all tourists should comply with during their stay, regardless of what they are paying. There is no shame in Egyptian hotels advising their guests, at the time of booking, that they must abide by such a code to be allowed to stay at their properties.
We do not appear to be exerting the appropriate efforts to attract new tourists. I am a regular traveller to many Egyptian destinations, but none of the hotels I have stayed at has ever approached me with an invitation to come back. Our frustration at being boycotted by a couple of countries has constrained our efforts to attract tourists from the rest of the world.
We can replenish the number of tourists we have lost by tapping into those from countries that have already sent visitors to Egypt. Reviving tourism hinges on understanding that the industry has evolved beyond its old definition of sightseeing; today’s tourists seek novel experiences. This kind of tourism needs a certain human factor that enhances visitors’ experiences, but it is marred by people trying to sell activities and fake antiques.
Egypt is blessed with plenty of excellent tourism resources, and has managed to build top-notch facilities. But our shortcoming lies in the human development aspect, our inability to draw tourists from new nations and to offer good services to our visitors while obliging them to preserve the condition of our facilities. If we work on tackling the human aspect of the industry, we are sure to attract a better quality of tourist who is willing to spend more.