Travel, Change, and Social Conscience — Why I Currently Wouldn’t be Traveling to Egypt 46

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Interesting discussion lately on Twitter about a country that I truly love, Egypt, and am looking forward to visiting again and again. I had the chance to spend over a month in Dahab, one of my favorite beach towns in the world earlier this year on my second trip through and have loved a great bit about this bit of land that spawned one of the oldest and most interesting civilizations the world has ever seen.

Got it??  I love Egypt. I even wrote a few posts after the revolution earlier this year, encouraging people to come visit this great county. That being said….

The Arab Spring and Egypt

In case you have somehow missed it, Egypt this year has been in the midst of a huge bit of turmoil and a lot of change in the last year, though frankly I seriously doubt anything will politically change too much in the end. The Arab Spring has swept across the region, toppling tyrannical regimes in Tunisia, Libya, and most notably, Egypt.

In recent weeks, what looked promising in Egypt has turned sour. The Egyptian military was amazingly restrained in the uprising at the beginning of the year that toppled the horrific Mubarak government. They then took control over the government during a “transitional period” and have promised democratic elections.

egypt protestors injured cairo

from the NYT web story today

Recently, protesters took back to the streets wanting a quicker end to military rule and establishment of true civilian rule (which I frankly doubt ever happens) in recent days.

Unlike the big set of protests earlier this year, the military replied with ferocity, killing over 20 and wounding over 1,500.

The protesters have not backed down and it looks like the violent repression on the part of the military is likely to continue — from today’s NY Times, Chaos Builds As Truce Fails.

Why this world political update?

Recently there have been a fair number of tweets advocating the message to “come to Egypt now, because the people need your tourist dollars.”

It seems, not too shockingly, that people are loath to visit countries in the midst of turmoil, especially the kind where people are getting shot down in the streets.

My personal side of this debate, which is a discussion that can occur whether you want to visit Burma with its repressive (though perhaps lately getting better) government, Uganda with its anti-gay government crusade, or even some cities in the United States with how they have brutalized some of the Occupy Wall Street protesters (really appalling story and video of that here) is this…

Personally, I draw the line on governments killing peaceful protestors. 

You either have a line regarding your social conscience and travel or you don’t. If you don’t, that’s fine. If you do have a line, draw it where you like, but personally, I am not really going to be happy supporting a country’s tourism income when they are shooting down peaceful protesters in the streets.

cairo protestors

from today

And don’t think for a minute that going to countries, especially still-developing countries like Egypt, doesn’t serve to help support the ruling government. Aside from money they get from visa fees, sales taxes and other tourist-based taxes, a good number of these countries are so corrupt that businesses (local and international) have to pay the government nicely for the right to do business there.

Tourism income, no doubt, does help prop up these regimes.

On the other hand, I also have quite some sympathy with the argument that you should go to countries like this and do your best to put your dollars to work helping the local economy. If tourism drops for whatever reason, the people in that country suffer from a lack of income.

I get it. I do see both sides of this and have really no problems with people making either choice that they wish.

While that part of it is a discussion I feel has two very valid sides to it, here is what came out of that discussion that I think has almost zero validity.

The Third World Guilt Trip

As part of this particular Twitter chat, the blogger that was currently in Egypt said they were sitting next to someone who owned a tour company of there. At one point she tweeted this:

These are his words, not mine: “You don’t get it. You are murdering us, not the govt. You are not helping us.”

To use Travels of Adam’s words, which he immediately tweeted in reply — “I’m not killing anyone.” Period. And to make that argument is assinine.

And trying to guilt trip me into going there is not only counter-productive, its pathetic.

I have occasionally heard variations of this guilt trip in a variety of places. The cabbie in Namibia that wanted to overcharge us, after agreeing to a fare at the beginning of the route, screaming at us “you are all rich white people — what does a few dollars matter to you?” The kids begging in a variety of places with variations of “but you are rich, just a dollar.” The restaurants with different menus with different prices, foreign or local, where they just shrug at you when you mention it. The people asking me to help them move to America, because “everyone is rich there.” The variations are endless.

I appreciate that the geography, and good fortune, of one’s birth is completely and totally random. I have written about it on this website more that a few times. There are amazingly difficult questions you confront when traveling in the underdeveloped world and the inequality of opportunity based solely on where you are born is high on that list.

But, there are a LOT of places far, far worse off then Egypt right now.

If “helping the people” was the primary reason for travel, then we all better hitch up our wagons and get ready to spend our money in Zimbabwe, Democratic Republic of Congo, Chad and Haiti, because their people are doing far worse than Egyptians are.

Hell, just in the Middle East, if “helping people” were the criteria, then its time to hit Yemen, Libya and Tunisia before Egypt. I dare say there might be some people reading this post in Michigan or Ohio saying, “hey — we aren’t exactly doing great here also.”

Egypt is about middle of the pack in terms of per capita GDP at 137th out of 227 countries. Certainly not rich, but far from dragging along the bottom. In fact, in non-per capita terms, Egypt is the 27th richest county in the world — they have a fair bit of monetary backing to be doing some good things to their own economy.

And to the Egyptian tourism operator, who I bet has probably made a pretty good living over the years, let me ask, have you been spending your tourism dollars in downtrodden countries like Chad or Niger or Mali, so as to help those people with your spending?

Because if you have been vacationing in Europe instead… let me say, pathetic argument and you are a hypocrite.

Here are the two groups of people that I have a duty to support with my spending: my government, to which I pay taxes and to which protects me and provides various basic necessities for my fellow citizens, and my children, of which I don’t have any right now…. that I am aware of.

Other than that, I’m free to do whatever the hell I want with my money. As are you.

Speaking of my tax dollars, let me also remind you that Egypt has been sucking off the U.S. taxpayers teat strongly since 1979. Egypt is the 2nd largest recipient of the entire U.S. foreign aid budget. We have given your country an average of $2 billion per year, every year, since 1979.

And I, along with the rest of my fellow citizens, have been the one’s ponying up that cash transfer to your great country all this time.

So hop up off my ass and stop accusing me of somehow being worse and more culpable than your current military government… who is literally shooting its own citizens in cold blood. 

There is somewhat a sense of entitlement in some of the developing world that, as hyper-liberal as I am in my politics, I found quite on my travels. When I was in Ethiopia, the President was on the front page of the paper saying they needed to become more self-sufficient — somewhere between a quarter and a third of their entire annual government budget is from foreign aid. When I was Nicaragua, the locals in San Juan del Sur complained long and hard about the poor state of the road from Managua — the entire amount that was sent to them by the World Bank to pave the road was stolen by the President at the time, who ended up serving a little easy time under house arrest for it later. When in Saigon, I heard a story about a western company that lost out on a contract to build a bridge, because their engineering specifications would have made the bridge last for 30 years.

“But then there won’t be any jobs for people to repair the bridge when it breaks,” was the local reply.

There have been numerous books written on the topic of how long-term foreign aid just makes countries dependent on… more foreign aid, and really doesn’t end up doing much for the people of the country. Leaders steal the money. There is corruption all down the line from the top to the bottom. On the whole, it is just money thrown away for the most part, never to do any real people any good in the end.

Personally, even as a bleeding heart liberal, after even my little bit of travels in the developing world, I am a little sick of the sense of entitlement that I see, from governments down to some of the people on the street. There is an argument that dependence on foreign aid at the government level seeps into the consciousness of the people and leads to a sense of entitlement at that level also.

Frankly, I think that’s more than possible.

I don’t OWE you anything. If I choose to spend my money in your country, that is my choice. Just as it is your choice whether you or not you want to visit my country, or buy Coca-Cola or go to McDonald’s.

What Am I Going to Do to Help

So I am going to turn my annoyance at this misguided, but I am sure lovely and caring, Egyptian chap and do what I can for people in need in Egypt. Hopefully in a thoughtful and meaningful way, although I wish I could do more.

 red cross red crescent logo

For each person that posts a comment on this thread that is a constructive and productive discussion of this difficult issue, I am going to donate $3 to the Egyptian Red Crescent organization, unless someone can suggest a better charity to get to the people in need in Egypt.

And if you make a donation to them also, I will match the first $20 of any donation you make. Here is the link to the Egyptian Red Crescent donate page.

Edit: If you want to donate by credit card, it appears the Egyptian Red Crescent page doesn’t accept online payments (though you can send a check). The link for the International Red Crescent is here.

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About Michael Hodson

I’m an attorney that took off on my birthday in December of 2008 to circumnavigate the globe without ever getting on an airplane. After 16 months, 6 continents and 44 countries, I made it all the way back home. Right now, I am back on the road writing about it all.

46 thoughts on “Travel, Change, and Social Conscience — Why I Currently Wouldn’t be Traveling to Egypt

  • Brian @ EverywhereOnce

    Very thoughtful article!

    It seems to me that travel is travel and charity is charity. They may overlap at times, but they aren’t at all the same thing.

    At the same time, I can see deliberately avoiding places where my participation in the economy helps perpetuate an awful government – perhaps donating to a locale charity, there or somewhere else, to offset the resulting negative impact on the innocent population.

    Plenty to think about here. Thanks.

  • Rease

    I think this is a really well-thought out post. I agree with you on a lot of points. We really cannot be guilt-tripped into spending out money just because of where we were born. I am American, but I am far from rich. I have had to go to food pantries for my food, just like some of these victims. I have college debt. I save my money to travel and no, I do not plan to nickel and dime the locals, but I don’t plan to simply throw money at them either. I donate to reputable charities, ones I feel I can trust to put my money towards helping people and not paying off the execs that run it.

    I don’t think there is anything wrong with saying no to tourism in a country that is dangerous even for peaceful protesters.

  • Sarahsomewhere

    Interesting points raised, and I think you highlighted the biggest issue there is, government corruption. The Dalai Lama has recently spoken about it, and I’m seeing it everywhere, even in my own ‘developed’ nation, Australia. I wouldn’t be traveling to Egypt right now out of fear for my safety, and like you, I love that country, but if I were to take a political stand and not travel to countries with questionable politics, corruption, war or genocide, then most countries on my itinerary (China, Cambodia, India, Indonesia to name just a few) would be out. Just a thought, but I really enjoyed reading your point of view, and thanks for discussing a topic a lot of travelers shy away from.

  • Phil

    Guilt trips in almost situation typically lead to a flawed approach in my opinion. Telling someone they need to travel somewhere to help the people living there is an absurd argument to make. I am a big proponent of travel to Mali, another country with a decimated tourism industry. But I tell people to travel there because I think it’s a beautiful country with amazing people, not because Malians need you to come. Of course Malians could use extra revenue from tourists. That shouldn’t be your reason for going, however.

    As far as the aid stuff goes.. most people assume that if you’re giving someone something, whether its money or your labor, it’s an automatic good. But often, it’s not. In fact, it can be the exact opposite. Short-term, unsustainable results, the creation of dependency, the disruption of local markets and labor – all of these can be consequences of aid and charity that many people never consider.

    What I’m trying to say is, I agree with you 🙂

  • Dave

    Hi mate,

    As part of that Twitter conversation yesterday I thought I’d briefly add to this discussion as well.

    I actually agree with what you’re saying here. I don’t think you or any other traveller has an obligation to go to Egypt right now. You / we don’t have an obligation to go anywhere at all really.

    What I took issue with yesterday was the suggestion that people should be actively discouraged from going to Egypt at the moment because the government is corrupt and lacks a mandate. To me that is a very different line of discussion. As I said at the time, it’s easy to take the high ground when you’ll be able to eat tonight either way. It is not fair, reasonable or conscionable to agitate for others to make decisions that will ultimately result in further hardship for the citizenry who are just trying to make the best of the cards they have been dealt in life. They didn’t choose their situation, and I’m sure many would opt for something else if they could. They can’t.

    You are more than welcome to make whatever choices you wish about travel to Egypt right now. Others should be able to do exactly the same.

  • Roy Marvelous

    You know, I would love to visit Egypt and I don’t even mind visiting a place that has peaceful protests. But when innocent people are being slaughtered?

    Simply put, Tourists aren’t going because THEY don’t want to get murdered.

  • Gar (Senior Vagabond)

    I’m pretty much a bleeding heart liberal myself and I agree with your post.

    I leave next week for my planned “unending” trip around (and around) the world. Hopefully, I will be able to spend some time in Egypt at some point – but not while the military are gunning down their own people in the streets. I’m allergic to war and repression.

  • Claire CN

    Hey… Okay, this IS an interesting article and of course it is great whenever anyone outside the country thinks about the situation here in Egypt.

    However, boycotting tourism….. NO! You hit the people hardest then, not the government, and it freekin hurts. Yes, I’m speaking from the inside as I own/run a B&B here but I have other income too so I’m not as dependent on the tourists as others.

    You know when you spent that month here in Dahab, did you realise that ALL of the staff in the restaurants don’t have a salary and they work for meagre commission based on the number of people who come into the restaurant that day? Taxi drivers don’t get a salary even when they are driving someone else’s car to make money from them. They get a small percentage of what they own. The guys driving the divers about, the guys looking after the dive equipment… they’re not on salaries. There isn’t a big corporate structure that supports them during the downtime. Everyone works for themselves here, and when the money from the tourists goes, there is nothing.

    COUNTLESS dive staff have had to leave Dahab this year because there is no longer the work to support them since the revolution earlier in the year. There’s now a massive shortage of dive instructors speaking the various languages required for the tourists, so less divers are coming, as there isn’t the staff to accommodate them. Either that, or they’re leaving disappointed and getting a substandard service.

    Tourism also becomes less pleasant for the tourists who are here as anyone who’s visited the pyramids this year, especially in the first half, will be able to vouch for. There are huge amounts of people (taxi drivers, tourguides, WC attendants, refreshment sellers, souvenir sellers, camel guys, horse guys etc etc) whose livelihood depends on visitors. When the numbers reduce, these guys don’t, but their desperation to sell their services/wares increases. It’s unpleasant for everyone, frankly. You might see this as incredibly inconsequential, but horses in the stables next to the pyramids are starving to death and being abandoned to die (check out the story of this horse ) because their owners can’t afford to feed them.

    Food prices have risen exponentially in Egypt this year with prices for most basic items costing the same as they do in the UK… however your average salaried Egyptian only earns in a month what someone in the UK will earn in one or two days.

    The people of Cairo are dying in Tahrir Square…. the people of Egypt are suffering and need a boost to the economy rather than any further cuts to the tourism rates. If you want to hit the government, encourage a blockade of the Suez canal (their biggest earner)…. Not quite sure how anyone would pull that off and no, I’m not suggesting it gets done either. But tourism supports MILLIONS of families here… and without it they don’t get anything.

    Boycotting tourism is NOT the answer.

    • Randi

      I totally agree with u Claire. And I think ur post was very well put.

      The only one who would be affected of such a boycott will be the hard working people who are struggling every day in the tourist industry. At the moment thousands of people staying put in Tahrir Square are risking their lifes for democracy. That alone should be worth support from all of us.
      Please, everyone who wants a lovely holiday in the sun: Why not come to Egypt.

  • Adam Dudley

    I’m with you, Michael. There is no innate obligation to help poor countries just because we won the “cultural lottery” and happen to be citizens of a rich country. And I am opposed to traveling in and giving my dollars to any government that oppresses its peoples expression.

  • Randi

    Adam Dudley, it makes me sad to read ur comment. I hope Im wrong in thinking u are very arrogant, I really do. Hope u will open ur mind as u grow older.

  • Realistic

    I think you need to do a lot more research on taxes being paid in Egypt. Just because you have a line item on your hotel, restaurant, whatever bill does not actually mean anyone is paying tax. Sure, people do pay bribes to the government to be in business but it is really quite a small amount on the whole.

    Therefore, this point is really quite pointless because you probably aren’t going to be staying at the Hilton or the Sheraton or the Four Seasons – operations who do pay tax. Operations also, by the way, owned and managed by foreign entities. You are going to be staying at small guesthouses that don’t pay tax and are owned by locals. Thus, you truly are hurting the local economy and part of the point you are trying to make is completely lost.

    Just because people are on Twitter saying ‘come to Egypt – we need your money’ doesn’t constitute a guilt trip either, really. There are infomercials on television 24 hours a day asking you to buy an ab roller, one of those bracelets that give you power, a salad chopper. Do you feel guilt tripped to by one of those, too?

    The fact of the matter is you either want to go to Egypt or you don’t. You don’t need to contort the government’s heavy handed approach into something that it isn’t. Egypt is still safer than any major American city (take a look at murder and rape stats compared to NYC, LA, or London), so when you’re ready – the pyramids will be there either way.

  • Jessica Lee

    Hey Michael,

    Although I completely agree that no one should be ‘forced’ or ‘guilt tripped’ into visiting a country (though personally, I don’t really see that happening), and I also completely agree with your words on foreign aid – having witnessed its folly time and time again in Africa and Asia – I seriously cannot agree with a blog post that tells people not to come to Egypt.

    If you don’t want to come – fine. Nobodies going to argue with that. I personally don’t fancy ever going to the USA and don’t expect anyone to tell me I should go there. What I do have a problem with is someone telling people, who may have been considering a trip here, to not come to Egypt because of what they themself perceive the situation to be here.

    I’ve lived here for the past five years. I was here during the revolution and I’m here now. What is happening in Tahrir Square is shocking and dispicable – the desperate death throes of a regime attempting to hold onto power BUT tourists and travellers are not in harms way. Just half a km from Midan Tahrir and Sharia Mohammed Mahmoud city life continues as normal. There is nothing ‘scary’ about it.

    As for not coming because of the argument that you will be supporting the regime: most of Egypt’s hotels are privately owned businesses as are the tour companies, the tour guides and the restaurants where you buy your food. Yes you’re lining the pockets of the state with your US$10 visa and for site entrance fees but you’ll spend much more of your money on your trip helping normal Egyptians be able to survive and keep afloat in economically tumultuous times.

    This isn’t a guilt trip by the way. I don’t care if people don’t want to come. What I have a problem with is someone TELLING people who might have been planning a trip not to come because you’re wrong when you say it isn’t safe and you’re wrong when you say that you’ll only be supporting the regime.

    So if you don’t want to come – fine – but for those that do want to come: This is a nation in the midst of a deep transitional phase at the moment and you’ll not only find the Egyptians as friendly as ever but also incredibly willing to sit down and share their political views, their hopes and their dreams for the future with you.

    What I would suggest, for people who do want to come, is that they consider travelling independently or booking any tours locally rather than using the big international firms. In this way you’re supporting the Egyptian people themselves rather than the big corporations. Use your time in Egypt wisely. Sit down and chat with the locals and ask them about what they think. Your experience here will be all the more richer for this simple interaction.

  • Claire CN

    I just have to add to my post with two things:

    Firstly, I tried to donate the Egyptian Red Crescent. It doesn’t appear to be possible to donate without actually visiting a branch in Egypt, or have I got that wrong? I can’t see a Paypal donate option. I have other options for you to donate to, if you like, or let me know how to as I was planning on chipping in a $20 for causing such a fuss.

    Secondly, re “If you don’t go to Congo to ‘help the people’ it’s hypocritical”. Very, very little about the majority of people’s travelling is about helping the local people – it’s all self indulgence! People who come to Egypt come to tick the pyramids and a Nile cruise off their bucket list, or enjoy some summer sun. Yes, the occasional traveller might stop in at an orphanage or take an organised tour around an especially deprived area… and some people like are doing amazing things for charity whilst travelling, but it’s still definitely in the minority. So that point is fairly dead in the water. Tourism is largely, as I said, about self-indulgence. On the other hand, actively NOT going somewhere is deliberately hurting local economies…

  • The Travel Chica

    You make an interesting point about the tourism dollars also helping to prop up whatever regime is in power. I had not thought about that before.

    I know some travelers do not agree, but for me, there are places in the world that are just too dangerous to travel. As you are doing, there are other ways to support the people.

  • Dustin Main - Skinny Backpacker

    Well written Michael. I’m not sure where I come down on this topic quite yet. I’m debating on traveling to Burma, even with it’s political situation, and unlike some here, I wouldn’t be so concerned with my safety in Egypt right now.

    As travelers, we do bring in $$ to the economies we travel to. Just like not buying at a wal-mart because you don’t want to support them, are we doing the same when we travel? Would be interesting to know where each of us who reads/comments draws their own line.

    • Trans-Americas Journey

      Before embarking on our current Trans-Americas Journey 200,000 mile road trip through North, Central and South America we backpacked through South Asia–including Burma. This was in the late ’90s–pre the current junta but during a different, equally despicable “government”.

      We wrestled with the logistical, moral and financial issues tied up with entering Burma (where a hefty tourist tax was, and probably still is, exacted from you) but we ultimately decided to go. We only utilized locally-owned hotels, restaurants guides, etc on the ground and we talked to as many locals as we could (not an easy task in a country where the walls literally have ears).

      This lead us to some valuable insights into the reality of what was happening and what had happened in Burma. This lead us to meet other people and understand other realities. This lead us to being thanked my many Burmese for coming to their country not to spend money to support an already mortally ill economy, but to see the reality ourselves then leave and tell others–something the universally oppressed locals we met were unable to do.

      We’re not in the business of telling other travelers where to go. We totally agree with Michael’s advice to draw your own no-go line. We just wanted to add an extra wrinkle to this already complicated debate: the idea of traveler as witness and messenger. (We would have been even more effective witnesses/messengers had the internet/blogs been around when we were in Burma.)

      Egypt is obviously the focus of a lot of media attention of all sorts, but there are currently plenty of other countries full of wonderful people under the thumb of dreadful governments that have not attracted the attention of old media or new media in any meaningful, authentic, thorough way.

  • Fria

    I hope I can visit Egypt and I know a lot of people have already enjoyed being there…Anyway, thanks for your post here…I really enjoyed it…

  • Christy

    I’ve been wanting to visit Egypt since I was a kid (hello, ancient Egypt archaeology obsession…) but only recently have had the means to do so. I desperately want to visit Egypt – and soon – but my partner is dead set against it right now. Citizens being murdered in the street has a way of eliciting that sort of response.

    Where I should draw my personal line as a tourist/traveler is an interesting question, though, and one I’ll definitely be thinking about more.

  • Tolba

    As someone living in Egypt for about 15 years, I can say clearly; Egypt is lost without tourism. The brave Egyptian people were so proud of what they had reached when Mubarak stepped aside. They cleaned their country and were keen to prove to the world that they are clever, self confident people who do not need a regime like Mubaraks. The wanted to show the world that they can be responsible for themselves. But unfortunately …. tourists stayed away!!! Apart from the financial problem, it left many people frustrated. Imagine you are ready to prove yourself but nobody is interested in seeing this. Egypt has a long history of welcoming strangers … so without thinking about where tourists money goes, governments, bad tourism politics, etc. I can just say: Egypt needs its visitors more than ever!!!!

  • Mina Sameh

    well I agree with you to some extent, that tourism would partly support a corrupt government as there is no possible way for a tourist to visit a country without paying money to the government.

    But as an Egyptian who is personally affected with the lack of tourism (Pharmacist in Sharm El Sheikh) I would also say that it is directly affecting those people working with tourism more than the government.
    The corrupt people working in the government wouldn’t care even if Egypt goes totally broke. They steal the aid we get, Yes. They steal the Egyptian income out of tourism along side other sources, Yes. and if all that income stopped coming in? They would simply take all the money they have stolen already and go live in Switzerland 😀

    Another thing you said that made me think twice about the way I’m living: I’m one of those hypocrites who were always trying to make tourists go to Egypt, while I never supported another poorer country.
    In the short list of countries I’ve visited so far, most of them are European. I would definitely think about that again the next times I have vaccations outside Egypt 🙂 Thanks for bringing this up.

  • gbroen

    This is a difficult and important issue. Thanks for starting the discussion and encouraging replies. But with all respect, I completely disagree with your conclusion.
    I do not see a holiday in Egypt being a matter of a ‘guilt trip’ because you are white, rich, won the cultural lottery etc., but a matter of who you react to. You can react to the wrongdoings of the current Egyptian government by promoting a boycott. In this case there are many Egyptian people who would suffer long time before the Egyptian government even notice. OR you can react to the Egyptian peoples struggle for the very same rights you are enjoying in your post; freedom of speech, freedom to choose etc. Assuming we agree that the fight for real democracy goes way beyond Egypt’s borders and current events, I personally think we are ‘guilt tripped’ into supporting that fight: By donating to charities, making conscious choices to support the local economy when traveling as well as exercising our freedom of speech in a responsible manner. Cheers for donating to the Egyptian Red Crescent.

  • Emily in Chile

    I haven’t been following recent developments in Egypt and really appreciated this update on the situation. I agree with you that whatever people choose in terms of where they will and won’t travel, it’s important to make an informed choice and not stick our heads in the sand about the realities of the places we visit.

    I applaud your generosity with the donation!

  • Bret

    Great post, Michael. You should totally submit this on the TRAVEL BLOGGERS GIVE BACK Facebook page!

    As you know, I’m a huge supporter of countries using tourism as a means to preserve local culture, traditions and economic viability. And I support the people of Egypt and what they (and other similar countries) are trying to do with the Arab Spring (autumn?) uprisings.

    But there’s a fine line between doing what’s right for other people and doing what’s right for yourself and/or your family. As much as I admire the journalists who immerse themselves in war-torn areas in search of a story (like the madman who wrote one of my favorite books, The World’s Most Dangerous Places), that sort of travel is not for me.

    It’s one thing to dive with sharks or hike a volcano or put yourself in other situations where there is a measured risk. But, for me personally, Egypt at the moment is so politically unstable and unpredictable, I would not feel safe traveling there, or advising our readers to do so.

    For tour operators who claim that we have any sort of obligation to support the people of Egypt via tourism, my response would be: Get your house in order first; then we’ll do everything we can to drive tourism in your direction. But to advise people to travel to Egypt right now would not just be socially irresponsible, it’d be downright reckless. At least that’s my 2¢…

    • Infuriatedinegypt

      If you really believe that advising people to travel to Egypt would be reckless, then you really ought to do some better research before making and passing on your opinions! How can you feel qualified to pass advice on something you clearly no nothing about?!

    • Infuriatedinegypt

      If you really believe that advising people to travel to Egypt would be reckless, then you really ought to do some better research before making and passing on your opinions! How can you feel qualified to pass advice on something you clearly know nothing about?!

  • Sinai Egypt Lover

    Interesting points raised Michael, but please please name for me a country who does not have corrupt governments, systems or human rights issue’s. You mentioned going to Zimbawee or Congo instead of Egypt! Most countries in the world these days have these same problems.

    Also i agree with the comments from the people living in Egypt, im also living in Egypt almost 7 years and did not leave this year. The problems are not towards tourists, its between the people and the government/army and the people of Egypt need all the income they can during this time.

    The majority of small locally owned hotels and restaurants are dependent on tourist income and many have had to reduce staff numbers by up to 50% this year. So that’s almost one million former tourism workers without jobs, added to other economic problems caused by this years revolution that is a lot of people much worse off. Tourism was the largest source of income for Egypt and also employed the most people, it was around 2 million people working in tourism last year.

    Small tourism operations dont pay much in terms of taxes as and since there will be no profit and very little income this year there will be very little tax contributions!

    While i agree with you completely that people have a free choice of when and where they want to go on holiday, it is important that people have the facts so that they can make an informed decision and not one that is just based on one news report from one news paper, or from one news chanel. If people really want to come to Egypt they should still come and connect with people here who can give them the real information about what is happening.

    Currently the advice from the UK Embassy in Egypt is to just stay away from the area’s of the demonstrations….which is common sense. If it was really dangerous here everyone would be told to leave ASAP!

    By the way i am from London, i have traveled all over the world and i feel safer here than i ever did in the London and many other countries. So let people make up their own minds based on facts on the ground not speculation and scare or fear mongering.

    I did not really want to go into the Aid point, i am sure you know what this money was primarily given to Egypt for and what it is largely spent on……weapons, guns, armies, tear gas……so who has been supporting the regime?

    Thanks for an interesting article and for donating money to the Red Cresent, This is a great gesture and i hope more people will donate : )

  • Amanda

    Nice post, Michael. It’s crazy how much more interesting posts like this are now that I’m actually getting a degree in tourism, and thinking about this kind of thing everyday.

    It’s a bit of a conundrum, isn’t it? I mean, on the one hand, you want to spend your tourist dollars in a country that “needs” the help. But, on the other hand, often the money you spend in those countries isn’t going to the locals at all.

    You mention how some developing countries become so dependent on foreign aid that it becomes a vicious cycle they can never escape from. This is absolutely true. And, if a lot of that foreign aid is being used to develop a tourism industry (and it often is in developing countries, as tourism is seen as a great way to grow an economy), the money made from tourism very rarely stays in local communities. A lot of tourism researchers even go so far as to call foreign-funded tourism development “new imperialism,” where the developing country becomes dependent on foreign money in the same way as if it was still under colonial rule.

    Guilt-tripping is definitely not the way to go here. I understand that many local people DO depend on tourism in places like Egypt, Uganda, etc. Some more than others. But, if the government and tourism system as a whole are corrupt, that means my money is not really helping them out much at all…

    Definitely a lot to think about when it comes to this topic.

  • Darian Culbert | Halong Bay

    The post is not long and I came to this post because I wanted someone to donate something for people in need. However, I find it interesting about your thoughts. I agree with most of your points. This doesn’t happen to Egyp only but to some other countries like Vietnam too. Here, everyone knows the problems and we take them as daily problems. We see them everyday and we live with them everyday.

  • Ayngelina

    I hear your points but in general I don’t believe in mixing politics with tourism, if that were the case there would be very few countries that held my political ideals and the US wouldn’t be one of them.

    And while the problems in Egypt are escalating, it is in a concentrated area and I don’t see how punishing the people who benefit the most from tourism dollars helps the situation at all.

  • Baron's

    interesting food for thought from all points of view expressed by Michael and responders..Personally, not sure if I’d travel into a troubled area, like Egypt or the Arab world in general. While most people are very nice over there, al lyou need is just one nut case with a machine gun who could cause a lot of damage…risky I’d say

    • Infuriatedinegypt

      same goes for….. everywhere in the world!!!!! Chances are there are more nutjobs with machine guns in the USA than in Egypt or the Arab world……..

  • Priscilla

    I actually think that when tourism dollars go down, it spurs the locals into action to vote or demonstrate to take back their country. So in a way the short term pain could create long term peace and prosperity.
    Some may argue why is anyone traveling outside the US when we have small towns in West Virginia who need our tourism money to help feed the poor and educate its children? Travel guilt is everywhere!!!!
    Good piece to contemplate Michael.

  • Alex Berger

    I’m largely in agreement. While i’m not overly worried about unrest in a country, the current issues with the mass killing/brutalization of protesters is a huge concern. Though I imagine some parallels could be made to OWS protests in the US, I think it’s safe to say the two are very, very different animals.

    As much as I’d like to see Egypt soon, i’ll probably be waiting for a bit longer. My heart really goes out to the Egyptian people.

  • Sharon Miro

    A passionate post about a subject that has no answers except the ones we develop for ourselves.

    I am surprised that you have so few comments, tho. On a subject as sensitive as this I would have expected more.

  • Camels & Chocolate

    I’ve actually really been jonesing for a trip to Egypt myself, primarily to do a little diving in the Red Sea.

  • Natasha von Geldern

    I have to agree. Like you I was in Egypt – in fact only about a week before things kicked off in January – and at the time looked forward to returning to this amazing country. But I wouldn’t have visited South Africa under apartheid and I feel deeply uneasy at the possibility of supporting a violent and repressive regime. I am very sad that it is starting to look like it will be many years before I can visit Egypt again with a light heart.

  • JoAnna

    Admittedly, a lot of world events leave me scratching my head, so thanks for the clarification about what’s going on in Egypt right now. I’d like to visit some day, and I hope the parts of Egypt that people love will still remain.

  • John

    Michael, this is a complex debate and one which I always enjoy reading your take on. It is down to all of us to take responsibility for our choices as consumers. Ranging from do I give a euro to the beggar at Porte de Namur, or donate to a charity for the homeless? To should I fly to Egypt, Burma or Mali?
    The answers aren’t clear. Like you, I have made a choice not to fly unless it is an emergency. This means that getting to Egypt would mean extended travel, which although I have the time to do, is not in my short term plans. This highlights another issue though. When tourism is promoted as the answer to a countries’ financial problems, exactly how sustainable is that solution? Currently air transport is affordable by enough passengers to support large tourism industries in countries such as Egypt. What happens when the cheap oil is finally used up? This is something happening right now. Only a world recession is depressing demand for oil by so much that the price is being held in an affordable range. Climate change and flights is another issue. Flying to the Maldives actually hastens there demise. Travel will always be with us, but the future looks more like your chosen mode, than the hop on a flight and take a short trip to the other side of the world model. What are the countries that are over reliant on long haul air passengers doing to ensure future prosperity?

  • Dayna

    While I don’t agree with every single point, I really appreciate that you wrote a point of view different than many other travel bloggers out there… it was refreshing to read and definitely food for thought, thank you.

  • Kyle

    You are absolutely correct, you have the right to spend your money however you see fit. People boycott Wal Mart because they disagree with their practices. You don’t have to go to Egypt it it bothers you. I feel like you’re doing a positive thing by donating to the Red Crescent and that’s more than you are obligated to do.

  • Teresa Vang

    It is not fair, reasonable or conscionable to agitate for others to make decisions that will ultimately result in further hardship for the citizenry who are just trying to make the best of the cards they have been dealt in life. Climate change and flights is another issue.

  • Theodora

    That’s hyper-liberal for the US, Michael. Centre verging to centre-right in the UK and most of Europe 😉

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