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Egypt’s beleaguered tourism industry bounces back | TribLIVE.com
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Egypt’s beleaguered tourism industry bounces back

Tribune-Review
| Saturday, November 22, 2014 10:52 p.m.
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Sima Diab
The Sphinx reopens after four years of restorations on November 9, 2014.
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Sima Diab
Details of the restoration performed on the Sphinx on display for press at the reopening of the Sphinx courtyard, November 9, 2014.
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Sima Diab
Students from local schools tour the pyramids at the Giza Necropolis, November 20, 2014.
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Sima Diab
Tourists take pictures at the pyramids on a foggy morning in the Giza Necropolis November 20, 2014.
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Sima Diab
Inside the Menkaure pyramid, the smallest of the three pyramids at the Giza Necropolis, November 20, 2014. The tomb is made of limestone and granite and the five chambers are believed to have housed the statues buried with the fourth dynasty Egyptian Pharoah Menkaure.
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Sima Diab
Prime Minister Ibrahim Mahlab (center) and Antiquities Minister Mamdouh Al Damaty (center left) reopen the Sphinx courtyard and the Menkaure pyramid on November 9, 2014 in front of members of the press.
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Sima Diab
The Sphinx's courtyard reopened after four years of restorations on its chest and shoulder, Sunday November 9, 2014. Menkaure pyramid, the smallest of the three pyramids will also be open to the public on December 1, 2014 for the first time after three years of restorations.
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Sima Diab
Menkaure pyramid, the smallest of the three pyramids in the Giza Necropolis is lit on the evening of November 9, 2014. Menkaure pyramid will open to the public on December 1, 2014 according to Director General of Giza, Sakkara and Dahshour Antiquities Kamal Wahid.
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Sima Diab
Abdullah Nasr, 39, a tour guide in the family business sits in his store in the Nazlet el Samman neighborhood situated at the foot of the pyramids in the Giza Necropolis. 'Now things are safe, I feel safe,' says Nasr. 'Any time I have to go away for work, I dream of when I get back so I can drink tea and look at the pyramids.'
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Sima Diab
Kamal Ali, a store worker in the Nazlet Al Samman neighborhood at the foot of the pyramids, looks outside the storefront window on November 12, 2014. The store sells souvenirs mainly to tourists.
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Sima Diab
A sign hanging on a building in the Nazlet Al Samman neighborhood at the foot of the Great Pyramid of Cheops reads: 'We welcome the Prime Minister, No to Relocation, Yes to Development' on November 12, 2014.
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Sima Diab
Australian Marty Pannin, 37, a former airline pilot says he wasn't worried about coming to Egypt. 'I wasn't afraid at all. We all have our own vortex going on.' Pannin visited the pyramids to meditate on November 12, 2014.
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Sima Diab
Director General of Giza, Sakkara and Dahshour Antiquities Kamal Wahid in his office on November 20, 2014, says tourism increased since last year.

GIZA, Egypt — In front of the Giza Plateau’s Great Pyramids and Sphinx, tourists ride colorfully decorated camels or horses led by Egyptian boys.

Tour buses lumber by on a dusty road lined with souvenir shops selling gold and silver cartouches, painted papyrus, and statuettes of ancient Egyptian gods, goddesses and rulers.

The tumultuous years since Egypt’s 2011 revolution devastated shopkeepers, who have worked in tourism here for generations. Five months ago, tour guides sat on the stoops of empty stores, praying for tourists who rarely came.

Now “business is really picking up,” said Abdullah Nasr, 39, a guide for Guardian Travels, which specializes in metaphysical and spiritual tours. “We feel like our country is back.”

“These days are good,” agreed Kamal Ali, who works in the family-owned company’s souvenir shop. “It still hasn’t reached the levels of tourists we had in 2009, 2010, but it is good. The security situation is better now.”

Giza’s pyramids — the only wonders of the ancient world still standing — have attracted awed visitors for centuries. But tourism evaporated because of the bloody revolution and last year’s bloodier ouster of Islamist President Mohamed Morsy and his Muslim Brotherhood-led regime.

Tomb raiders and antiquity thieves looted many ancient sites where security had melted.

Former army chief Abdel Fatah al-Sisi won the presidency in May on a promise to restore stability. Not surprisingly, the tourism-dependent Gizan village of Nazlet al Samman strongly favored him.

That support has stiffened with the insurgency in Egypt’s Sinai, where the Ansar Beit al Maqdis terror group swore allegiance to ISIS, and growing terrorist attacks across the country.

“Most Egyptians want to live in peace, work and watch football — maybe date, that is all,” Nasr said. “When the Brotherhood came to power, it was like someone stealing your identity, your culture. It was personal.”

One Islamist, he recalled, condemned the pyramids and the Sphinx as idols and “wanted to destroy (them) … wanted to destroy Egypt and make it like Afghanistan.”

“Now we feel safe. Anytime I have to go away for work, I dream of when I will come back to sit and drink tea and look at the pyramids.”

Guardian Travels customers often “meditate to bring peace,” Nasr explained. “They believe that Egypt is the center of the world. So if there is peace here, it will spread throughout the world.”

Marty Pannin, 37, was one of those meditating recently in the Great Pyramid Cheops.

“It was phenomenal,” said the former Australian pilot.

Recent terrorist attacks in the Sinai did not faze him.

“No, I wasn’t afraid,” he said. “We all have our own vortex going on.”

The Egyptian government is keen to re-establish tourism, a leading source of hard currency.

Last week, experts finished a four-year restoration of the Sphinx and its courtyard, and a three-year restoration of the smallest pyramid, Menkaure. Prime Minister Ibrahim Mahlab and Antiquities Minister Mamdouh al Damaty attended a chaotic opening for local and foreign press.

Carved from a single limestone slab, the Sphinx has a lion’s body and a man’s face. Squatting in a quarry below Giza’s pyramids, the mythical creature is the world’s largest monolith: 66 feet tall, 241 feet long, 63 feet wide.

“Part of the chest of the Sphinx was weak limestone,” said Kamal Wahid, director-general of Giza’s antiquities. “We removed a small part … and put in a new one. It is a normal and routine restoration.”

Yet all is not peaceful here.

Wahid, who oversees antiquities in the Sakkara andDahshour pyramid complexes, said work will raze 50 homes along the Cheops causeway and a nearby temple — to the dismay of homeowners.

A committee of six ministries is developing a plan for the displaced, he said.

“They will move them to new houses not far away. … We will find for them a place to sell their products for the tourists.”

In the village of Nazlet al Samman, Nasr stands on the rooftop of Guardian Travels guesthouse overlooking the pyramids and the Sphinx; its 11 guest rooms are full.

He pointed to the condemned houses, some with signs declaring: “No to relocation, yes to development.”

“Development would be better,” he said. “Removing them will be a mistake.”

Betsy Hiel is the Tribune-Review’s foreign correspondent. Email her at bhiel@tribweb.com.

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