Pyramids clean-up plans to send scammers packing

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Updated 06 February 2018

Pyramids clean-up plans to send scammers packing

CAIRO: Nothing says “Egypt” like the Great Pyramids of Giza. The monumental structures are the oldest of the Seven Wonders of the World, and are the only remaining wonder of the ancient world.
Visiting them ought to be a magical experience. In practice, it is anything but. It involves fending off aggressive vendors and scammers, and wading through litter.
With tourism improving for the first time since the 2011 revolution, Egypt has decided it must improve conditions around one of its main attractions and biggest money spinners.
A development project costing 400 million Egyptian pounds ($23 million) to modernize the infrastructure around the pyramids includes plans for a fleet of electric cars transporting visitors from the entrance of the archaeological complex to the pyramids every five minutes.
The planned transformation also involves closing off the Mena House entrance to the site, restricting entry to the Fayoum entrance, and connecting the pyramids to the Grand Egyptian Museum, which is scheduled to open later this year.
Mohammed Ismail, general supervisor for the development project, told Al-Masry Al-Yom newspaper that the electric vehicles will be driven on UNESCO-approved “yellow concrete suitable for the area.”
The current pyramid “experience” involves passing through a heavy security checkpoint, only to face a barrage of hawkers and conmen using the hardest of hard-sell techniques for overpriced souvenirs, tickets and camel rides.
Jumping in front of vehicles and jostling tourists on foot, they loudly insist they are the sole purveyors of entrance tickets, and the only way to the pyramids is by horse — their horse.
Signs state that rides should cost no more than 5 pounds, but the scammers often demand hundreds.
“I was taking photos, and a man appeared out of nowhere and shoved a scarf into my bag,” said Mike, a 30-year-old tourist from England.
“I tried to give it back to him, but he claimed I’d already taken it and had to pay for it. The police just watched, and I only managed to get away by forcing the scarf back into his hand and rushing off. He actually looked offended!”
Another tourist said: “We drove past some very heavy security, and all of a sudden our car gets charged by three men shouting at us and banging on the car. They pointed at us to pull over to the side, but our driver managed to get past them and speed off. It was quite scary really.”
Even after fending off the scammers outside the complex, there is little chance of visitors enjoying the pyramids in relative peace because there are more vendors inside.
Police officers, who are supposed to safeguard the complex and provide a reassuring presence for tourists, stand idly by.
One Egyptian who helped two tourists escape from persistent hawkers was attacked by one of them for “stealing away customers.” When he complained to the police, they accused him of soliciting tourists without a license.
The sight that greets visitors is nothing like the typical travel brochure vista of the pyramids rising majestically from vast expanses of pristine desert.
Instead, approaching the venerable ancient monuments means wading through a sea of modern detritus: Cigarette packets, drinks and snack wrappers. No wonder Ismail describes it as an “open zoo.”
Tourist numbers in 2017 were 55 percent up on the previous year, and hopes are high that they will be even better this year.
On Feb. 20, flights from Russia are set to resume for the first time since the downing in October 2015 of a Russian carrier that was flying passengers from Sharm El-Sheikh on the Red Sea to St. Petersburg.
The 400-million-pound redevelopment budget does not include funding for the electric car shuttles. “We are looking for a financier,” said Ismail.
But the fate of nuisance vendors and camel-ride scammers is sealed. They will be moved to an entirely separate area dedicated to horse-riding.

Egypt votes on extending El-Sisi’s rule, country awaits result

Updated 20 April 2019

Egypt votes on extending El-Sisi’s rule, country awaits result

  • El-Sisi cast his ballot at a polling station in the eastern suburb of Heliopolis in the Egyptian capital
  • Supporters argue that El-Sisi has stabilized Egypt and needs more time to complete crucial economic reforms.

CAIRO: Egyptians were voting on Saturday in a referendum that aims to cement the rule of President Abdel Fattah El-Sisi, the former coup leader who presents himself as a rock of stability in a turbulent region.

Voters were being asked to back amendments to the constitution to allow El-Sisi, 64, to run for another six-year term while boosting his control over the judiciary and giving the military even greater influence in political life.

At a polling station in Manyal, a Cairo suburb overlooking the Nile, Mohamed Abdel Salam, 45, told AFP he was voting enthusiastically in support of the changes.

"I don't care about the presidential terms," he said.

"Sisi could stay forever as long as he's doing his job... and he has already done a lot"

The three-day referendum bucks the trend of North Africa's renewed uprisings, in which mass pro-democracy protests this month swept away veteran presidents in Algeria and Sudan.

Sisi himself was among the first to vote when polls opened, casting his ballot in the upmarket Cairo suburb of Heliopolis.

In Shubra, a working-class neighbourhood of the capital, dozens of voters, mostly women carrying their children, queued outside a polling station in the local high school.

In Cairo, troops and police were deployed in numbers although the interior ministry declined to give any nationwide figures.

Egypt is still battling a hardened Islamic insurgency based in the Sinai Peninsula that has seen attacks in Cairo and other cities.

Sisi has argued that he needs longer to complete the job of restoring security and stability after the turmoil that followed the overthrow of veteran autocrat Hosni Mubarak in the Arab Spring of 2011.

Out on the streets, Sisi's supporters waved flags bearing their campaign motto: "Do the Right" thing, as they pressed passers-by to turn out and vote 'Yes'.

The Egyptian leader won his first term as president in 2014, a year after he led the army in overthrowing elected Islamist president Mohamed Morsi following mass protests against his single turbulent year in power.

Standing virtually unopposed after the disqualification or withdrawal of all realistic challengers, he was re-elected in March 2018 with more than 97 percent.

Both elections drew heavy criticism from human rights groups as they were accompanied by swingeing crackdowns on dissent -- both Islamist and secular.

Human Rights Watch also took issue with the referendum on extending Sisi's rule, saying the "constitutional amendments" would "entrench repression".

In a statement Saturday, the New York-based watchdog criticised the "grossly unfree, rights-abusive environment" of the vote.

For the past few weeks, Egypt's streets have been awash with banners and billboards urging citizens to vote for Sisi, while popular folk singers have exhorted voters to go to the polls.

Pro-Sisi campaign volunteers handed out boxed meals at four different polling stations in Cairo to voters after they had cast their ballots, AFP reporters said.

A parliamentarian greeted voters and volunteers gave out vouchers for the meals in the Shubra district.

In Manyal, a DJ blared loud patriotic songs extolling the virtues of Egypt under Sisi's leadership, including a new song by iconic Lebanese diva Nancy Ajram dedicated to Egypt and called "Ragel ibn Ragel" (What a fine man).

But not everyone is upbeat about the changes.

Sporting casual attire, a voter in his mid-30s told AFP in Cairo: "We are all staff in the same company and we were instructed by management to go vote.

"I want to say 'No'... on extending the presidential terms and the amendments related to the judiciary," he said declining to give his name for fear of repercussions.

He pointed to his bosses nearby who were making sure employees were voting.

"Even if I say 'No', they (the authorities) are still going to do what they want in the end," he added despondently.

Earlier in the week, parliament overwhelmingly endorsed the consitutional changes, which also include the creation of a second parliamentary chamber and a quota ensuring at least 25 percent of lawmakers are women.

Think tank the Soufan Center said the main effect of the referendum would be to "solidify Sisi's grip on the Egyptian political regime" in a country that "has become even more autocratic than it was under Mubarak".