Pyramids clean-up plans to send scammers packing

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Updated 06 February 2018
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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.


Syria flare-up kills 35 fighters, including 26 pro-regime forces

Updated 4 min 52 sec ago
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Syria flare-up kills 35 fighters, including 26 pro-regime forces

  • Russian-backed regime forces try to retake villages seized by opposition forces and allied fighters
  • The clashes also left 26 pro-regime forces dead in the north of Hama province

 

BEIRUT: At least 10 civilians and 35 combatants, mostly pro-regime forces, were killed on Saturday in clashes and airstrikes that erupted at dawn in northwestern Syria, a war monitor said.

The flare-up came as Russian-backed regime forces tried to retake two villages seized by opposition forces and allied fighters earlier this month, the Britain-based Syrian Observatory for Human Rights said.

“Since this morning, the Syrian regime and allied fighters have launched five failed attempts to regain control of Jibine and Tal Maleh in northwestern Hama province,” said Observatory head Rami Abdel Rahman.

Syrian regime airstrikes killed nine opposition fighters, the war monitor said.

Ensuing clashes in the north of Hama province left 26 pro-regime forces dead, including eight who were killed in a mine explosion, the Observatory said.

In neighboring Idlib, regime airstrikes killed 10 civilians, including three children, the Observatory said.

The strikes hit the towns of Maaret Al-Numan and Al-Bara as well as the village of Al-Ftira, according to the war monitor.

The Idlib region of some 3 million people is supposed to be protected from a massive regime offensive by a buffer zone deal that Russia and Turkey signed in September.

But it was never fully implemented, as opposition refused to withdraw from a planned demilitarized zone.

In January, the Hayat Tahrir Al-Sham alliance led by Syria’s former Al-Qaeda affiliate extended its administrative control over the region, which includes most of Idlib province as well as adjacent slivers of Latakia, Hama and Aleppo provinces.

The Syrian regime and Russia have upped their bombardment of the region since late April, killing nearly 400 civilians, according to the Observatory.

Turkey said on Friday that it did not accept Russia’s “excuse” that it had no ability to stop the Syrian regime’s continued bombardments in the last opposition bastion of Idlib.

“In Syria, who are the regime’s guarantors? Russia and Iran,” Foreign Minister Mevlut Cavusoglu told state news agency Anadolu in a televised interview.

“Thus we do not accept the excuse that ‘We cannot make the regime listen to us’,” he said.

His comments came as Turkey disagreed with Russia earlier this week after Moscow claimed a new cease-fire had been secured in the province following weeks of regime bombardments — a claim that was denied by Ankara.

Syria’s war has killed more than 370,000 people and displaced millions since it started in 2011 with the repression of anti-regime protests.

Russia launched a military intervention in support of the regime in 2015, helping its forces reclaim large parts of the country from opposition fighters and militants.