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.


Sudan protests rumble on as Bashir remains defiant

Updated 17 January 2019
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Sudan protests rumble on as Bashir remains defiant

  • Rights group Human Rights Watch has put the death toll at 40, including children and medical staff
  • Bashir has remained steadfast in rejecting calls for him to resign

KHARTOUM: One month after protests erupted across Sudan against rising bread prices, anti-government demonstrations have turned into daily rallies against a defiant President Omar al-Bashir who has rejected calls to resign.
Protest organisers have called for a march on the presidential palace in the capital Khartoum on Thursday, along with simultaneous demonstrations in several other cities.
Authorities say at least 24 people have died since the protests first broke out on December 19 after a government decision to triple the price of bread.
Rights group Human Rights Watch has put the death toll at 40, including children and medical staff.
The protests have escalated into nationwide anti-government demonstrations that experts say pose the biggest challenge to Bashir since he took power in an Islamist-backed coup in 1989.
"I have been demonstrating and will continue to demonstrate until this regime is overthrown," vowed Adel Ibrahim, 28, who has participated in demonstrations in Khartoum.
"We are protesting to save our future and the future of our homeland."
Protests initially broke out in the eastern town of Atbara, which has a history of anti-government sentiment, and within days spread to other provinces and then to Khartoum.
Cities like Port Sudan, Gadaref, Kassala and agricultural regions that previously backed Bashir saw protests calling for him to step down, while the western region of Darfur too witnessed rallies against the 75-year-old veteran leader.
Using social media networks to mobilise crowds, most protesters have marched chanting "Peace, freedom, justice", while some have even adopted the 2011 Arab Spring slogan -- "the people want the fall of the regime".
Crowds of demonstrators, whistling and clapping, have braved volleys of tear gas whenever they have taken to the streets, witnesses said.
"There's a momentum now and people are coming out daily," said prominent Sudanese columnist Faisal Mohamed Salih.
"Even the authorities are astonished."
Although the unrest was triggered by the cut in a vital bread subsidy, Sudan has faced a mounting economic crisis in the past year, including an acute shortage of foreign currency.
Repeated shortages of food and fuel have been reported across cities, including in Khartoum, while the cost of food and medicine has more than doubled.
Officials have blamed Washington for Sudan's economic woes.
The US imposed a trade embargo on Khartoum in 1997 that was lifted only in October 2017. It restricted Sudan from conducting international business and financial transactions.
But critics of Bashir say his government's mismanagement of key sectors and its huge spending on fighting ethnic minority rebellions in Darfur and in areas near the South Sudan border has been stoking economic trouble for years.
"If this regime continues like this, we will soon lose our country, which is why we have to fight," said Ibrahim, who has been looking for a job for years.
An umbrella group of unions of doctors, teachers and engineers calling itself the Sudanese Professionals' Association has spearheaded the campaign, calling this week the "Week of Uprising".
"Protesters don't even know the organisers by names, but they still trust them," said Salih.
Sudanese authorities led by the feared National Intelligence and Security Service (NISS) have cracked down on protesters, drawing international criticism.
More than 1,000 people, including protesters, activists, opposition leaders and journalists have been arrested so far, rights groups say.
Bashir has remained steadfast in rejecting calls for him to resign.
"Demonstrations will not change the government," he told a rally in Darfur on Monday as supporters chanted "Stay, stay".
"There's only one road to power and that is through the ballot box. The Sudanese people will decide in 2020 who will govern them," said Bashir, who is planning to run for the presidency for the third time in elections to be held next year.
Two uprisings in Sudan in 1964 and 1985 saw regimes change within days, but experts say this time protesters have a long road ahead.
"At the moment, Bashir appears to have the majority of the security services on his side," said Willow Berridge, a lecturer at Britain's Newcastle University.
Bashir's ruling National Congress Party has dismissed the demonstrations.
"There are some gatherings, but they are isolated and not big," party spokesman Ibrahim al-Siddiq told AFP.
The International Crisis Group think-tank said Bashir might well weather the unrest.
"But if he does, it will almost certainly be at the cost of further economic decline, greater popular anger, more protests and even tougher crackdowns," it said in a report.
Salih said protesters appeared to be determined.
"But the one who tires first will lose," he said.