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.


Lebanese MP: Sweida hostages were freed by Russia

The regime wanted to use what happened to blackmail Syrian Druze into returning to the military service, says the MP. (AFP/SANA)
Updated 10 min 54 sec ago
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Lebanese MP: Sweida hostages were freed by Russia

  • The Russians were responsible for the monitoring, reconnaissance, timing and execution of the operation
  • Daesh had kidnapped 36 women and children from the Syrian southern province of Sweida during an attack that killed more than 250 people

BEIRUT: Lebanese MP and member of the Democratic Gathering party Wael Abou Faour told Arab News that “the liberation of the women abducted by Daesh on Nov. 8 was accomplished by Russian special forces. They were responsible for the monitoring, reconnaissance, timing and execution of the operation. The Syrian army was not the one to do so as the regime had claimed. However, some Syrian elements that directly follow the Russian leadership took part in the operation.”

“What happened was a military liberation operation. No deal was made with the Syrian regime or the abductors,” he added.
Faour had accompanied the head of the Democratic Gathering party, Taymour Jumblatt, on a trip to Moscow where they met with the Russian Deputy Foreign Minister Mikhail Bogdanov, in the presence of the official in charge of the issues of Lebanon, Syria and Palestine Andrei Banov. “The Russians informed us that the hostages will be released very soon at 10 a.m. Moscow time, while the Syrian announcement of their liberation came at 3 in the afternoon,” he noted.
Daesh had kidnapped 36 women and children from the Syrian southern province of Sweida during an attack that killed more than 250 people, according to the Syrian Observatory for Human Rights.
“The Syrian regime was responsible for the kidnapping in the first place, so it is not normal for it to be behind the liberation. The regime wanted to use what happened to blackmail Syrian Druze into returning to the military service. There are hundred of thousands of Druze in Syria and 53,000 of them refused to join the military.”
“Since the beginning of the kidnapping crisis, the Russian leadership informed us that it is working directly on the ground and running the negotiations. Through announcing its responsibility for the liberation of the hostages, the Syrian regime is trying to look as if it is protecting the Druze and acquit itself from letting Daesh into the Druze areas,” Faour pointed out.
“The situation in Sweida is relatively acceptable. Some arrangements are being made under the direct guidance of the Russian leadership. Taymour Jumblatt is taking part in this matter in a way that preserves the security of Sweida residents and their relations with the rest of the Syrian people and prevents their usage in any future conspiracies carried out by the regime.
“These recent events showed that Taymour Jumblatt’s confidence in the Russians was in place especially after the liberation operation. Further discussions about future arrangements related to the Druze’s situation in Syria are under way. A suggestion proposed that the Druze wanted for military service would join the fifth legion led directly by Russia, which is receiving positive feedback among Druze,” he said.
“The relation between the Progressive Socialist Party led by Walid Jumblatt and the Russian Federation is historic. Russians preserve their relations with their historic allies and remember the great role of Kamal Jumblatt, who was awarded with the Order of Lenin among very few figures in the world. They also cherish the common friendship and struggle they share with Walid Jumblatt and want to consolidate the relation with his son Taymour.
“The relation with Russia does not lead to a relation with President Bashar Assad. That relation will only come back to life when there is a democratic regime in Syria,” Faour stressed.
“Russia is working on a gradual political solution in Syria. There is no turning away from the constitutional committee. There are discussions related to the representatives of the civil society that constitute a third of the committee, which balances it in some way.
“The meeting held with Russian officials also discussed Lebanese issues. Moscow showed a great interest in the internal situation and it fears that the current developments, international disputes in particular, may destabilize its stability.
“They are very concerned with the forming of the Lebanese government headed by Saad Hariri, and Bogdanov expressed Russia’s readiness to take any initiative to help Lebanon overcome the government crisis,” he added.