Eposti offers a snapshot of Cairo's new historical attractions @ Arab Review.
The body sways slightly in the breeze, its heavy bulk suspended from the lamppost above by a length of thick cord. Next to this effigy – of Mubarak, of SCAF, of the lingering corruption and instability in Egypt, the choice is yours – a hand-written poster proclaims that “the revolution will not stay unfinished”. Below the sign a gaggle of bearded Salafis and veiled women wave banners, while Islamic chanting blares from loudspeakers around the square.
This is Cairo’s Tahrir Square, one year on. The same Tahrir Square where thousands of Egyptians gathered on 25 January 2011 to overthrow their tyrannical leader; the same Tahrir Square where government forces opened fire on unarmed civilians and where street battles were waged under a cloud of tear gas. Now, more than 14 months later, under the swaying mannequin and in front of the protesting Salafists a group of fair-skinned backpackers are posing for a photograph – tourists.
This is my first time in Cairo, and although the noise, chaos and heat are all as I expected – as are the lingering smells of cardamom-laced coffee and traffic fumes that pervade the city – I am surprised to find that mine is one of only a handful of Western faces I am able to spot in the teeming masses of the city. Where have all the tourists gone?
Although the official statistics say that tourist numbers fell a third in 2011, the deserted archaeological sites and echoing hotel corridors suggest that the true number may be much greater. The well-beaten track from Luxor to Sharm el Sheikh is all but deserted; a few sorrowful looking tour buses sit churning up the dust in the car park of Cairo’s Pyramids. The Foreign and Commonwealth Office still advises against travel to many parts of the country, and many of my friends and colleagues looked at me slightly oddly when I informed them I was intending to go to Egypt – indeed, during my time in Cairo several people were killed in demonstrations in front of the Defence Ministry.
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