WASHINGTON, May 13, 2017 – A proverb in Egypt is that “Once you drink from the Nile, you are destined to return.” Standing on the balcony of the Fairmont Hotel overlooking the sailboats dancing on the sparkling water, I wondered on that day in September 2010, when it was that I would return.
Then there was the Arab spring in December 2010, and the hope to return to a region in the midst of a revolutionary wave of both violent and non-violent demonstrations, protests, riots, coups and civil wars and the 2011 revolution that toppled the longtime dictator Hosni Mubarak.
Ancient history in the Middle East is being destroyed, both as a result of conflict and as a direct action by those who sought to wipe all civilizations for the face of the earth.
As Palmyra fell, would the Valley of the Kings, the Great Pyramids of Giza, the Temple at Luxor, the Great Sphinx, Abu Simbel, and Saqqara, be safe. Would Petra, across the Red Sea in Jordan continue to stand or be destroyed through ignorance and hate?
Would tourists ever be able to safely return to the sand beaches and luxury hotels of Sharm El Sheikh, or the architectural wonders of Cairo and Luxor?
Egypt has lost millions of tourism dollars from Europeans that once represented 72% of all inbound tourism to Egypt. Those Europeans no longer travel to once popular tourist spots. Daily News Egypt reports that Adel Zaki, chairperson of Itta Tours, says cultural tourism in Egypt has lost 98% of all revenue during the past six years that the lack of tourists visiting archaeological sites has led to the reduction, if not closing of 270 hotels between Luxor and Aswan.
The recent discovery of an ancient burial site replete with at least 17 mostly intact mummies is the latest find that the country’s antiquities minister hopes will help reenergize Egypt’s struggling tourism.
A necropolis uncovered eight meters below ground in the Nile Valley city of Minya, a province about 250km south of Cairo, the antiquities ministry said.
The necropolis, a vast archaeological site on the edge of the Western desert was found in the village of Tuna al-Gabal. A large cemetery with elaborate tomb monuments, necropolis translates, literally, to “city of the dead” and dates back to the late period of ancient Egypt and the Greco-Roman period.
The necropolis holds six sarcophagi, two clay coffins, two papyri written in demotic script and a number of vessels in addition to thousands of mummified ibis and baboons, as well as other animals, in addition to human tombs and a funerary building. The mummies were elaborately preserved and are thought to belong to officials and priests. “It’s the first human necropolis to be found here in Tuna al-Gabal,” antiquities minister Khaled al-Anani says.
Previously, in December 2016, Spanish archaeologists working in Luxor, a city of some 50,000 people that has long been a key site for tourism, discovered an Egyptian mummy in “very good condition.” The remains were found in a tomb probably dating from between 1075BC and 664BC on the west bank of the Nile, 435 miles (700km) south of Cairo according to a statement released by the ministry.
The mummy, found near the temple of the warrior King Thutmouse III, is bound with linen stuck together with plaster before being placed in a brightly colored wooden sarcophagus, a process that dates back to 4500 BC. It is thought that the remains belonged to Amenrenef, a nobleman who would have been a servant of the royal household, the ministry said.
Despite the desire to see this newest discovery, the question as to when it will be safe for tourism to return is unanswered.
Social media and comment boards catering to those that would travel to the area continue to be filled with negative comments for travelers:
“At the Pyramids of Giza the ground is covered with waste, self-declared “guides” harass tourists, cheap, unattractive souvenirs (if any) on sale, access to tombs and into pyramids often with bribes only, no or hardly any amenities (not even toilets), and the infrastructure such as roads and railway are in an extremely bad shape turning the trip to the sites into nightmares.”
Until safety and comfort issues are resolved, it is doubtful that many tourists will return. Let’s hope the Minister of Tourism is reading.
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