Saturday, March 12, 2011

You Can't Have Your #Jan25 Revolution Cake and Eat it Too -Part 1- On Tourism

One of the most pervasive, mistimed but no-doubt well intentioned perspectives circulating as binary code across social media and as actions by youth across urban centers is the extremely positive, patriotic, proactive urge to rebuild #Egypt. The calls to rebuild #Egypt have taken many forms over the last few weeks it started off with an invitation to tourists to come back since tourism is supposedly one of Egypt's most important economic activities, which was shortly followed by a call to invest 120 L.E in the stock market, then a call to end bribery and corruption, including a hot-line to call in and report corruption. Youth took the streets of slums and economically marginalized areas, where they started sweeping the streets and repainting the sidewalks. The new sense of pride and ownership many Egyptians have started to feel has fueled this new found love and pride in their homeland. After 30 years of living under an oppressive dictatorship people were exhilarated to finally reclaim their country through the #Jan25 revolution, except one thing was missing #Jan25 was not over yet. The tearing down was not concluded for the rebuilding to begin.

I remember when I was still in school, the back cover of our school books would have a list of bullet-points inside a floral frame with different slogans, "Cleanliness is part of faith", "Diligence in your work is prayer", "Your teeth are the mirror of your health" and many more random and obscure statements that were supposed to guide our sense of morality and patriotism, these statements felt right and felt good. One would often recite them to make a point, but they lacked substance and were infused with unrealistic hypocrisy that failed to adequately address the root causes of many of the problems we knew. These statements claimed a false sense of wellness and goodness if we followed their prescriptions, but when push came to shove, I wasn't really sure how to follow them, what they really meant and what was hidden within them. The recent calls of action and actions to rebuild #Egypt undertaken following #Mubarak's resignation somehow leave me with that same strange aftertaste the empty slogans on the back my old school books once did.

To start rebuilding after a revolution automatically implies that the revolution is over. But when the revolution is not over to start rebuilding before the taking apart is done, in our minds, automatically brings to an end the purging of the old. Underlying The calls for rebuilding are the calls for stability, which bring an end to revolution. Revolution is anything but stable and when we are ready to move on and build we are also ready to stop unpacking. Let's take for instance this idea of calling tourists back, tourism constitutes about 7.3% of #Egypt's GDP. What are we not unpacking when we choose to start rebuilding our tourism economy? All the videos circulating about #tourism in #Egypt showed verdant golf-scapes, exotic markets, empty pristine bikini-clad beaches and ancient monuments. They showed tourists being served and experiencing a luxury that most Egyptians would never get to experience. It is not just limited to luxuries that most Egyptians will never get, but also necessities, take for instance the case of Hilton Nuweiba other than the luscious lawns and gardens awkwardly placed in the middle of a hot arid desert, each tourist is averaged to consume 120 Liters of water in their bathrooms. That's not including their drinking water. While Bedouins in the surrounding area are having problems accessing more than 2-3 liters of water a day. The lack of potable water is not just limited to Bedouins but most Egyptians do not have daily access to water and if they do it averages 1-3 hours of water a day, yet each tourist has enough water to almost create their own ponds. That's not even saying anything about the quality of the water that most people get, compared to that available in resorts.

The Red Sea Coast has become littered with large resorts from Hurghada to Sudan, while most hotels report a 10% capacity, there's been a rapid increase in the construction of resorts. I find this rather disconcerting, the logic rather absurd. Here's a math problem for you: You have 10% capacity in your hotels, so you build more hotels to increase your capacity, will that increase or decrease your capacity per hotel? Maybe I can attribute this idea as a harmless case of bad planning, but what about the beaches, corals, mangroves and livelihoods that have been destroyed through this senseless planning. Many would argue that these resorts employ large amounts of Egyptian #youth, creating badly needed employment opportunities for Egypt's largest demographic. Tourist sector employee wages are pitiful compared to the millions made by those who run these resorts. The exploitation of someone's labor no matter how you frame it cannot be equated with opportunity.

Finally, our whole tourism industry revolves around serving the tourists. Not only are Egyptians second class citizens, the only space of interaction that we have with most tourists is through servicing them. This is not a model based on an exchange of cultural values and experiences, it is a model that is based on a whole nation catering to the whims and needs of cheap package tours. Considering the kind of wages most people working in the tourism sector make this is akin to slave labor. So do you really want to rebuild this, before its taken apart? Because when you want tourism to come back in and you want to rebuild that model you are also saying that there is nothing to be taken apart. You cannot rebuild on shaky foundations and you cannot have stability during a revolution.

This post was inspired by conversations (or FB comments) with @sumayaholdijk, Dalia Abulfotuh, @Nevsh, @3arabawy, Nermine Fakhry, Aya Sheikhany, Aliaa Elieche, @saraassem, @fazerofzanight, Kate Harrison-Muchnick and Elizabeth Turnbull

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