I love Egypt, I genuinely think it is one of the best destinations on the planet and I have had countless adventures there over the years. But at the same time I am growing increasingly frustrated with Egypt as a country, with illegal buildings encroaching onto the Giza plateau and other hitorical and cultural sites, and think that if it is not careful, it will not only destroy its own tourism industry but more importantly lose some of history’s greatest treasures forever.
Egypt has been one of the worlds greatest travel destinations since time immemorial. It has been a source of endless wonder and fascination for me that I could walk in the footsteps of Victorian explorers, Roman Emperors, Macedonian and Arab invaders and Greek Scholars alike, simply existing in the same space as one of written histories most ancient civilisations and seeing for myself some of histories greatest landmarks and ancient wonders.
I have loved spending time in different parts of the country and immersing myself in its culture and traditions. I just love Egypt as a destination.
But despite this love affair, recent visits to the country have left me increasingly frustrated with the state of Egyptian tourism and physically angry at seeing what is happening there. But not for reasons that you may think.
I am not frustrated at the level of touts and hassle that Egypt is said to have. It can get annoying on occasion but it is never as bad as people assume. It isn’t the ridiculous and endless ‘rules’ at tourist sites that are often made up on the spot, inconsistently applied and seem to be designed purely to squeeze every last penny possible from gullible tourists. It isn’t even the scaremongering from the mass media at how dangerous Egypt is supposed to be and how that has caused Egyptian tourism to suffer significantly in recent years.
What is making me angry beyond belief is seeing what is happening to the ancient wonders and monuments I have come to see.
It is the Egyptian government, the Egyptian people and even the tourism industry itself that is doing more harm to Egyptian tourism than any Western media ever could.
UNESCO world heritage sites are being built on top of and used as rubbish tips, package tourists are allowed to clamber over priceless statues for a selfie whilst ‘guards’ are only concerned about selling more tickets and stopping other tourists from taking photos at all unless they pay for extra tickets.
And it is the increasing damage to historical sites, and Egypt’s main tourist draws, through illegal building, government corruption, unmanaged urban crawl and the complete disregard for planning law and regulations that are making me furious.
The Pyramids of Giza at risk.
The Giza plateau is part of a vast archaeological complex that stretches as far as Dashur and Saqqara and has been a protected and designated UNESCO site since 1979, as long as I have been alive.
The Pyramids and the Sphinx itself have suffered untold damage over the centuries, and Giza itself has always encroached closer and closer to the plateau itself in living memory, so much so that many tourists are surprised to find that the city basically edges right up to the plateau, with the suburb of Nazlet El Samman holding a number of small hotels and guesthouses, as well as many of the horse and camel stables that take tourists out into the desert and even the infamous Pizza Hut in front of the Sphinx.
Yes, that is a thing.
But since the Egyptian revolution in 2011, a lack of any real security and a lazy government bureaucracy backed up by corruption and self interest, private construction companies have been allowed to demolish and rebuild large, multi storey residential buildings that encroach onto the plateau itself.
Not only that, the long -once largely pedestrianized – road that stretched through the plateau for many years has now been joined by two large car parks and a roundabout, one by the primary entrance near the Pyramid of Khufu, and another one in front of the Pyramid of Khafre.
The Giza Plateau is now a god damn car park!
Car parks, right outside the Pyramids, just so fat package tourists don’t have to waddle as far from their air conditioned coaches!
I have no words!
Nothing should be being built on a site of such historical and cultural importance. Nothing!
These abominations, along with an actual helipad and an extended road that will eventually lead to the long delayed new Egyptian Museum which is being built out in the desert just past the plateau, have been build right on top of the plateau at a time when many other major UNESCO heritage sites such as Kathmandu and Agra in India are taking steps to stem the harmful traffic vibrations and pollution by banning traffic around sites.
They are being built on a plateau that once had at least a certain amount of protection, a site that Zawi Hawass, the former Director General of the Supreme Council Of Antiquities, for all his bombastic nonsense, at the very least once tried to protect.
A threat to Egypt’s cultural and historical heritage.
Although some efforts have been made to demolish some of the illegal building on top of the plateau, the security forces are still largely underfunded and ineffectual since the cultural revolution and do very little to curb the illegal building, and the current government shows very little sign of doing anything about it.
In fact the limited efforts that have been implemented have been met with resistance from the residents of Nazlet El Samman and backed up by a legal ruling that allowed occupied buildings to stay, even though they were illegally built.
The measures that were once planned by the Supreme Council of Antiquities before the revolution, such as banning any traffic on the plateau with a diverted ring road around it and establishing a safe zone around any monument have been roundly ignored and dismissed.
But Giza is not the only historical site under threat. Egypt’s earliest known pyramid complex at Dahshour is being encroached on by locals illegally expanding a cemetery and building modern brick tombs.
Efforts to protect Cairo’s Islamic heritage have been destroyed after gates were stolen and locals damaged some of the restoration work and set up shops, kiosks and traffic shortcuts on andf around historical monuments.
The new Bibliotheca Alexandrina, already built on the site of the ancient Library of Alexandria, has been surrounded by modern, congested roads and ugly security walls in what was once a pleasant, open pedestrianised space.
The temples at Edfu and Akhmiem in Middle Egypt have had vast crack appear and sections destroyed by urban crawl, a lack of cultural awareness or care and the expansion of careless and unregulated agriculture.
What happens next?
This makes me genuinely angry and it is heartbreaking seeing such unique historical and cultural sites damaged and neglected like this.
A balance needs to be implemented not only between unregulated tourism, which is only held in check at the moment by the fact that tourism is at the moment non existent, but also between local populations and historical sites too.
I understand that poverty is an issue in Egypt, I understand that there is a significant lack of public funds and that political incompetence and apathy is not up to the task of dealing with the highly organised and wholesale looting of archaeological sites or the cultural ignorance and selfish demands of locals and developers when encroaching and building on convenient protected land instead of reclaimed, empty desert. I also understand that Egypt’s population is booming and there is a need to facilitate that.
But this is not the way.
It is heartbreaking to see the way Egypt has developed since the cultural revolution and frustrating to see so many missed opportunities.
There is a need now, more than ever before, for Egyptian and international archaeologists and authorities to work alongside the locals who live and work alongside these ancient monuments and sites. There is a dire need for new laws and administrative systems to protect this cultural and historical heritage whilst attending to the needs of the local population, and whilst many voices, including my own have called for an end to the scaremongering of Egyptian tourism and a need for tourists to return to the country, there is also a need to curb tourism until it can be managed responsibly and sustainably.
If the Egyptians themselves don’t take measures to curb the damage being done to these ancient monuments, then they will not be around for future generations to enjoy and the world will have lost a unique and priceless piece of history.
Did you enjoy this article? I would love to hear your thoughts in the comments section below or on my Facebook or Twitter pages and please feel free to share it with any or all of the social media buttons. If you want to get more great backpacking tips, advice and inspiration, please subscribe to updates via email in the box to your right.