Newspaper article St Louis Post-Dispatch (MO)

Fearful Tourists Bypassing Egypt and Economy Is Losing Billions

Newspaper article St Louis Post-Dispatch (MO)

Fearful Tourists Bypassing Egypt and Economy Is Losing Billions

Article excerpt

Bill and Fran Montague of Springfield, Ill., sat low in their cushioned wicker chairs sipping drinks brought by costumed Nubian waiters in red fezzes.

Just beyond the railing lay a garden of mango trees, flaming poinsettias and bougainvillea. Further ahead, feluccas - the small sailing boats of Egypt - gently plied the waters of the broad Nile.

The famed terrace of Aswan's Cataract Hotel offers a view and feeling that have changed little in the century since cigar-smoking empire builders celebrated the construction of the first great dam.

But on a recent Friday when the Montagues chose the spot, they were the only ones there.

Throughout the Cataract's plush halls, along the back alleys of Aswan's saffron- and curry-scented bazaar and inside the awe-inspiring pharaonic temples and tombs of nearby Abu Simbel and Luxor, there is a distinct silence - the sound of fearful tourists staying away.

"Two years ago, we were more than 70 percent occupied," said Farid Gargas, Cataract Hotel manager. "This year it has been barely 20 percent." This month, occupancy dropped to 10 percent. Targets For Terrorists

The trouble began two years ago when Islamic extremists, seeking to overthrow President Hosni Mubarak's government, decided to strike at the $3-billion-a-year tourism industry by shooting at and threatening tourists and foreign visitors:

Some tour buses were fired on.

Small bombs went off near the Egyptian Museum in Cairo.

Half a dozen trains making their way south from the capital to Luxor were shot at, as were several cruise ships gliding by the date and banana groves that line the Nile.

Several Egyptians and some foreigners were killed, and many more injured. Last year's income from tourism dropped to $1.2 billion.

The main culprit, the Gamaa al Islamiya, or Islamic Group, regularly sends faxes to news organizations to spread its messages such as, "Tourists should leave the country so as not to lose their lives amid the raging confrontation between the Gamaa and the oppressive regime in Egypt. …

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