It’s a good while since I went to Egypt, but I absolutely adored the place, and I got to fulfil a lifelong bucket-list ambition to see the Sphinx, and it was even better than I expected. Got to have a coffee in a coffee shop that had been open 24 hours a day since before Napoleon was using the Sphinx for target practice. The mountain that Mohammed went to, that’s there.
However, it was hard not to notice the bone-crushing poverty. Some of the slums in Cairo beggared belief, there was clearly little investment in infrastructure such as the Cairo metro, the roads were crumbling, the Nile was little more than an open sewer in places… The major source of foreign money was tourism, then that dried up after the terrorist attacks at Sharm-al-Sheikh.
Things were just about getting back to ‘normal’, then Sisi was elected president and the economy went to hell in a handcart. He borrowed heavily from the IMF to reduce the budget deficit*, taxes went through the roof, he blew a lot on vanity projects such as the new city to replace Cairo as an administrative centre, and the new Grand Museum of Egypt, this latter making me a bit sad, because the National Museum in Cairo was pleasingly ramshackle. Meanwhile millions of Egyptians still live in abject poverty, to the extent that people breaking their fast during Ramadan are eating scraps and leftovers, often sourced from hotels. I’ll bet Sisi doesn’t have that as an issue.
The standard wage for a government official comes in at about £90 a month. That’s not a lot is it? Meat in Egypt is not expensive at all, but that official would need to work 20 hours to afford a whole chicken.
Things are about to get worse again, I suspect, after the bomb attack on the tourist bus near the Pyramids at Giza. Fortunately nobody was badly hurt, but it will surely have a bad effect on tourist confidence. But here’s what I noticed in the coverage. The tourist bus was a very swanky, very well appointed modern Mercedes Benz**. Hence you get tourists travelling in air-conditioned comfort, and wasting enough food to feed a good proportion of the city of Cairo, while people are living in hovels.
See what I mean about somethings not seeming right?
*I’ve never understood how you can borrow money to reduce your debt.
**When I was there we just hopped a local charabanc.