Middle East

Tourists shun Egypt after the revolution

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Media captionWatch the BBC's Aleem Maqbool visit near-deserted tourist attractions in Egypt

Any of the hundreds of thousands of tourists that have visited the ancient Temple of Karnak in Luxor would almost certainly testify that the place is nothing short of breathtaking.

Parts of the vast complex are over 3,000 years old. Pharaoh after pharaoh added obelisks and chapels and rows of majestic hieroglyphed pillars to this single site.

Just over two years ago, several thousand tourists a day came here from all over the world.

But now, in over an hour of being there, we saw a few dozen visitors. It was mainly the chirruping birds that were left to appreciate it.

It all changed with the revolution in 2011, and the scenes of violence and death that brought to the world's TV screens.

Image caption Two years ago, the temples received thousands of visitors every day

Not far away from the temple, Shirley and John Pickup are by a hotel pool in the city of Luxor.

The couple, from the town of Accrington in northern England, have been coming here every year for more than 20 years, and refused to be put off by the political turmoil.

"The staff here almost cried and hugged us when we came straight after the what happened two years ago," says Mrs Pickup.

"But since the revolution we've been here practically on our own."

Her husband John says family and friends in the UK question their decision to keep coming back and wonder whether security is good enough.

"Our reaction is, yes, we feel very safe going out there there's no reason why none of you should go to Egypt," he says.

He blames tour reps for unnecessarily scaring the tourists so much that they do not leave their guides and venture into the city.

But the UK Foreign Office travel advice to Egypt does talk of "a high risk of attacks which could be indiscriminate, including in public places frequented by foreigners".

The recent balloon disaster in which 19 tourists were killed, and sporadic reports of kidnappings in Sinai have been further blows.

Perhaps it is little wonder the main tourist mall in Luxor is all but deserted these days. More than half of the shops in the three-storey building have closed down.

This week, some of Luxor's traders blocked the road to the spectacular Valley of the Kings, demanding that their rents be reduced because they are making so little money.

Luxor governor Ezzat Saad said he understood their frustration but that everyone here was in shock.

"The sources of income here remain only in tourism. This is a big mistake, but nobody thought that there will be a day when we will face such big trouble," he says.

On Luxor's corniche, horse-drawn tourist carriages line up waiting for business.

A restless carriage driver suddenly cracks a whip and his horse gallops up the main street and back again to rejoin the queue.

Image caption The first organised tours to the temples was organised in the 1860s

But relieving boredom and taking out the frustrations caused by the economic problems often goes too far.

Kim Taylor runs Animal Care in Egypt, a charity in Luxor that looks after the horses that are not well or that have been mistreated.

"Since the revolution and the drop in the number of tourists coming here we have seen a lot of frustration and a lot of mistreatment of horses," she says.

"But another big issue is malnutrition."

She says as carriage owners' incomes have dried up, they are forced to choose between feeding their families or their horses.

"There's just no work these days, and of course the horses suffer. There are just no tourists these days," she says.

And it appears as if everyone in Luxor has been affected.

Just before dusk, boat-owner Ahmed sails down the Nile, with the Temple of Luxor rising up on the east bank of the river, the Valley of the Kings in the distance on the west.

British tour groups have been mesmerised by these views since as far back as the 1860s when the first such organised excursions were made by Thomas Cook.

"A few years back, I used to make several trips a day," Ahmed says.

Now he says he waits all day for a single customer that often does not come.

Ahmed, like so many others we met here, told us the world had it wrong about Egypt.

But he also talked of his despair every time he heard about new political protests and violence in Cairo and elsewhere in his country, knowing that would have an impact on his livelihood.