Tuesday, 4 June 2013

The old sits comfortably with the new in Egypt

It's an eye opener, a different kind of country in terms of culture and history. Little wonder millions of people from all around the world visit Egypt every year, drawn to its glorious 6,000 years of civilisation. From the modern, bustling, fast-paced capital city Cairo to the sombre, reflective, ancient atmosphere of the Valley of the Kings, Egypt simply fascinates. The old sits comfortably with the new. It's simply the way it is.

But don't be fooled for a minute. Egypt's eye on the past is firmly rooted in today's world. Its slick presentation of past glories converts easily into hard cash, adding much-needed foreign currency vital to the well-being of its hard-pressed economy. With all the pessimism surrounding the January 2011 revolution and its well-documented aftermath, tourism continues to be the beacon of light that it's always been.

But it's not only tourists who visit Egypt. Many visitors from the UK, the USA and other countries in the West actually work there although, truth be told, it's not easy landing a job given the country's stubbornly-high unemployment rate. Teaching is a popular choice amongst expatriates, especially the teaching of English. There is a huge appetite for the language. Everyone in the business world speaks English or wants to learn it which in turn means lots of opportunities both in terms of private language schools and for freelance work.

Many English teachers have little more than an accredited TESOL certificate behind them – an  acronym for Teaching English to Speakers of Other Languages. However, many also possess an uncanny ability to network and to end up talking to the right people who can help them secure that  first teaching job. It all helps! So does good banking. True, you'll never become rich by being a teacher. However, you'll still need a decent current account in Egypt for the salary if nothing else. Luckily, the country is not short of a bank or two with major multinationals such as HSBC, Barclays, Citibank and others competing in a fairly crowded retail banking space.

So with the job sorted, not to mention the bank account, you're all set to enjoy the multitude of sights and sounds which come with this fabulous culture. Probably you'll quickly notice how friendly the Egyptian people are towards strangers in their midst. Hospitality is legendary in this land of some 85 million people.

No doubt you'll also become quickly aware that this land of the pharaoh, pyramid, River Nile and all manner of ancient monuments is not in a continual state of unrest, as has been portrayed many times in the international media. The vast majority of the population simply want what we all want, a good job and to enjoy a reasonable standard of living so they don't have to struggle in order to bring up their families. That's what preoccupies their lives.

The negativity was recently highlighted by Egypt's Tourism Minister Hesham Zaazou while speaking at a press conference organized by the Arab Organization for Tourism in Jeddah, Saudi Arabia.

According to the Egypt Independent website, Mr Zaazou predicted tourism figures rising 17% over 2013 to 13 million visitors, a million short of 2010's pre-revolutionary numbers. The number of Saudi tourists also rose, from 128,000 in 2011 to 241,000 in 2012, a figure he expected to see continue to increase.

Hitting out at the negative media coverage, Mr Zaazou said, “Reducing Egypt to events occurring in a one-square kilometre area in down-town Cairo simplifies the reality in the country. Protests and demonstrations are an internal affair. Arab tourists in general, and Saudis in particular, are always welcome.”

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