By Christopher Harper
Ahmed, a middle-aged tour guide, didn’t work for almost six years as Egypt’s economy fell into a downward spiral as a result of government instability, terrorism, and crime.
His health suffered, leading to two heart operations. His children’s plans to attend college had to be put on hold until recently.
Today, however, he’s optimistic about the future because the government of strongman Abdel Fattah el-Sisi has brought stability to the largest country in the Arab world.
I first visited Egypt more than 40 years ago, and it’s been eight years since I last traveled there—a time of great hope after the 2011 revolution.
That hope became despair in only a few months after the Muslim Brotherhood took control of the government for two years until the military seized power in 2013.
My wife and I just started a two-week stay that will allow us to travel throughout Egypt.
The people I’ve spoken with share Ahmed’s optimism. For example, Mina, who is Coptic Christian, said the greater attention to terrorism and street crime has made Egypt far better than under the Muslim Brotherhood. Although the hope of the Arab revolution of 2001 failed to be achieved, Mina is content that times are better than in recent years.
The Coptic Christians, who make up about 20 percent of Egypt’s population of 100 million, came under intense harassment at the hands of Muslim extremists for several years. Copts were killed because of their religion. Their churches were burned. Most lived in fear of what would happen next.
Although security remains relatively tight around Coptic churches, my wife and I visited the center of the Christian population. The streets bustled with local residents and tourists, with little concern about possible attacks during the Christmas holidays.
After a visit to a Coptic monastery in the western desert, however, military police accompanied our tour bus until we made it to more populated areas.
Tourism seems to have picked up after the problems of the past decade, although my wife and I didn’t see too many Americans. Many of our friends thought we were crazy to make such a trip, so Egypt will have to convince people from the United States to return there.
El-Sisi and his team have rolled out a variety of economic programs, including a major building project at the Suez Canal to increase traffic. Also, the government has devalued the currency, making foreign investment far more appealing.
But Egyptian skeptics remain. One of my friends whom I visited during the 2011 uprising left the country for Central America. When I asked him if any of my acquaintances remained in Egypt, he responded, “They’re dead, in prison, or they left the country.”
El-Sisi and his supporters still have to convince some of their fellow countrymen that the economic and political situation will get even better.
One final note: A Merry Christmas and a Happy New Year to all of you from Egypt!