A "Laffah"
A "Laffah"
Emil Filtenborg Mikkelsen

CAIROTayarah, which calls itself a new mixed-media hub, launched in late August with its first video campaign, entitled "Laffah," with a very specific objective: to bring back tourism to Egypt.

The project invited people to film themselves shooting short videos by turning in a circular motion to give a 360-view of their surroundings, as seen in this video expand=1].

The aim is to showcase "how different people may take Laffahs (360-degree visualizations) all over Egypt" and to encourage "people to enjoy the beauty of the places they are in and share them with others."

"It's all about branding," says Tayarah's CEO Mohamed El Dib. "If you show that Egypt is a place with good destinations, good hotels and good people — if you brand it correctly, which we are doing in the video, more people will come. We promote safety and beauty."

The video has been viewed more than 400,000 times on YouTube, and the campaign itself is backed by some big-name sponsors, including Samsung, Amer Group, the Ministry of Tourism and EgyptAir.

The success of initiatives such as Laffah, as well as more creative branding and marketing of Egypt as a safe and attractive destination, is vital to the survival of the tourism sector — a key contributor to the country's GDP.

A tourism slump

The number of tourists has fallen drastically over the past four years. For the first five months of 2014, the number of tourists visiting Egypt dropped 24% compared to last year — the worst decline since 2011. The number of visitors fell 40% from 2010, according to the state-run statistics agency CAPMAS. Meanwhile, tourism employs 12% of the work force and makes up between 5% and 10% of GDP, not including indirect industries.

In downtown Cairo, the countless souvenir shops that line the busy streets of the capital are mostly empty. The tourists that used to flock to these shops for musky perfumes, papyrus paper and trinkets have had a feeble presence for three years now, and the few who manage to make the trip are hardly enough to sustain a livelihood for the workers.

These stranded shops are merely a microcosm of the sluggishness of the overall sector, one of several struggling industries in the country's ailing economy, where growth has slowed to around 3%.

Hazem Abdel Tawab just started working at one of these bazaars again after quitting in 2011 following the Jan. 25 uprising and economic downturn it ushered in. Now he's back in the family-owned shop, but business is nowhere near what it used to be.

"Before the revolution, business was good ... and made good money," he says. "Customers were not afraid like now,” he adds, pointing to the perceived lack of security that he thinks affects tourists' mobility. "Do you see anything wrong here? Anything that is not safe? I have friends from America and Japan, and none of them say that it is unsafe. Why do the media continue to say so?"

Abdel Tawab's comments highlight one of Egypt's main challenges in revitalizing the tourism sector, namely shedding the image as an unsafe destination due to the bouts of political turmoil and ensuing violence over the past three years. The image worsened further with the resurgence of attacks on security personnel and institutions in the aftermath of former President Mohamed Morsi's removal from office in July 2013. The resulting war on terrorism, declared by the state, has mostly had devastating effects on remote parts of Sinai, where the surrounding areas are home to some of Egypt's premier getaways.

The path to recovery

"The recovery of tourism is important to keep an influx of foreign currency reserves, promote continued economic growth and create possibilities of employment, so it is a key element to this economy," says Angus Blair, an economist and founder of the Signet Institute, a Cairo-based think tank.

Egypt's foreign reserves have lost more than half their value over the last three years, but rose slightly to $16.8 billion at the end of August from $16.7 billion at the end of July, Reuters reported, citing Central Bank figures.

Without the influx of foreign currency generated by tourism, Egypt can't finance its trade deficit, currently held afloat by remittances and some foreign investments in the oil and gas sector. According to the United Nations World Tourism Organization (UNWTO), tourism is responsible for 14% of Egypt's foreign currency earnings.

On the upside, several countries have lifted their travel bans on Egypt, with Japan and Belgium being among the latest to do so. During the past Eid holiday, one of the major Cairo hotels had a 97% occupancy rate, according to the Signet Institute.

At the recent Euromoney conference, officials and the private sector sent out a solidly unified message of stability and growth as a means of promoting investment into the country.

"We took the base year of 2010, because it was a good year ... where we almost received 15 million tourists and generated an income of $12.5 billion," Tourism Minister Hesham Zaazou told attendees. "It's more than double the Suez Canal is giving the Egyptian economy, at least until now," which is a little more than $5 billion annually.

He says Egypt is looking to double this, reaching 25-30 million tourists and generating around $25 billion in revenue.

"If news is quiet politically, if there are no more demonstrations, then it is likely that tourism numbers will begin to recover," Blair told Mada Masr. "After the Luxor attacks in 1996, it took about two years for tourism to recover, and it is normal that recovery takes time."

But in late September, there were a series of explosions, including one outside the Foreign Ministry — in the heart of Cairo — bringing the security situation in the capital back into question.

Before this, the UNWTO had foreseen a recovery, but qualified this by saying that it's difficult to predict the evolution of the political landscape and the health of the global economy. They put growth between 0% and 5% in the Middle East during 2014.

"Egypt is and will continue to be one of the most important tourism destinations worldwide, thanks to its extraordinary, longstanding history and cultural legacy, factors which will ensure that it remains a privileged destination," an UNWTO official wrote by email. "While uncertainty currently remains, we know that tourism in Egypt and elsewhere has been able to resist external shocks, adapt to changes and continue to grow dramatically over the long term. In fact, the past has proven that Egypt has an extraordinary capacity for growth and resilience."

Things are looking up

Mohannad Khedr, owner of a large resort in Sharm El-Sheikh, agrees that conditions are looking better.

"After Ramadan, tourists started coming back," he says. "With embassies removing travel bans and Egypt not being in all the headlines, overshadowed by incidents in Ukraine and Ferguson as well as ISIS, most Europeans are coming back. August was very good and September, October and November are looking bright."

The tourism minister says that arrivals were down 23% from January to June of this year, but in the past two months alone, Egypt witnessed significant interest again. He adds that the flow is mainly to for "one product, which is the Red Sea and South Sinai." He also stresses that the quality of service needs to be significantly upgraded.

Zaazou says that Egypt needs to work on promoting the north coast as the next premier destination after the Red Sea. "We are going to compete very strongly as a destination for our Mediterranean coast," he says. "We have unrivaled product in that area."

He notes that there is good access to the north coast, with four airports. Egypt is also working on an open skies policy for all airports except Cairo, which he said is restricted because of issues the national carrier EgyptAir is facing.

On the marketing side, Zaazou describes the strategy as a "push and pull," working with partners, cooperating with the private sector as well as co-marketing initiatives, being present at trade fairs, and giving incentives for airlines to move into Egypt.

The ministry is also working with an international public relations firm to change the perception of Egypt. "We are selling a dream, we're selling a perception. If the perception is positive, people will come."

Still, many of the factors affecting tourism are out of the ministry's hands, and until safety and stability are truly felt in Egypt, little can be done to help recovery along.

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January 22-23

  • Navalny saga & Putin’s intentions
  • COVID’s toll on teenage girls
  • A 50-year-old book fee finally gets paid
  • … and much more!

🎲 BUT FIRST, A NEWS QUIZ!

What do you remember from the news this week?

1. Which two words did U.S. President Joe Biden use about possible scenarios in the Russia-Ukraine standoff that upset authorities in Kyiv?

2. What started to mysteriously appear on signs, statues and monuments across Adelaide, Australia?

3. What cult movie did U.S. rocker Meat Loaf, who died Friday at age 74, star in?

4. What news story have we summed up here in emoji form? 🇬🇧 👱 💬 💼 ❌ 🥳 🦠

[Answers at the bottom of this newsletter]

⬇️  STARTER

Toxic geopolitics: More than ever, we need more women world leaders

The world is watching the Russian-Ukrainian border. Russian President Vladimir Putin threatening an invasion finds an ally in Iran’s Ebrahim Raisi, united against their common enemy: the United States. Back in Washington, U.S. President Joe Biden — marking his first year in power with painfully low approval rates (higher only than Donald Trump’s) — sends his Secretary of State, Antony Blinken, to Kyiv to reassure President Volodymyr Zelensky who worries that France’s Emmanuel Macron might undermine Ukraine. And we haven’t even mentioned Xi Jinping!

It’s an endless theater of world leaders beating their respective chests — and they have exactly one thing in common: they’re all men. It’s by now a decades-old question, but worth asking again: What would happen if women, and not men, were running the world? Would there be less conflict, more prosperity? More humanity?

In 2018, the World Economic Forum released a study that showed that “only 4% of signatories to peace agreements between 1992 and 2011 were women, and only 9% of the negotiators.” The report shows that in several conflict zones in the world in recent decades, citing Liberia, Northern Ireland and Colombia, women have been instrumental in achieving peace.

In Colombia, where 20% of peace negotiators for the 2016 peace treaty were women, Ingrid Betancourt, herself a victim of the 50-year conflict, has announced her candidacy for the May presidential elections. Differently from previous bids, where she focused on fighting environmental abuses and corruption, Betancourt now is putting gender issues at the center of her political agenda. Bogota daily El Espectador questions whether the former hostage will be able to ride this important political wave, with feminist movements flexing their muscle around the region demanding more rights.

In Italy, next week’s elections for the head of state are monopolized by infamously misogynous former Prime Minister Silvio Berlusconi, who is hoping to be elected for the seven-year, honorary function. There is no official candidacy, but Berlusconi’s name and that of current Prime Minister Mario Draghi are the two getting the most attention. Italian feminist writer and intellectual Dacia Maraini writes in La Stampa that, yes, the very fact of electing a female president will be progress for the country — and by the way, there are plenty of women qualifed for the job.

There was also a woman politician making the news this week for actually getting elected: Maltese conservative politician Roberta Metsola, became the new European Parliament President after the death of Italy’s David Sassoli. And yet the election of the first female president of the EU’s legislature since Nicole Fontaine in 2001 has been widely criticized by female politicians — primarily for Metsola’s stance against abortion rights. "I think it is a terrible sign for women's rights everywhere in Europe," French left-wing member of the European Parliament Manon Aubry told Deutsche Welle.

The women who have risen to power in history (Margaret Thatcher, anyone?) don’t necessarily make the case that gender is the silver bullet to fix politics. Still, after watching all the toxic masculinity on the world stage this past week, we can rightfully demand fewer men.

Irene Caselli

🎭  5 CULTURE THINGS TO KNOW

• Record-breaking online concert of Mahler’s “Symphony of a Thousand”: More than 100 musicians from around the world will take part today in a performance of Mahler’s epic 8th symphony consisting of 1,200 elements, including a double chorus, children’s choir, a full orchestra and an organ. The event is a culmination of a year of work; all artists recorded their parts in isolation besides the children’s choir. Tickets can be purchased here.

Yearly Japanese festival will set a mountain on fire: Today, the grassy hillside of Mount Wakakusayama in Japan will go up in flames as fireworks go off in the background as part of celebrations for Wakakusa Yamayak. The origin of the festival isn’t totally clear, but might relate to border conflicts between the great temples in the region or to ward off wild boars.

• New insights into antiquities taken by the Nazis: Scholars are looking into how German forces during World War II looted artifacts such as on the Greek island of Crete. Nazi officials pillaged these valuables for their own personal gain, but many were also destroyed, which is why researchers around the world are hoping to gain greater insight into this often overlooked aspect of German occupation.

Exhibition of Beirut’s restored artwork: The Beirut Museum of Art has inaugurated the exhibition “Lift” featuring 17 paintings by Lebanese artists that had been damaged by the port explosion in 2020, and have since been restored as a result of a UNESCO initiative.

The world’s first vegan violin tunes up: Berries, pears and spring water are just some of the natural ingredients relied on for the construction of the instrument by English violin-maker Padraig O'Dubhlaoidh. Traditionally, animal parts like horsehair, hooves, horns and bones are used, especially to glue pieces together. The £8,000 instrument is sure to be music to some animal lover’s ears.

🇷🇺  NAVALNY SAGA & PUTIN’S INTENTIONS


One year ago anti-corruption lawyer and politician Alexei Navalny was detained in Russia, marking the effective end of domestic opposition to Russian president Vladimir Putin. In the time since, more than half of the former coordinators of Navalny's headquarters fled Russia. Even Navalny's name is forbidden: Putin never says his name, calling him "this citizen."

At the same time, Navalny’s imprisonment and the de facto end of the opposition have changed Russia. The fear of persecution, the lack of alternatives and the total censorship and propaganda have caused Putin's ratings consistently downward.

An aging leader with no successors, no enemies and dwindling popular support is finding it increasingly difficult to explain why he must continue to rule forever. In such a situation, there’s nothing quite like an external threat to fuel the raison d’être of the authoritarian regime. In Putin’s eyes, the perfect threat right now is NATO expansion, and the perfect enemy is its neighbor Ukraine and its attempts to join the military alliance. Whether Russia's president is ready to engage in a real war is the great unknown, but its aggressive and uncompromising foreign policy — like his disposing of Alexei Navalny — is the latest legitimization of his increasingly absolutist rule now into its third decade.

Read the full story: What The Alexei Navalny Saga Tells Us About Putin’s Intentions On Ukraine

🇨🇴  FROM HOSTAGE TO POTENTIAL HEAD OF STATE


Íngrid Betancourt spent more than six years as a prisoner of the Revolutionary Armed Forces of Colombia (FARC) terror group in Colombia, an experience that is sure to play a role in her recently announced presidential campaign. Betancourt, who is 60, is running as part of the Verde Oxígeno and is the only woman in the Centro Esperanza Coalition (CCE), a centrist alliance.

Betancourt could be a boost for the coalition and embody its goals of transforming, overcoming polarization and, as its name indicates, giving hope to Colombia. In particular, the centrist candidate who in the past has been largely focused on anti-corruption and environmental protection, has said she will make women’s rights a cornerstone of her campaign.

Read the full story: Ingrid Betancourt, A Hostage Heroine Reinvented As Feminist For President

♀️ 😔  YOUNG WOMEN FACE THE BRUNT OF THE COVID-19 MENTAL HEALTH CRISIS


A growing number of studies around the world show that COVID-19 and lockdown restrictions have prompted a disproportionate increase in mental health illness among teen girls. These include rising suicide rates among adolescent females in the United States, Germany and Spain and a higher prevalence of anxiety and eating disorders in Israel. But why are women being disproportionately impacted?

There’s a range of reasons. In India, for example, young women had increased difficulty accessing education resources when schools went online and shared a disproportionate burden of household tasks as opposed to their male peers. Around the world, social media also played a significant role; without access to in-person socialization and hobbies, young people spent more time online, often comparing themselves to others, impacting feelings of self-worth. The situation is particularly dire given the challenges of accessing mental health support resources during the pandemic.

Read the full story: Why The COVID-19 Mental Health Crisis Is Hitting Teenage Girls The Hardest

💡  BRIGHT IDEA


Norwegian mobility company Podbike has announced that Frikar, its four-wheeled enclosed electric bike, will soon hit bike lanes on home turf. The futuristic-looking vehicle does require the user to pedal, which powers a generator and drive-by-wire system that keep the Frikar running — with a speed limited to 25 km/h.

#️⃣ TRENDING

“Mãe De Bolsonaro” is the top query on Twitter in Brazil, after news that Brazilian President Jair Bolsonaro’s mother Olinda Bonturi Bolsonaro had died at age 94.

😄📚 SMILE OF THE WEEK

Photo of the new President of the European Parliament Roberta Metsola

New President of the European Parliament Roberta Metsola

Philipp Von Ditfurth/ZUMA


London’s legendary bookshop Waterstones Gower Street tweeted a photo of a letter from an anonymous user confessing to having forgotten to pay for their books some 48 years ago. Owing approximately £100 ($136), adjusted for inflation, they had sent through £120 ($163) to make up for their tardiness. Touched by the kind gesture, the bookshop reciprocated by donating the money to the largest children’s reading charity in the United Kingdom.

👉   OTHERWISE ...

Dottoré! is a weekly column on Worldcrunch.com by Mariateresa Fichele, a psychiatrist and writer based in Naples, Italy. Read more about the series here.

Bucket of tears

I’ve been thinking and thinking about a patient of mine since yesterday. His name is Giovanni.

Psychiatrists, you might not know, are quite often asked the same unanswerable question: "Why does one become insane?”

When I was younger, I searched and searched for an answer, losing myself in scientific explanations about synapses, neurons and neurotransmitters.

By the end of my studies, I’d realized that the only thing that was clear was that I’d been clutching at straws to justify my work and give it a semblance of scientific dignity. In the years since, I’ve forced myself, in defiance of the authority of my position, to reply with a laconic but honest: "Sorry, but I don't know."

So when Giovanni asked me that same question, he was not happy at all with my answer. “Dottoré, how’s it possible that you don't understand why I became crazy?”

When he tried to ask me again one day, I tried a different response:

"Giová, do you cry?"

"No. Why?"

"Imagine that the tears that you don't shed, that you force yourself not to shed, because that's what you've been taught to do, all end up inside your heart. The heart is an organ that pumps blood, which brings nourishment and oxygen to the whole body. But over time those diverted tears accumulate to the point that the heart begins to pump them instead of your blood. Slowly your body becomes sick, but the part that suffers the most is your brain. Because tears don't contain oxygen and nourishment, just sadness."

I expected a reaction to this fanciful explanation, but instead Giovanni kept quiet and eventually left.

The next time I saw him, he said: "Dottoré, I've thought about it. I know you told me about the tears to make me feel better, but maybe you’re right. Because sometimes I feel that I have a lake, more than a heart. But it takes a very powerful pump to pump out all that water, and my heart alone cannot do it. And now that you've explained to me how I became crazy, can you also tell me if I'll ever get better?"

"Do you want another story or do you want the truth?”

"This time, I’d rather have the truth!”

"The answer is always the same then. I'm sorry, Giová, but I don't know this either. But I can tell you one thing for sure. I'll help you slowly, slowly with just a bucket. Because the truth is, not even I have that pump."

⏩  LOOKING AHEAD

• Italy's parliament will convene Monday to begin the process of voting for a new president to succeed Sergio Mattarella for a seven-year term.

• Qualification games for the 2022 FIFA World Cup will be held from Jan. 27 to Feb. 2 for South, North and Central America as well as Asia. Argentina’s national team will not be able to rely on superstar Lionel Messi, still recovering from COVID-19.

• Next Thursday will mark 100 years since Nellie Bly died. The American journalist is known for her record-breaking 72-day trip around the world in 1889, inspired by Jules Vernes’ book Around the World in Eighty Days


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