As demonstrators continued to clash with police in central Cairo Friday over an anti-Islam hate film and similar protests spread worldwide, two high-profile commentators are urging American travelers to stay away from Egypt.
In a Thursday blog post, travel guru Arthur Frommer writes that “until matters change, and steps are taken by Egyptian officials to discourage such violence, it is clearly unsafe for Americans to visit Egypt as tourists. I feel sad to voice that opinion, because I think of all the fine Egyptian people who are dependent on tourism. Safety comes first, and, currently, Egypt is not safe.”
And in a statement closing his Fox News show “The O’Reilly Factor” Thursday, host Bill O’Reilly told Americans to “use our wallets to make a statement to the world.”
“”The country of Egypt is very dependent on tourism,” O’Reilly said. “I’ve been there, it’s a sensational place to go.”
But, he added, “No American should visit Egypt for the rest of the year. Nobody goes. That will send that government a big-time message: You’re going to attack Americans, we’re not showing up with our dollars.”
Those dollars have already been missing: Visitors and tourism-related revenues dropped by about a third last year, Egyptian officials told the Associated Press.
Before the revolution that ousted strongman Hosni Mubarak in early 2011, Egypt had been a top destination drawing more than 10,000 American customers a year, says Priscilla O’Reilly of Grand Circle Cruise Line and Overseas Adventure Travel. But poor bookings forced the companies to suspend trips this year, with no plans for resuming tours in 2013. And this week’s protests have prompted several cruise lines, including Holland America and Royal Caribbean, to cancel calls in Egypt and Tunisia “out of an abundance of caution.”
While a Sept. 12 message from the U.S. embassy in Cairo notes that the “security situation remains fluid” and says Americans should “avoid areas where large gatherings may occur,” there are no general travel advisories for Egypt.
In a rebuttal to Frommer, U.K.-based travel writer and longtime Middle East observer Matthew Teller notes that Egypt’s Islamist President Mohammed Morsi has condemned the violence. “Cairo is in a febrile state, for sure — but to imagine that the unrest is targeted against American tourists is fanciful,” he writes. “Citizens of any country who have a nervous disposition should probably avoid Cairo right now. But for Frommer to warn Americans away from the whole of Egypt is unreasonable and unwarranted. There is nothing to suggest that life in the deserts, the Nile tourism towns and the Red Sea resorts is anything other than normal.”
As a traveler lucky enough to visit the country during Egypt’s short-lived, post-revolution honeymoon last spring, I encountered none of what Teller describes as “overt anti-American sentiment” — even in Tahrir Square, where optimistic Cairo tour operator Basem Salah led tours of what he described as an “icon of freedom.”
Would I visit Tahrir Square now? Not in the short term – but I wouldn’t steer clear of the entire country, either.