Revolution headlines Egypt tourist revival

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The Independent Travel

Just weeks after the Egyptian revolution sent Western holidaymakers running for their lives, tour operators are hoping to turn the heart of the uprising into a money-spinner to rival the Pyramids.

Tahrir Square, the giant traffic-clogged roundabout, which hundreds of thousands of Egyptians turned into the focus of their uprising to bring down Hosni Mubarak, has leapt from obscurity to being global brand-name.

Cars may still belch exhaust fumes and horns still deafen the senses, but it's the name on everyone's lips as the latest must-see place in Cairo.

National carrier Egyptair posted "The Egyptian Revolution Wings of Freedom" - a stirring montage of the uprising, followed by glimpses of tantalising beaches, Pyramides and Sphinxes - on its website and on YouTube.

Images are interlaced with soundbites. Such as US President Barack Obama: "The Egyptians have changed the world and the world took note" and novelist Paul Coelho: "The world only gets better because people risk something to make it better. Thanks to the Egyptians!!"

No advertising agency could have done better.

Aladin Morsy certainly thinks so. As manager of El Wedian Tours on the square, he is re-working his website, commissioning similar photos and videos in a drive to win back tourists.

"It's good we're in Tahrir Square. It means we'll have good business in the future," he jokes.

"Tourism in Egypt will never die. It can be sick, but it'll never die," he says. But he admits that business was never as bad as during the revolution, as 80 clients fled in January and not a single one came in February.

Hotels are empty. Souvenir shops are deserted. Travel agents are twiddling their thumbs behind sales counters. Westerners are not yet ready to flock back to Egypt.

"You're only the second tourist since the revolution," one travel agent told an AFP reporter who walked into her office on Tahrir Square.

For now, Morsy is content to welcome 25 Americans in May for a 19-day tour of the Pyramids, Luxor, Aswan, the churches and mosques of Cairo.

"Many people ask for Tahrir Square, they say 'are we going to pass by?' The day they come to the Egyptian Musem, they'll be in the square."

Highly public walkabouts in the square have been crammed into the schedules of visiting dignitaries.

US Secretary of State Hillary Clinton described it as "thrilling".

US Senator John Kerry was cheered by delighted American ladies and Egyptians eager to press his flesh.

UN Secretary General Ban Ki-moon was less fortunate - mobbed by Libyan protesters - he had to be bundled into a waiting vehicle.

Egyptian operator flyingcarpettours.com has gone further than Morsy and already features Tahrir Square prominently on its website.

Manager Zia Gamal says Greeks have been the first to snap up the guided tour and introductions to protesters next month.

It was as a protester himself, overjoyed after Mubarak stepped down, that he first dreamt up the idea.

"All the emotions, people from all classes, rich, poor and the middle class, that made me realise it's one of the most important monuments now," he said.

He first thought about marketing Mubarak's bolthole mansion in Sharm el-Sheikh but his wife told him that was terrible idea. What did she think of the Tahrir idea? "Excellent," he grinned.

Competition is fierce. "I hope we're the only one to get all the foreigners. I think we're the only ones to make a programme because when I checked the websites of our colleagues, they didn't mention it," said Gamal.

Edna Wilson, a frequent visitor from Atlanta, Georgia, and in Cairo en route to the Red Sea, said she was "very proud" of the uprising and had made it a priority to visit Tahrir.

"Because of the lives that were lost and because of the young people I saw there. But I think a lot of Americans are going to have mixed feelings."

Manzar Foroohar, a history professor at California Polytechnic State University, worries that with US missiles raining down on Libya, and with Syria and Yemen in turmoil, few Americans will feel Egypt is safe enough.

"I think it's going to be very popular with American intellectuals, university students and professors, asking a lot of questions about what's happening in Egypt and they'd want to see it," she said.

Others will want to "take a few pictures but won't understand the draw".

Morsy is also circumspect.

"For thousands of years we've been earning money out of the Pyramids. I'm not sure how much we'll get out of Tahrir Square."

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