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Egypt tourism takes a hit from prophet protests
Security concerns » Troubled Arab nations rely heavily on foreign visitors, see them as key to recovery.

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Amid upheaval and political transition in 2011, according to the agency, international tourist arrivals in the Middle East dropped seven percent to 55.7 million, and in North Africa by nine percent to 17 million. So far this year, the numbers have climbed by nearly one percent and 10.5 percent, respectively.

Gladys Haddad, a tour guide in Cairo, said she was pleased that Egypt’s new president, Mohammed Morsi, appealed to Italians to visit Egypt when he was in Rome at the height of tension over the anti-Islam film. She said early concerns that Egypt’s Islamist-dominated government might scare off tourists by banning alcohol or mixed beaches have waned, at least for now.

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"I don’t think they’re going to have like a magic stick to do things right away" to improve tourism, Zeid, the guide who is quick with a metaphor, said of Egypt’s fledgling government. "We can’t really evaluate their work right now. They have lots of other issues on their agenda."

One thing in their favor, immeasurably, is what lies in Egyptian sands. In its bid to revive tourism, the government this month reopened the Serapeum of Saqqara, a subterranean necropolis where bulls were believed to have been buried in giant sarcophagi. The site was closed for a decade for renovation.

One tourist who marveled at Egypt’s heritage was Herodotus, the ancient Greek who wrote about Egyptian beliefs and customs, based on what he said he had observed.

According to a 19th century translation by a British scholar, he wrote: "Concerning Egypt itself, I shall extend my remarks to a great length, because there is no country that possesses so many wonders, nor any that has such a number of works which defy description."

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