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Egypt tour guides protest for higher pay amid criticism

Workers' plan for Sunday demo at Egyptian Museum draws support, even as FJP official suggests event could damage country's reputation

Dalia Farouk, Sunday 9 Sep 2012
Egyptian Museum
Egyptian Museum (Photo: Reuters)

Egyptian tour guides will protest outside the Egyptian Museum in central Cairo on Sunday, demanding better pay and conditions after a year of turmoil for the hospitality sector.

"We want tourist agencies to raise our daily salaries to LE300 ($50) as the minister of tourism's decree promised a year and a half ago," Moataz El-Sayed, head of the syndicate of tourist guides told Ahram Online.
Tourist guides are currently paid LE100-150 ($16-25) per day.
Among their demands on Sunday are that non-Egyptians be banned from working as guides, and that the government issue a law regulating the relationship between tourist agencies and employees, obliging companies to provide guides with insurance.
Tour guides have seen a rough 18 months in the wake of Egypt's January 2011 uprising as sustained political unrest caused a sharp drop in the number of foreign visitors to the country. Tourism revenues in 2011 were down a third on the year before, according to official statistics.
Several sit-ins and protests have taken place since ex-president Mubarak's resignation, with some tour guides demanding they be paid unemployment benefits to cover living costs as they wait for a promised tourism revival.
Industry representatives seem sympathetic but say the downturn in what was one of Egypt's major cash-cows gives tourism firms little room to manoeuvre.
"[Tour guides] ask for an increase in their salaries and that's their right, but the sector is not in its best shape so agencies don’t have much room to increase expenses," said Elhamy El-Zayat, head of the Egyptian Federation of Tourism. 
"Agencies have already put out price lists for the winter season, and they can't change them now," he added.
"The market is in a position where it has an excess supply of guides and there isn’t much demand. Some guides even agree to work without pay and depend solely on commissions from bazaars and restaurants."
Seven political parties, including the Free Egyptians Party and the Constitution Party, have declared their support for the tourist guides' demands. Former presidential candidate Hamdeen Sabbahi has also expressed solidarity.
But the Muslim Brotherhood's Freedom and Justice Party (FJP) has refused to give its backing, with the head of the party's tourism committee saying the protest is ill-timed now the industry is showing signs of recovery.
"This protest will do more harm to tourism than good, as now is the time when international tourist agencies are preparing winter programmes," the FJP's Hazem Shawky said.
"We want to send a message that Egypt is stable and secure, and that the tourism sector is not problematic."
Last Friday's strike by EgyptAir cabin crew demanding better pay, which caused the grounding of international flights, has also damaged Egypt's standing as a tourist destination, Shawky claimed. He implied that Sunday's protest would give a similarly negative impression.
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