CAIRO: Tourism is one of Egypt’s largest sectors of the economy. Foreign nationals flock to each year in order to see the ancient and modern wonders that Egypt offers. Yet, it has become evident that some Egyptians are not given the same opportunity to travel abroad. The story of one Egyptian man and his desire to visit his girlfriend’s family in France highlights the divide between tourism to Egypt and the lack of reciprocation.
“It seems a lot of people get refused but I didn’t know why they were, says Ahmed Samih El Gohary, as he explained what happened to him on his most recent visit to the French embassy where he tried to obtain a tourist visa for two weeks to France. “Is it the Egyptians that deny visas or the French?
According to diplomats from embassies in Egypt, it is often Egyptian men who receive refusals for tourist visas, as they are allegedly more likely to overstay their designated time. This is a hard fact that Egyptians have to deal with.
While the French embassy would not comment on the specific case of Gohary, they did mention that they are open to hearing his case. However, due to the restraints in place from Paris and the difficulty of ensuring that Egyptians return to Egypt, Gohary will likely not be able to travel to France, despite all the paperwork and the invitation being filled out.
Gohary’s story is not unique for Egyptians who wish to travel abroad. He went to the embassy after his girlfriend, who is French, had her parents invite him to France in order to meet her family.
“Sharlene’s family wanted to meet me and I have to meet her family before we, as a couple, can make bigger decisions, Gohary says of his desire to visit France. “I applied for a two week visa and I felt that I had my whole file complete and I was ready to go . I mean, her father had sent me an invitation for a tourist visa and I had a job here that would show them I was coming back, he continues.
What looks like a well organized, logical procedure (in the eyes of my parents for example) is, in fact, an exception system, where saying no is the normal answer, says Charline Liotier, Gohary’s girlfriend.
Gohary never met a French person at the embassy; instead he had to deal with an Egyptian staffer who, in his mind, made the decision to refuse him based on a dislike of his lifestyle.
“He asked me all these personal questions, Gohary says of the older Egyptian man at the visa window. “I don’t think it was necessary but I wanted to get the visa so I told him my case. I told him I am going to visit my girlfriend’s parents and then he asked me questions.
The questions he asked pertained to his work, his address, who is father was, but Gohary says he asked where and who does he live with.
“I told him that my girlfriend lives with me in my flat, Gohary continues. “I thought he was religious and he wouldn’t respect my case after that, especially after Mohammed Gabril, a famous Quran reader came right before me.
“He told me that I need to go to the legal office for marriage and register my marriage and then there would be no problem. I told him that I needed to meet her parents first.
Gohary believes he has no right to tell him those things, but he was the one making the decision for his visa so he humored the man.
“I even brought Charlene after the 10 day waiting period and showed him her passport and her registration card . he took it and said to come back at 4 p.m. to see if I had a visa, he continues.
“I came back and took my passport, but when I opened it up I saw that they had refused the visa application. And there was a piece of paper that said that I couldn’t ask why I was refused, Gohary says.
“I felt, of course, very disappointed. I thought that honesty is the way to success and that s why I explained to the administration the whole situation in details. It was naive, Loitier says.
Gohary argues that he is fine with being rejected for a tourist visa but he wants to know why so he can work on his file in order to make it better for another application.
“I felt that the Egyptians are judging my lifestyle and that is why I think they need to change the system and let me speak with a French person at the embassy . they will understand my situation better, he believes.
Gohary’s situation underlines the difficulty for Egyptians to travel abroad. With immigration issues at the forefront of European debate, countries are apprehensive to grant tourist visas for Egyptians as they believe they will attempt to stay in the country beyond their allotted time.
“The personal consequence for me is the feeling of being rejected by my country for the choices I made, Loitier adds.
“The French people present their country by politicians as an open border country where anybody can enter and enjoy the system, but, in fact the large majority of the world population will never be allowed to see the Eiffel tower, even if they ask it in a polite way, she continues.