By Jennifer Bremer
As an American who has lived in Egypt for several years, I have watched the events of the past month with almost as much excitement and joy as my Egyptian friends. But I have not gone down to Tahrir. This is the time for Egyptians to take the lead, and for foreigners like me to stand back.
There is one thing that foreigners living in Egypt can do to support the revolution, however, something that we are arguably a lot better at than most Egyptians. We can shop.
Egypt’s tourism sector has taken a big hit from the revolution. Over the past month, thousands of Egyptians working in hotels and restaurants, driving tour buses, and making souvenirs for a living have doubtless seen both working hours and earnings plummet.
Many whose jobs are now at risk are the very same young Egyptians whose pain and anger drove the revolution. It would be a sad irony if their desire for a better life caused them to lose their jobs now.
The tourism sector’s pain is going to continue for months. Even as daily life in Egypt gets back to a new and more hopeful normal, tourism sector workers will still be hurting. Many international tour companies reportedly canceled tours to Egypt for a period that is normally the height of the tourism season.
The United States still has a travel warning in place, a sign that cancellations and postponements will likely continue.
Even if things stay calm — which is not guaranteed — we will be well into the summer and the seasonal slump in international visits by the time tourism revives. This means reduce income until the fall, at least.
Tourism, a very labor-intensive business, matters to a lot of low-income workers in Egypt. The World Travel and Tourism Council estimates that Egypt’s tourism sector supported 2,543,000 jobs in 2010, employing one out of ten workers.
We may not feel very sorry for the owners of the big hotels and resorts. Never mind their problems — long before they close their doors, they will be laying off the waiters, cleaners, receptionists, drivers, cooks, and office staff who depend on them for their families’ income, cutting their hours, and reducing their pay.
This is where the shopping part comes in. Foreigners living here can help these people keep their jobs by shopping in the tourist markets, eating in tourist-oriented restaurants, and visiting tourist areas.
If you’re like me, you generally avoid those places. Neither one of us really needs a set of little brass pyramids or a Tutankhamun pencil case. But buy one anyway. Be sure to check that it is made in Egypt, not China. Give it to the bawab or your admin assistant’s kids. Keep it as a gift for visiting relatives.
And speaking of friends and relations, why not encourage them to come to Egypt this spring? When will they get another chance to see Luxor as it used to be, peaceful and uncrowded?
This would also be a great time for you to revisit your favorite Upper Egyptian sites, take a tour to the White Desert, or do a weekend at Sharm. Be sure to buy a couple of t-shirts.
Rather than hosting a dinner party at home, why not hold it in a nice hotel or restaurant? If the big hotels were smart, they would be putting out coupon books with Tahrir Revolution covers, offering reduced prices on meals and services over the next couple of months. They could bring in some cash. Many of those coupons never get used, anyway.
This revolutionary shopping strategy is not just for us foreigners, of course. The impact on the struggling tourism sector would be much greater if any well-to-do Egyptians reading this piece joined in, as well.
Think of it as a test of whether things are really different after the revolution. The Tahrir spirit is supposed to have created a new sense of shared destiny among all Egyptians, so why not give it a try?
Gather up a group of friends and go to an expensive restaurant for dinner. Order a nice meal. Ask the waiter how he and his colleagues are doing. Leave a really big tip.
Jennifer Bremer chairs the Department of Public Policy and Administration in the School of Global Affairs and Public Policy at the American University in Cairo. This commentary was written exclusively for Daily News Egypt.