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Tourists in Bin Laden’s Land - ASHARQ AL-AWSAT English Archive 2005 -2017
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It is quite beyond me how tourists continue to flock to our region despite its growing bad reputation; the numerous wars, the abductions and decapitations, and its ubiquitous negative presence in the world’s news headlines that constantly dominates news stories — terror upon terror. After years of violence, hostages, and bombings, I do not understand how travel agencies still manage to persuade people from Germany, Italy, Britain, the Netherlands, Denmark and even America to visit Egypt’s Pharaonic tombs, Petra’s ancient passages, the Crusader forts in Syria, to bask in the sun on Tunisian beaches, or spend winters in Morocco’s Marrakesh and summers in Egypt’s Hurghada, and undertake the pilgrimage in Jerusalem. Fortunately, planes will not be taking tourists to have breakfast in Baghdad’s Al-Rashid’s Hotel and lunch in Darfur’s camps.

These tourists must be living on a different planet where no newspapers exist and where there is no access to the news; how else can we explain the steady annual influx of 10 million tourists to the Middle East when God’s land is full of countries free from Al Qaeda, the Arab revolutionaries, and other mentally-ill fighters?

This angry Jordanian opened fire on the first tourists he encountered in Amman’s Roman amphitheatre without realising that these people are probably the closest to his stance, people who had come to enjoy the culture of his country. They are friends, not enemies. Most visitors of archaeological sites in the Arab world and those who spend summers in its cities, markets, and beaches visit out of love and fascination for the region’s heritage. They are the ones that frequently disagree with their government’s political views and sympathise with the Arabs and their causes, travelling for leisure and cultural tourism, contributing their savings to our region’s economy.

In my view, these visitors are so naive that they cannot differentiate between a visit to Hollywood’s studios and the Middle East’s ruins, since both produce the same terror, except that the latter is a reality and can be viewed free of charge on the Internet.

Some might say that the terrorists do not care about classifying tourists as friends and that their aim is to frighten them, thus deprive the country of essential revenues, internally weaken it politically, and alienate it from the outside world. That is all true and the evidence is that the incidents in Luxor, Sharm al Sheikh, Hurghada, and the Sinai region in Egypt were all attacks aimed at crippling tourism, the economy and visiting tourists. They succeeded for a short period of time in reducing the number of visitors but they soon returned like moths attracted to the same light that burns them.

It goes without saying we cannot persuade Al Qaeda’s leader Ayman al-Zawahiri to learn how to be civilised, but what is strange is that tourists do not learn their lesson from their ill-fated predecessors and head to the relics of Mexico’s Pharaohs, Rome’s ancient amphitheatre, and the remains of the Hellenic Greek temples and bask on warm beaches that are far from the Middle East’s jungles and its beasts.