Tourism Security in the Middle East and Africa: Will It Ever be the Same Again?

Posted by hussain96 on March 16th, 2017

The term MEA is an English language acronym for the Middle East and Africa. It is home to the ‘Cradle of civilisation’ i.e. both Mesopotamia and Egypt, which are believed to be the world’s earliest civilisations. It has also given birth to the major Abrahamic religions like Christianity, Islam and Judaism which have had a profound impact on the world. For a very long time, Africa was known as the ‘dark continent’ due to Westerners knowing almost nothing about the hinterland. Today it is a dynamic, vibrant, fast-growing and resource-rich continent.        

Unfortunately, the security situation in the Middle East and Africa has been challenging for some time now. Syria, Iraq, Libya and Yemen are in the midst of devastating civil wars, causing an unimaginable amount of infrastructural damage and human casualties. Some countries like Egypt and Tunisia witnessed violent revolutions that overthrew their dictatorial regimes. Others like Saudi Arabia, Bahrain, Jordan, Oman and Kuwait witnessed major protests that threatened their government and social harmony. All of this generates negative headlines and greatly harms the tourism industry in this historic region. People tend to think of the entire African continent or the Middle East as one big homogeneous group. They fail to understand that each country has a vastly different economic position, infrastructure and safety and security situation. While some of the countries might be unsafe or even life-threatening to visit, others require only reasonable safety precautions and are well worth the trouble of visiting.

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Middle East and Africa Tourism Security: Challenges

The tourism industry in the MEA region was worth billions of dollars at one point. However, raging civil wars, political unrest and terrorism have all taken their toll on the tourist numbers. According to the World Travel and Tourism council, tourism accounted for only 6% of Egypt’s GDP in the year 2014 but had a massive influence on sectors like agriculture which employ the most people. Investors also invested large amounts into the regional tourism anticipating a boom, but the highly unstable political environment has thrown it into turmoil. Syria and Iraq are home to Mesopotamia which is considered by most historians to be the world’s first civilisation. However, the civil wars in both countries left a massive governance void which has been filled in by the dreaded terrorist group ISIS. ISIS has also undertaken a cultural purge of the region’s non-Islamic history and they have destroyed countless heritage buildings and priceless artefacts. Some examples are the ancient city of Palmyra, the old city of Aleppo, and Bosra in Syria. Islamic terrorism has also shattered the perception of tourism security in the region. The abduction of Nigerian village girls by Boko Haram, the downing of the MetroJet flight from Sharm-Al-Shaikh to Russia, the attack on the Bardo museum in Tunis have made several western governments caution their nationals against travelling to these regions.

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Middle East and Africa Tourism Security: Suggestions

Overwhelmingly negative coverage of the security situation would naturally terrify prospective travellers to the MEA region. However, security experts advise people not to discard the option completely as it does have some truly beautiful sites. They suggest understanding the political situation before visiting, and what the religious and social norms are. They would be advised not to visit countries which their government advises against travel to, but they can visit those places which require some caution since no country is completely safe or immune from any disturbances. There can even a terrorist attack or some violence in traditionally ‘safe’ countries to visit. Nations like Egypt, Saudi Arabia, Jordan and Kenya have realised the importance of tourism and are taking notable steps to improve their security situation. Others like Israel and Lebanon have historical wonders, vibrant food, and a thriving nightlife. Their security situation is only occasionally unsafe which is when people are advised to not visit. Tourists are also advised to leave when there is any flare-up in tensions, even if it means losing money. To quote the noted character Mad-Eye Moody from the Harry Potter series, “constant vigilance” will truly go a long way in tourists enjoying a safe and trouble free Middle Eastern sojourn.

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