May 03 2012
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Counting the cost of row with Saudi Arabia
Thursday, May 03, 2012
Cairo Amal Sadek, a mother of three, was planning to go with her children to Saudi Arabia this summer to visit her husband who works as a carpenter there. But current tensions between the two countries have derailed her plan.
“I had earlier agreed with my husband to take the children and visit him in Saudi Arabia to spend the school summer holiday with him,” Amal said.
“But this is impossible now after the Saudi authorities stopped issuing entry visas for Egyptians. I hope this situation will be temporary to allow thousands of Egyptian families like us [to be reunited].”
The protests were held after an Egyptian rights lawyer was arrested in Saudi Arabia for allegedly trying to smuggle drugs into the country.
Around two million Egyptians are working in Saudi Arabia, accounting for nearly 80 per cent of Egyptian expatriates abroad, according to non-official figures.
“The continuation of this tension will heavily damage our business,” said Ahmad Mokhtar, the manager of a recruitment agency in Cairo. “The entry visa freeze to Saudi Arabia means that hundreds of companies like ours will not be able to process labour contracts. This will result in heavy losses,” he added.
According to Mokhtar, there are more than 900 recruitment agencies in Egypt, with Saudi Arabia topping the list of their business.
“These companies employ around 10,000 people here in Egypt. A large number of them will be laid off if the crisis goes on unresolved,” he added.
“Further losses will be incurred by other companies, which arrange trips [to] Umra [lesser pilgrimage] and Haj [major pilgrimage] to Saudi Arabia,” Mokhtar said.
Millions of Egyptians go to Saudi Arabia, the birthplace of Islam, for such trips all year round.
The crisis is the worst between the two countries since the late 1970s when most Arab countries, including Saudi Arabia, suspended their ties with Egypt over its peace treaty with Israel. Relations were re-established in the 1980s after the now-toppled Egyptian president Hosni Mubarak took over.
“Egypt and Saudi Arabia should avoid escalating this crisis to preserve their historical and economic ties,” said Jamal Bayoumi, the secretary-general of the Arab Investors’ Union.
He said certain parties, who he would not name, were fomenting the crisis.
Saudi Arabia is the second biggest investor in Egypt after the United States. Trade between the two countries topped $1.2 billion (Dh4.4 billion) in the first quarter of 2011, compared to $800 million during the same period last year, according to government figures.
The crisis threatens to add to the woes of the Egyptian tourism, which has seen a sharp decrease in arrivals and revenues due to the turmoil that has gripped the country since the revolt that ousted Mubarak in February last year.
“This crisis has occurred in summer when many Arab families, mainly Saudis, usually come to Egypt,” said Mustafa Sabri, a receptionist at a Cairo hotel.
“Saudis used to account for around 20 per cent of Arab holidaymakers coming to Egypt annually. Their visits also meant a boom for the Egyptian market as they spent a lot on shopping,” Sabri said.
“This crisis is the last [thing the] tourism industry needs.”
Saudis used to account for around 20 per cent of Arab holidaymakers coming to Egypt annually... This crisis is the last [thing the] tourism industry needs.”
Receptionist at a hotel in Cairo
By Ramadan Al Sherbini?Correspondent
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