The Wires: Egypt has frozen changes to its visa rules which would have made it harder for tourists to enter the country.
Egypt freezes controversial visa change
CAIRO // Egypt's government has frozen a decision requiring tourists and other visitors to apply for visas before arrival in the country, an Egyptian tourism official said today.
Deputy Tourism Minister Hesham Zazou said the Cabinet froze the decision, according to the official Middle East News Agency. He did not give a reason or say if it would be enforced later.
The measure would require tourists and other visitors to apply for visas in advance from an Egyptian embassy abroad instead of buying one upon arrival at Cairo airport. It would not apply to tourists traveling in groups.
The new rules would affect nationals from the United States, Europe, Australia, Gulf countries, Africa, Latin America and Asia.
Tourism is a pillar of Egypt's economy and has been badly hurt by the unrest that began in with the uprising that toppled Hosni Mubarak in February.
The Egyptian cabinet said late on Thursday it had decided to cancel the option of obtaining a tourist visa at Egyptian airports to individuals or groups travelling independently.
It said only groups travelling through licensed tour operators would be granted entry visas at Egyptian airports. Others must obtain visas in their home countries before travelling.
The chairman of Egypt's Tourism Authority, Amr El-Ezaby, told state news agency MENA on Friday the decision would "harm the flow of tourism to Egypt ... and is not understood and its purpose is also not understood".
Tourism, a main pillar of the Egyptian economy, was hit hard after the uprising that toppled President Hosni Mubarak in February but has been recovering slowly since then.
On Thursday, the Egyptian Ministry of Planning said in a statement that tourism revenues in 2010-11 were $10.6 billion down from $11.6 billion in 2009-10.
The decision caused confusion among passengers at Cairo's International airport on Friday, airport sources said.
"The government should have consulted with tourism and airline experts before issuing such a decision ... as tourism and airline companies depend on the ease of issuing entry visas," one airport source said.