Salafist hostility against alcohol and bikinis are not exactly music to the ears of tourists who, since last year, have decided to steer clear from the “new Egypt”. But the land of the Pharaohs simply cannot do without foreign tourists.
What could the solution be then?
One Coptic entrepreneur has come up with an idea of his own. That is, to focus on a sector that is far less problematic in relation to the dictates of Islam: Christian tourism. Samir Mitri Gayed, founder and director of Electro Mitry Company, a nuclear energy development company, put his idea in black and white, writing an article published on the Arab-West Report, a website with a widespread readership extending far outside Cairo.
In the article he said he would be interested in going into the tourism entrepreneurship sector in order to develop a plan for Christian pilgrimages along a route followed by the Holy Family during their flight to Egypt.
He added that President Mohammed Mursi would do well to consider this proposal “because – the Coptic entrepreneur claimed – Christian tourism does not conflict with Sharia law in any way.”
This is not the first time Gayed has presented the proposal: he had already spoken about it at the beginning of the new Millennium, straight after John Paul II’s pilgrimage to the hermitage of St. Catherine in the Sinai Desert, where according to tradition, Moses received the Tablets of the Law.
But the Coptic entrepreneur also wants to promote another Christian itinerary: the Via Maris route, along which Joseph, Mary and little Jesus travelled, fleeing from the slaughter of the innocents. Egypt is the exclusive inheritor of certain steps of the Holy Family journey handed down by the Coptic Christian tradition. There is one site in particular that Gayed has set his sights on: it is called al-Farama and is located 25 km east of Port Said, in the northern part of the Sinai Peninsula.
Certain excavations carried out in al-Farama by the National Egyptian Heritage Revival Association, have brought to light remains of the old city of Pelusium, which was once an important trading port. Among the ruins four churches were discovered, including a basilica named after the Virgin Mary, which Coptic tradition has linked to the flight to Egypt.
Some sections of a castle that is said to have existed two thousand years ago at the time the Holy Family was on their journey, were also unearthed.
Gayed has written to the Egyptian tourism ministry asking for a conference to be convened to look into the project’s feasibility. In his article on the benefits which the initiative could bring to Egyptian tourism, he referred to Lourdes as well as the House of the Virgin Mary in Ephesus, in Turkey – an Islamic country – as examples.
What is the likelihood of his idea actually being put into practice? Things do not look so positive given Egypt’s situation today.
What is certain, however, is that Gayed’s proposal has helped remind the world of a Christian site which the West had lost trace of a long time ago.