The Arabs have come back to Egypt. Last year's 20 percent decline in tourists from Arab countries has reversed itself, ac cording to statistics published here by the Ministry of Tourism. Cairo streets are filled once again with holidaymakers from the Gulf countries, with visitors from Saudi Arabia and Kuwait making a particularly strong showing.
Following the signing of the Egypt-Israeli peace treaty last year, and its condemnation by other Arab states, Egypt was shunned by the Arab world. The wealthy Gulf countries withdrew their financial support, the Arab League headquarters moved to Tunis, and Arab vacationers chose London for their summer holidays.
Travel from Saudi Arabia alone, previously the largest exporter of tourists to Egypt, dropped 24 percent from 1978 to 1979, and overall tourist revenues dropped 11 percent, reflecting the loss of heavy-spending Arab vacationers.
But while the total number of Arab tourists to Egypt for all of 1979 was only 291,000, in the first six months of 1980 their numbers already have surpassed 200,000. In June alone, which marks the beginning of the peak summer season, the number of tourists from Saudi Arabia increased 216 percent over the same month last year, and the number from Kuwait increased 152 percent.
The current Islamic fasting month of Ramadan is when most Arabs come, and their numbers have increased even further.
"Come here every summer," says Abdul Rahman, a Bahraini businessman in a white galabia and checkered keffiyeh who is lounging in the lobby of the Cairo Sheraton, the favorite hotel of Gulf Arabs. "I like the weather, people here speak Arabic, and they have eastern food."
"Last year their government asked them not to come," says Ragheb, a young Egyptian standing next to Abdul Rahman, "but they want to come."
"I don't enter politics," says Abdul Rahman. "We're here as tourists."
A Kuwaiti student standing close by says that last year he went to Morocco, but all the years before that he came to Egypt. Why didn't he come to Egypt last year?
"I just didn't."
"Last year people didn't come because they were afraid of political problems, " says Abdullah, a Saudi who works in the Jiddah airport. "Then they saw there were no problems so they came back this year.I don't like to go to London. I don't know anyone there, I don't know the streets. . . ."
When asked about the Camp David accords, which caused the breach between Egypt and other Arab countries, Abdullah looked around first and then said, "I think it's good. No one wants war."
Abdul Wahhab, a Saudi from Yanbu, echoes Abdullah's sentiments while riding in a taxi down the Pyramids Road, a nightclub-and casino-lined street much frequented by Arab tourists. "The Saudis and the Egyptians have always been friends," he winks, flashing a toothy smile. "The [Saudi] government, they just say they are against the peace because they are afraid."
The Arabs who come sometimes stay in hotels but more often rent furnished apartments, causing rents to jump sky high.
"We have a furnished apartment in Agouza," says a veiled girl from the Emirates who is window-shopping on fashionable Kasr El-Nil street. She says her family comes every year but did not come last year.
What did they do last year?
"We stayed at home."