Political crisis pains Egyptian tourism

THE lush green sugar cane fields that line the Nile River governorate of Luxor cannot disguise the level of poverty in which many locals are forced to live.

Poor agricultural prices, combined with a downturn in the lucrative tourism market, has meant many families - urban and rural - are barely making ends meet.

For those who rely on the steady stream of international tourists to Luxor - dubbed by some the world's greatest open-air museum - the ongoing political instability in Egypt has been the death of their livelihood. Last year the number of visitors to Egypt dropped to 10.2 million, down 32 per cent from 2010, while tourism revenue fell from $US12.5 billion in 2010 to $US9 billion ($A8.6 billion).

''Before I was working four weeks out of every month - now I am lucky to work two weeks,'' says Abu Kareem, a tour guide who has worked in the industry for 11 years.

''I will be voting 'yes', because I believe we need stability before we can improve our constitution,'' Abu Kareem said of Saturday's second round of voting in the referendum on the country's new constitution.

His colleague Tarek took the longer-term view. ''The constitution is not good,'' he said. ''It has no protection for workers like me, no one has taken time to write it properly, and now we have to decide suddenly - I know I cannot vote for it.''

The almost-certain victory of the yes campaign in the vote on Egypt's new constitution will leave the country deeply polarised and facing yet more elections in the coming months, experts warn.

Far from the unifying document many had hoped for, the hastily thrown-together constitution - with about 10 clauses still being ''negotiated'' right up until the start of the vote - has revealed both deep distrust in the Muslim Brotherhood-backed government of President Mohammed Mursi and dismay at the thought of the further political instability that a ''no'' vote could bring.

While the pro-Mursi camp predicted a huge endorsement of the constitution in the first round of voting (similar to the 77 per cent of Egyptians who approved the first constitutional referendum in March 2011, soon after the downfall of dictator Hosni Mubarak), the results from last Saturday's poll revealed far less support.

Just over 57 per cent of eligible voters in 10 of Egypt's governorates said yes to the new constitution, while a further 17 areas are due to vote on Saturday.

''People are facing issues that are not just about election fatigue, but about fear of targeting or perhaps the failure of the opposition to actually galvanise people into voting with an alternative plan,'' said Heba Morayef, Egypt director for Human Rights Watch.

''It is one thing to believe that you are voting 'yes' for stability in terms of the constitution, it is quite another to understand that if you vote 'no' you are not taking Egypt into the complete unknown.''

The second round of voting will include Giza, Qalyubia, Menoufia, Beheira, Kafr El-Sheikh, Damietta, Ismailiya, Port Said, Suez, Marsa Matrouh, New Valley, Beni Suef, Fayoum, Minya, Qena, Luxor, and the Red Sea.

It is expected to produce a stronger ''yes'' vote than last weekend's 57 per cent, as these electorates produced strong pro-Mursi votes in this year's June presidential run-off.

''It is clear to most people that this constitution will pass,'' Ms Morayef said. ''The big question for the opposition is whether they will accept nominations in the Shura Council [the upper house of Egypt's parliament].

'It would be more strategic to accept it, and that way you could at least try to affect legislation.''

The parliamentary elections will be the seventh national poll in which Egyptians have been required to vote since Mubarak was forced from power 21 months ago.

This story Political crisis pains Egyptian tourism first appeared on The Sydney Morning Herald.