Opium trade in Egypt sees uptick as tourists stop coming

By Aileen Graef Follow @AileenGraef Contact the Author   |   May 1, 2014 at 4:51 PM

SINAI PENINSULA, Egypt, May 1 (UPI) -- The Sinai peninsula in Egypt is seeing a boom in opium trade as tourism decreases due to civil unrest in the area.

Between 2010 and 2013 tourism in Egypt has dropped from 14 million to 9 million yearly visitors, and tourism revenues more than halved to $5.8 billion. This is due to the increased violence in the region and the terrorist groups that have seen a resurgence. The entire country has gone through bouts of civil unrest since the Arab Spring revolution in 2011 and the ousting of former President Hosni Mubarak and the subsequent ousting of his successor Mohammed Morsi in 2013.

The Bedouins in the region, who rely on the tourist industry to feed their families, are now turning to growing and harvesting poppy fields for raw opium. Opium trade is banned in Egypt: If the army finds a poppy field, they burn it and the people harvesting it can be sentenced to death.

Mohamed, a Bedouin opium trader, can net as much as $2,850 after he harvests his fields.

"Normally there are two weeks left to the harvest. But we are not taking any chances. We are harvesting everything right now, and we're not leaving any evidence behind," Mohammed told the Christian Science Monitor.

Ahmed Saleh is a Bedouin businessman who is trying to convert opium traders to farmers of herbs and honey.

"Since the revolution, I've had to do my utmost to prevent those 60 families from returning to opium," he said. "In order to sell enough herbs and honey, we also need the tourists to come back."

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