Vendors working near Egypt's famed pyramids have become aggressive and violent in their attempts to earn business, according to witnesses who frequent the tourist spot and spoke to USA Today.
A warning has been issued by the U.S. Embassy about the increasing number of incidents that have occurred in the area surrounding the pyramids, as vendors try to cope with difficult economic times. Some of the vendors are approaching criminal conduct, according to the embassy.
"U.S. citizens should elevate their situational awareness when traveling to the pyramids, avoid any late evening or night travel, utilize a recommended or trusted guide, and closely guard valuables," reads a security message on the embassy's website last week. While that is good general travel advice, it's more serious under the current conditions in Egypt.
The ancient pyramid complex is located approximately an hour outside of Cairo. Visitors are experiencing Egyptians vendors who surround tourist vehicles and pound on them, in what the embassy calls an effort to pressure visitors to ride in their horse-drawn carriages. Some more extreme situations have involved angry vendors trying to force the vehicle doors open, which frightens visitors.
The minister of antiquities for Egypt, Ahmed Eissa, insists that the Giza pyramid complex is still safe for visitors, saying that his office hasn't received any complaints, and neither have the tourism police, according to Egyptian newspaper reports.
Tourists returning from a trip to the pyramids have a different story.
"It's a new level of frightening," Graham Harman, an associate provost for research administration and professor of philosophy at the American University in Cairo.
Vendors began the intimidating practices about six months after the revolution of 2011. Even when tourists enter the gates surrounding the complex, they aren't free of harassment. Vendors selling a variety of goods services, including camel rides, horse jaunts or souvenirs, pressure visitors to make purchases where the prices have been artificially raised, and some vendors are more aggressive and demand payment for nothing.
Harman is originally from Iowa, but has lived in Egypt for the past 13 years, and says that in the current climate, he wouldn't advise anyone to go without an organized tour after the experience he had with his wife in March. His wife was harassed, and the police asked her for money. Tourists are left in an environment of corruption and bribery.
"This was something new," Harman said. "People were much more aggressive."
After the revolution, Egypt elected an Islamist government, but it hasn't resulted in economic improvements, with unemployment remaining high and income remaining low.
Ayman Hussein, who works for a travel agency is Aswan, a city in Upper Egypt near a set of ancient temples, said tourism has been dropping by more than half since before the uprising in 2011.
"Please tell people, come to Upper Egypt," Hussein said. "It's very hard."
In regard to the dangers tourists are facing near the pyramids, Hussein is dismissive of the distant tourist attraction.
"We love the tourists," he said. "Don't worry about this."