Egypt travel advisories renewed in wake of violence

— Worsening violence amid anti-government protests in Egypt has led western governments step up their travel advice.

Yesterday, at least 23 people were killed, and hundreds injured, in clashes between supporters and opponents of Egyptian President Mohamed Morsy at Cairo University.

Since then, the British Foreign and Commonwealth Office is recommending “against all but essential travel to Egypt” except certain coastal resorts, where unrest is less evident.

Previously, the FCO advised travelers only to steer clear of “all demonstrations and large gatherings” within the country.

The U.S. State Department continues to advise against all “non-essential” travel to or within Egypt.

Tourism minister quits

Egypt’s tourism industry suffered another blow Monday with the resignation of the country’s tourism minister, Hisham Zazour.

Zazour handed in his resignation along with five other ministers, including the foreign minister, over the violence sweeping the country.

The present crisis was the last straw for a man with one of the toughest jobs in tourism. He had threatened to quit last month over the appointment as Luxor governor of a member of a political group associated with a massacre in the city 15 years ago that killed 58 tourists.

Tourism vital

The pyramids of Giza, the Nile and the coastal resorts of Sharm-el-Sheikh are among the world’s most popular tourist attractions. The industry is vital to Egypt’s economy.

Tourism employs around 10% of the Egyptian workforce and brought in $10 billion in 2012, according to UNWTO figures.

However, anti-government protests beginning in 2011, part of the revolutionary movement sweeping the Middle East, have hit tourism hard. Visitor numbers have fallen by almost one-third, from 14 million in 2010 to 10.5 million last year.

Will travelers still go?

Should travelers still visit Egypt? There have been bargains aplenty as travel operators have tried to woo back tourists to what has long been one of the world’s most popular sun-sea-and-sights destinations.

Yet official travel advice is hardening — while stopping short in all cases of advising against all travel or assisting foreigners to leave Egypt.

In addition to deaths at public demonstrations, the British government notes reports of “more than forty rapes and sexual assaults of Egyptian and foreign women.”

Coastal resorts “safe”

Yet the Foreign and Commonwealth Office exempts “resorts on the Red Sea in South Sinai” and certain mainland resorts from its advice against travel. It continue to state that “most visits” to Egypt are trouble-free.

It is true that, as protests have surged and dwindled over the past two years, violence has largely been confined to Cairo and other cities, rather than the coastal resorts popular with package holiday tourists.

“July and August traditionally see lower numbers of holidaymakers traveling to Egypt than the rest of the year,” the Association of British Travel Agents told CNN Travel Tuesday.

“At this stage, outside of Cairo it is very much business as usual, and holiday makers are enjoying their holidays without interruption.”

U.S. citizen dies

In stronger advice than Britain’s, the U.S. government recommends against all “non-essential” travel to Egypt. A U.S. citizen, Andrew Pochter, 21, died after being stabbed in the chest at a protest in the city of Alexandria last Friday.

Political unrest in Egypt is “likely to continue in the near future,” the State Department says.

Whatever the political outlook for the country, its vital tourism industry is likely to take years to recover from its violent recent history.

Family of Nelson Mandela: His health is in God’s hands now

— The former wife of Nelson Mandela visited him Sunday in the hospital where the ailing anti-apartheid icon is clinging to life, the South African Press Association reported.

Winnie Madikizela-Mandela, who was married to the former South African president from 1958 to 1996, described what it’s like to see her former husband of 38 years struggle to live in an exclusive interview with UK network ITV News.

“It is extremely painful to see him going through what he’s going through now. But it’s God’s wish,” Winnie Mandela told ITV.

Nelson Mandela, 94, remains in critical but stable condition at a Pretoria hospital where he has been battling a recurring lung infection since June 8.

His condition worsened last week with family members saying his health was “delicate” and “anything is imminent.” But daughter Zindzi Mandela told ITV between hospital visits that her father is alert and recognizes when a new person enters his hospital room.

“The one time he did speak was to tell my mom to sit down … because she was standing at the edge of his bed,” she said, laughing.

As his condition has deteriorated, South Africans have gathered outside the hospital, praying, lighting candles and leaving notes for the man they refer to as “tata,” the Xhosa word for father. Those tributes continued Sunday as a Salvation Army band played hymns near the hospital and well-wishers gathered to be close to their beloved Madiba.

Winnie Mandela shot down any suggestion that the family was discussing whether to end life support.

“It was nonsense to suggest we needed to take a decision to pull the tubes,” she told ITV.

Mandela became an international figure while enduring 27 years in prison for fighting against apartheid, the country’s system of racial segregation. He was elected the nation’s first black president in 1994, four years after he was freed. Even as he has faded from the spotlight, he remains popular and is considered a hero of democracy worldwide.

The front page of South Africa’s Sunday Times earlier this month carried the headline “It’s time to let him go,” quoting a longtime friend of the former president as saying the time may have come for South Africans to say goodbye.

“Once the family releases him, the people of South Africa will follow. We will say thank you, God, you have given us this man, and we will release him too,” friend Andrew Mlangeni told the paper.

But Zindzi Mandela told ITV that what happens now is out of the family’s hands.

“When people say the family must let go, and we say let go of what? In fact he is deciding what’s happening with himself. It’s between him and his maker. It’s not to do with us whatsoever,” she said.

CNN’s Faith Karimi and Samira Said contributed to this report.

Obama heads to Africa to promote investment, democracy

— President Barack Obama flies across the Atlantic on Wednesday for a trip that takes him to Senegal, South Africa and Tanzania — his second visit to sub-Saharan Africa since taking office.

The trip aims to bolster investment opportunities for U.S. businesses, address development issues such as food security and health, and promote democracy.

It comes as China aggressively engages the continent. The Asian nation is pouring billions of dollars into Africa, running oil and mining firms, and replaced the United States in 2009 as the largest largest trading partner.

Obama’s predecessor, George W. Bush, will be in Africa at the same time.

Bush has made multiple visits to Africa since leaving office, and will be in Zambia next week, where he’s working with his global health initiative to renovate a cervical cancer screening and treatment center.

While the 44th and 43rd president are not scheduled to meet, first lady Michelle Obama and her predecessor, Laura Bush, will attend the African First Ladies Summit in Tanzania on July 2.

Obama’s trip is being overshadowed by the declining health of South Africa’s revered former president, Nelson Mandela, who is in critical condition at a Pretoria hospital.

Mandela, who emerged from prison after 27 years to lead South Africa out of its dark days of apartheid, is considered the father of modern day South Africa.

Obama will be in Senegal Thursday and Friday. He arrives in South Africa on Saturday, where he will spend the weekend taking part in a host of activities, including meeting with the nation’s leaders and visiting Robben Island, where Mandela spent a majority of his prison term.

He will spend Monday and Tuesday in Tanzania, and is expected back in Washington on July 3.

The president made a brief trip to Ghana during his first term in July 2009.

CNN’s Kevin Bohn and Ashley Killough contributed to this report.


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Nelson Mandela in critical condition as anxious nation waits

— Former South African President Nelson Mandela remains in critical condition at a Pretoria hospital where he has been hospitalized for more than two weeks.

The news did little to calm nerves as an anxious nation stood vigil.

Mandela has been hospitalized since June 8 for a recurring lung infection. Previously, authorities had described his condition as serious but stable.

But over the weekend, Mandela’s health took a turn for the worse, with the South African president’s office saying he was was in critical condition.

It didn’t show improvement Monday.

“Former president Mandela remains in a critical condition in hospital,” Zuma told the nation Monday. “The doctors are doing everything possible to ensure his well being and comfort.”

He declined to comment further.

Mandela, 94, has become increasingly frail over the years and has not appeared in public since South Africa hosted the World Cup in 2010.

Outside the hospital, a security wall was awash with get-well cards, balloons, flowers, cards and paintings, the South African Press Association reported.

Ready for the spiritual realm

For Mandela’s family, these are very personal times — times to be cherished as the end nears.

“All we do every day is take one day at a time and pray to the good Lord,” Makaziwe told CNN’s Robyn Curnow.

“I believe he is at peace,” said Makaziwe Mandela, who was born in 1953 to Mandela’s first wife, Evelyn.

“All I pray for as a daughter is that the transition is smooth. … He is at peace with himself. He has given so much to the world.”

In and out of hospital

The anti-apartheid hero has been in and out of the hospital in recent years.

His history of lung problems dates to when he was a political prisoner on Robben Island during the apartheid era, and he has battled respiratory infections.

Considered the founding father of South Africa’s democracy, Mandela became an international figure while enduring 27 years in prison for fighting against apartheid, the country’s system of racial segregation.

South Africa’s governing African National Congress noted “with concern” Sunday the change in Mandela’s health.

“The African National Congress joins the presidency in calling upon all of us to keep President Mandela, his family and his medical team in our thoughts and prayers during this trying time,” it said.

A Nobel laureate

In 1993, Mandela and then-South African President F.W. de Klerk jointly won the Nobel Peace Prize.

The iconic leader was elected the nation’s first black president a year later, serving only one term, as he had promised.

Even as he has faded from the spotlight, he remains popular and is considered a hero of democracy in the nation. Last year, South Africa launched a new batch of banknotes with a picture of a smiling Mandela on the front.

Mandela’s impact extends far beyond South African borders. After he left office, he mediated conflicts in Africa and the Middle East.

Word of his worsening health drew global expressions of concern.

“We have seen the latest reports from the South African government that former President Mandela is in critical condition,” Caitlin Hayden, a U.S. National Security Council spokeswoman, said in a statement. “Our thoughts and prayers are with him, his family and the people of South Africa.”

CNN’s Faith Karimi, Kim Norgaard and Dan Lothian contributed to this report.


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