safe is travel to Egypt? Not suprisingly, this is the question
everyone about to travel, or thinking about near-future travel
to Egypt is asking.
answer: as of this moment it is as safe as it has been for years.
Will it remain so? I don't know. Nobody knows. I personally
have no qualms whatever about going. Here is the situation and
my interpretation of the situation.
Terrorist incidents began in Egypt in 1985 and continued sporadically,
with varying degrees of damage done, until 1997, when the worst
of them, the attack at the Temple of Hatshepsut in the West
Bank at Luxor killed 72 people, nine of them Egyptian, the rest
Most (or all?) of these attacks were carried out by an organized
Fundamentalist group intent upon overthrowing the relatively
secular (and relatively benign) government of President Mubarak
and installing a rigid Islamic rule more or less modeled on
the Mullah model of Iran. The aim was not so much killing tourists
as such, but rather the de-stabilization of the government leading
- the Fundamentalists hoped - to disenchantment with Mubarak
and increased grass roots support for themselves.
is the largest single source of hard currency for Egypt. The
effect of these attacks was of course to periodically wreck
the tourist industry, throwing the entire Egyptian economy,
from bottom to top, into freefall. Since even the least mathmatically
gifted Egyptian camel driver can add two and two, the Fundamentalists,
not the government took the blame for the economic debacle.
The Hatshepsut massacre was the last straw. Public outcry was
intense and widespread. Serious, massive security was finally
laid on by the government and finally, finally the obvious lesson
registered with the Fundamentalists: killing tourists not only
strengthened the government, it seriously eroded their own limited
base of support. (The camel drivers could add two and two, but
it took twelve years for the Fundamentalists to acquire this
in 1997 an 'official' moratorium was declared. Tourists were
placed off limits. Of course, though this may be the official
position, there is nothing to prevent the lone loony fromspraying
a bus with an Uzi. The fact is, however, that in the four years
since the Hatshepsut attack, the moratorium has held. There
have been no attacks on tourists at all. Does this mean there
won't be? Will, the Egyptians respond to the calls for Jihad
issued out of distant Afghanistan by Bin Laden and the Taliban?
No one knows. No one can say.
What is certain is that Egypt is not Palestine, much less Afghanistan,
and even the poorest of Egyptians do not have the same kind
of emotional anti-American axe to grind as do the Palestinians,
much less sympathy for the Taliban. You may have occasionally
read reports by U.S. reporters (there was one a few months back
by some woman in The New York Times) of rife anti-Americanism
among the Egyptians. All I can say is that in 20 years of frequent
travel to Egypt (not all of it confined to five star hotels!)
not once, ever, have I actually had to confront hostility because
I was American. There is universal, unwavering opposition to
the State of Israel and most Egyptians deplore America's unwavering
support of Israel, but this does not spill over into Anti-Americanism,
it does not even generally translate into classic anti-Semitism.
the case of that Times reporter, I'm inclined to think that
her psychologically sensitive Egyptian interviewees were simply
reacting naturally to an abrasive, intrusive busybody (hardly
uncommon in the journalistic community) with an inflammatory
and derogatory story already mentally written. In fact, it is
an almost universal reaction on my trips, after a couple of
days in Egypt, for people to come to me expressing astonishment
at the skewed picture of the Arab world routinely put out by
the Western media. It is skewed under any circumstances, but
it is particularly inapplicable to the Egyptians, who are Muslim
of course, and who speak Arabic, but who are not Arabs, and
they're quick to let you know that. Of course, it still only
takes one malcontent with a gun to dispel the cumulative effects
of millions of welcoming smiles.
That's the situation. Until or unless the Egyptian Fundamentalist
faction responds to the call, I do not consider travel to Egypt
any more dangerous than it has been over the last four years.
I like to think this attitude further reinforced by looking
at the big picture: is a group capable of taking down two of
America's proudest symbols with a handful of box cutters and
our own planes as bombs going to bother with a few tourists
in Egypt? I'd be more apprehensive these days of visiting Hollywood
or Disneyland (well, actually I'd be apprehensive of Disneyland
under any circumstances!) than Egypt. Meanwhile, our media dutifully
and mindlessly parrots threats by the terrorists to target Americans
and American installations abroad. Never do they question the
practicality of such threats. Installations may be potential
sitting targets, but unless you work at a regular job at an
embassy or business, you represent a moving target. And unless
you wear your Stetson and go around waving your American flag
you are an effectively unidentifiable target. The threats are
largely empty, especially for tourists.
Finally, there is the strictly logical and statistical viewpoint.
How many times have you driven down the thruway, past a smoking
wreck with ambulances alongside, emergency lights flashing.
From the scene you can tell all this happened just minutes ago,
and you think; 'Gee, if I hadn't gone back for my keys/purse/shopping
list/whatever that I forgot, that could have been me!' But it
wasn't you. Life has its built-in dangers. It could be you caught
in the crossfire at your local post office when the disgruntled
guy who got canned last year decides to get even. It could be
your kid who gets gunned down in school when his psychotic schoolmate
takes Dad's assault rifle from the dining room table where it's
normally kept and opens fire. But if you're reading this, it
wasn't you (and chances are it wasn't your kid either.) Americans
also have a peculiarly distorted view of 'terrorist' capabilities.
In a country with 250 million privately owned handguns in circulation,
we tend to think that anyone in the world with a grievance can
just open fire. It's not that easy. Yes, paramilitary groups
everywhere will have ways to acquire weapons, but in most places
(Egypt among them) it is by no means easy for the lone malcontent
to buy an assault weapon, or even a revolver. In other words,
in the 'normal' course of affairs, it's at least as dangerous
just living in the peacetime United States* as it is living
in most other countries in wartime. Following the Hatshepsut
attack, The New York Times noted that even with those numbers
factored in, the chances of any given individual getting killed
in a terrorist attack were roughly the same as being struck
by lightning. I realize, of course, that translating cold logic
(backed up by unchallengeable statistics) into internal serenity
is by no means easy to do. Nevertheless, there is the logic
and there the statistics. The devil we know, we can often deal
with, the devil we don't know is scary. I am familiar with Egypt,
you probably are not. Over to you.
On PBS radio the other day, this statistic: on average there
are 50 U.S. murders per day. That's 18,250 murders per year
(18,300 in leap years). This represents three times the death
toll from the Trade Center and Pentagon attacks ... annually!
to President George W. Bush (recent speech) ' we are a peaceful
John Anthony West
Not everyone has access to the reassuring words of wisdom above.
Many people take the media and the government at face value
(though everyone with a three figure IQ should long ago have
become disenchanted with both) and cancel out or postpone their
trips to Egypt. This becomes a very considerable bonus for those
of us who don't get scared off. Normally, Egypt in season is
absolutely jammed with visitors; overbooked. Years of leading
trips have taught me how to avoid the worst of the crowds, but
still there are crowds. Going there with tourism down 30 or
40% or more (the current figure) intensifies your Egypt experience
writing the essay on safety, I've received a number of responses
from people on my email list. The first, perhaps the most relevant,
is an exchange between Nell Krenk and an American working for
the US State Department in Cairo. Mrs Krenk will be accompanying
me on my upcoming trip with her family, including three children.
I am of course well aware that people interested in my trips
know that I make most of my income from them, and so have every
right to suspect that anything I have to say on the safety issue
might well be colored by at least some measure of vested interest.
So I'm delighted when my own convictions are endorsed from an
outside source with no stake whatever in the matter and long
hands-on experience. I've omitted the name of the State Department
official, not because I've been asked to, but simply to spare
him from any possible unwelcome feedback.
It is worth comparing the letter from Bob. F to the stuff you
may be reading routinely in the New York Times and elsewhere.
The two letters that follow are from people who've been on my
trips, and while these do not reflect the immediate situation,
they are nonetheless relevant to it in my opinion. 'Shelli'
is a lawyer in Indiana; 'Mark' is a systems engineer at Kennedy
Bob and Dana, Amy suggested I write to you. Our daughters play
soccer together. My family has an incredible trip planned to
Egypt Oct.21 thru Nov. 6. (Three kids, my husband and my father
and I). with John Anthony West (Egyptologist and tour organizer).
We are agonizing over the decision to go or not to go. The trip
will only be officially canceled if the US restricts travel
- so the decision to date is ours alone. Any feedback? I know
you can't predict danger any better than we can, but could you
share generally how American travelers are regarding by Egyptians
in this political climate? If we were your family would you
say "Stay home!" ?? Thanks a lot. We will lose a tone of money
by not going but it's not worth putting ourselves at risk! My
husband has no fear and will go, my father is afraid of getting
stuck there and they have all left it up to me!! Thanks so much
for your thoughts,
CC: Marksbirds@ (MARKS, Amy)
You are right, one cannot predict the future. Danger lurks everywhere
(like on US freeways.)
least as of this writing, my guess is that US freeways are about
as dangerous as a visit to Egypt.
have lived here for 3 years. This is "home" for us and thus
we are accustomed to the place. Street violence (purse snatching,
muggings etc.) is all but nonexistent. The reason for this is
that the government, for reasons of their own political security,
has a tremendous apparatus for public security in place. We
are (and you will be ) always under some kind of surveillance
by heavily armed men. As a tourist here, you will probably be
more "nervous" by the number of uniformed military/security
personnel you will see carrying combat weapons and sitting behind
barricades guarding tourist sites. Tourism is a huge industry
in Egypt and the government goes to extraordinary means to make
sure that no more people get hurt by political nuts.
Actually, a visit in October -Nov. will probably be "safer"
than it would have been a few months earlier. Since NYC and
our bombing in Afghanistan, Egyptian security forces have been
much more in evidence and are clearly more vigilant.
.... as US government employees here (the real targets if trouble
breaks out), there are plans on the books and some preparations
to evacuate us. But few people on the ground here really believe
that things will get that rambunctious in the near future. In
any case, you and your family will stand little chance of getting
stranded here. If the worse comes, the USG will be evacuating
all Americans (tourists included) and we can count on the Egyptian
Government military also to be protecting departing people.
But again ..... plans are all on the books though few people
I know really think this is a probability. A possibility: Yes.
A probability: a long shot at this point. Just like a freeway
drive to Portland on I-5. It is clearly safer to stay home,
but not half as much fun.
I cancel a long planned family trip to Egypt at this time? Never!
Indeed, I just spent a week with friends camping around isolated
areas in the Western Desert near Siwa Oasis, only 35 miles from
the Libyan border. The thought of some terrorist threat never
really crossed my mind.
I am sorry if I may seem a little "flip" to you and your concerns
about family security. But there are literally thousands of
your country compatriots living in Egypt (oil company personnel,
US Got, US military, businessmen, GO staff). Maybe we have overdeveloped
"deny strategies" as a coping defence. But you asked me what
I think, and you got it
If you do get to Cairo though, give us a call. I will fill you
in if there is any new publicly available "intelligence" about
threat. Our home telephone is 378-2486 or call me on my cell
Hope to hear from you and to hear that you are having a good
PS If it makes you feel any safer, there are currently many
thousands of US military troops running around the Egyptian
Desert in joint military training exercises with the Egyptians.
And, though nobody talks about it, it is much assumed that the
US has forces using (or prepared to use) Egyptian air bases
to strike at Afghanistan and other areas in the Mid-East. Egypt
is really an ally for the USA in this region. _____________________________________________________________________
Date: 10/16/2001 9:05:52 PM Eastern Daylight Time
From: SWJ22 To: JAWSPHINX
Hi John, Read your statement on the terrorist issue and was
immediately reminded of my first e-mail conversations with you
in the spring of 1998. Of my three trips to Egypt so far (3/98,
2/99, 5/00-- I say "so far" as I plan to continue to go as often
as my work schedule and finances will allow), my hands-down
favorite was the one in March of '98-- less than 4 months after
the tourist shootings at Hatshepsut's Temple. A substantial
percentage of your expected group had canceled due to the perceived
terrorism threat. As you may recall, that is when I signed on
due to your sage advice that the crowds would be small and the
sites would be even more phenomenal. Truer words were never
spoken! Although I enjoyed the later trips very much, there
is certainly something to be said about being able to revel
in the wonders without having to wait in line. . . I should
also add that as a woman traveling alone, I had expected to
be stuck in my room each night watching "Gilligan's Island"
in Arabic. To my infinite surprise, I was able to walk about
on my own whenever and wherever I pleased--which I do not do
in American cities. The splendor of Egypt, old and new, was
an experience that touched my soul and forever changed my life.
. . Hey, if you get a bunch of cancellations again because of
the latest terrorist craze, sign me up! If I can come up with
the cash (there's always something), there is no better time
to see Egypt!
If you have any skittish first-timers who could use an encouraging
word, feel free to give them my e-mail address or phone number.
The ones who have been there before won't need any encouragement.
Re: Eg-update 6.0: Travel in Troubled Times
Date: 10/16/2001 12:49:38 AM Eastern Daylight Time
To: JAWSPHINX@ (John West), firstname.lastname@example.org
Hello John, Thanks for reminding us again of the actual situation
in Egypt with regards to terrorism, the dangers of which more
then often are grossly overstated by our media.
After having seen and having experienced the very warm and cheerful
welcome given to each of us by the Islamic peoples of Egypt
on your tour earlier this year I have no reservations myself
about returning to Egypt in the near future which I plan to
do as soon as I have built up enough vacation time again. I
noticed during my stay in Egypt that violence in general was
next to unheard of and I felt perfectly safe walking through
the streets of Cairo & Luxor in the wee hours of the night.
Itâ€Ùs really sad that this is not the case for many of our
large cities here in America. I would say to anyone who is contemplating
traveling to Egypt for the first time, that should they decide
to follow through after having weighed the risks that they will
come away from their experience of Egypt with a much healthier
and wiser view of the Islamic culture and will realize that
the majority of the Islamic people are a very peaceful, kind
and simple people who are far removed from hatred and violence
and they will also come away with a very profound appreciation
of the illumed spirituality & knowledge that the ancient Egyptians
themselves brought into their world here.