As Maia is doing such a good job writing about the day to day activities of the tour I’ve decided to address a completely different issue here in Egypt. I want to share my thoughts about the security situation. To begin with, I feel perfectly safe in every way. And I believe I speak for the entire group. Everyone surely came with some anxiety about issues of safety. But the atmosphere here is very different than one would expect. For starters, the Egyptian people are very friendly and warm.
It is true that many of them want to sell you something, but overall I find them to be genuinely outgoing and hospitable people. As one walks around Cairo people who speak little or no English call out, “Welcome in Egypt.” And we learned from our wonderful guide Hoda that there is virtually no violent crime in Egypt. Despite the dire straits of the economy, the moderate Islamic culture here is one of caretaking. The Quran teaches that those with material wealth must share with those less fortunate. While I can’t speak for the entire Muslim world, this philosophy seems to be working here in Egypt and even the most poor are able to survive with help from those more fortunate.
Beyond the generally welcoming timbre of society, the security presence here is highly visible and ubiquitous. Tourism is important to the economy and the government is doing everything in its power to protect the industry. We have had an armed plain-clothes policeman with our group every day. They have been scrupulously conscientious, always aware of stragglers and watching out until everyone is back on the bus at each stop.
While in Cairo, we also had a police car that followed the bus. There are security checkpoints at all tourist sights – and they’re serious. Typically there is an armored vehicle and 2 guards on duty, armed with automatic weapons and observing from behind blast shields. There is usually another 2 to 4 soldiers in the area, apparently as backup and relief. Often there are others wandering within the site grounds or a few blocks from the entrance.
Our bus must pass a checkpoint long before we arrive at the site entrance. The driver must show his papers and Hoda always shows her credentials. Then, once we actually enter a site we must pass through airport-like metal detectors and bags must be hand check or x-rayed. When we depart a hotel, no bags are allowed on the bus until each person identifies his or hers. In Luxor and Aswan, the major ports of call for Nile cruises, armed security forces zip around the boats in zodiacs.
Maia has observed that Egyptians are not scary people. Being here forces one to recognize that the vast majority are regular people who love their children, want peace in the world, and an opportunity to be productive and provide for their families. My heart breaks for these people. Due to a couple of highly publicized incidents and our tendency to lump the entire Middle East together as a single destination, westerners are too afraid to come. The sights are AMAZING! And as noted, the people are warm and welcoming. But due to the lack of tourist dollars the tourist infrastructure is falling apart for lack of maintenance. Our buses have been comfortable but threadbare. We stayed in a 5-star hotel in Luxor but it was virtually empty except for our group. Our 4-star Nile cruise boat is very comfortable, but it too is in need of basic maintenance. But there simply is no money because there are so few tourists. We are having a rich experience, a wonderful time, and seeing some of the most iconic sights on the globe – all without crowds. But the cost is being borne by the locals trying to scratch out a living. And no one is coming.