Ok, this post is going to be a bit more serious than my previous posts, because there is something I think is very important to address. That topic is safety in Egypt.
While I am not defending or supporting any of the events that have taken place recently, because I really believe the violence is not the answer, I also want to shed a light on what it feels like to live here, as a foreigner, and how I feel about safety here.
These days, there’s been a ton of media coverage of Egypt, beginning with the relatively incident-free Parliamentary elections, to the tragedy that took place at the football stadium. It’s no secret that things have been changing in Egypt over the last year or so, and events haven’t always been 100% peaceful.
What I do want to say about safety during these events is that, as much as the media has focused on these occurrences, it doesn’t mean that the whole country is a hopeless case, or overrun with random violence. The ongoing protests in Cairo take place in Tahrir Square. For those following the worldwide Occupy movement, the Tahrir protests are much like them in that it’s quite “contained”. By contained I mean that the events are only taking place within the square, as opposed to the whole city. Sure, there’s been violence there, but hasn’t there also been violence at the Occupy Cleveland, Oakland, New York, and Rome protests, as well as many others. Do a Google search and you’ll find dozens of results relating to violence at these protests. Has that made you cancel your trip to NYC or Rome? Probably not. Do you know why? Because you’ve got the awareness that these protests are localized to a specific place and not, let’s say, Broadway or Times Square as well. It’s much the same here in Egypt, with one major exception – while protests are in a specific location, pickpocketing and petty crimes are still rampant in these other destinations, while they are not in Egypt.
In this respect, Egypt is actually safer than most other places.
In fact, last summer I went to Italy on vacation, and I wore a money belt underneath my clothes at all times. I kept my passport and cash in it, leaving only some change readily accessible in my pockets. There was a very real danger of being robbed in some places (2 weeks before my trip an American tourist died in Naples during a botched robbery) but I still went. The only thing I could do was be aware of my surroundings, and be careful not to walk in an unlit area at night.
When I lived in New Jersey and Boston, in my home country, I had to be very careful where I walked and when, because crime rates were so high. Every other day on the news there were horrible stories about crime.
In comparison, when I moved here, I felt much safer. Sure, I couldn’t always wear the same things I wore back home, but I never felt like at any time I could be held up at knife/gun point.
That’s not to say that you can walk around at all hours of the day and night without a care in the world. You should still be cautious, especially around crowds, and you should still always be aware of your surroundings. But overall, the threat is far less severe in Egypt.
The football game…Honestly, I don’t know what to say about such a tragedy! When it comes down to it, what happened at the game was wrong and should never have happened. Whoever was responsible was wrong to behave that way, and it’s sad that so many people were killed and injured. It was senseless and scary.
But let’s also look at it from another point of view. How many sporting matches do you think take place every year? Hundreds? Thousands? Probably. Also, there are a minimum of 2-3 matches per season between the Ahly and Zamalek clubs (kind of like the Red Sox & Yankees with regards to rivalry), and things can get pretty heated, but nothing like this has ever happened.
It’s absolutely fair to say that while what happened in Port Said is tragic, it is by no means exemplary of daily life here in Egypt.
Same with the kidnapping of the 2 American tourists in the Southern Sinai Peninsula. It’s not good and shouldn’t happen, but how many kidnappings have you ever heard of where a kidnapping has taken place and the “hostages” enjoyed the time with their captors, were held for less than a day, and were treated with respect and care, with not so much as a scratch on them? It almost never happens, right? Same with kidnappings in general.
What I want to say is basically this: Yes, things have been unstable, and yes, some negative things have happened. But they’re very isolated occurrences that the average tourist seeing the sights would be nowhere near, and would not be affected by.
So the next time you feel a sense of panic about potentially visiting the country with what’s going on…take a deep breath and think again. Realize that the country is huge, and that what you’re seeing on the news doesn’t really affect the safety of the 10 million tourists or the rest of the 80 million locals living here who stay away from the protests and large crowds. Really, it’s still a very safe to visit and live!