An Israeli in Egypt
Editorial Comments by Jimmy Dunn
Many years ago I was most simply a businessman who had been invited to Egypt to help promote tourism on the Internet. Prior to this, I actually had very little interest in Egypt. I was not prone to new age speculations about the origins of the pyramids or the Great Sphinx, nor was I ever much of an archaeology buff, though I always enjoyed history. I was, in fact, a typical American with little interest in much outside of the American borders. It was the common people of Egypt who changed all that.
I cannot say that, upon my first visit to Egypt, it was love at first sight, though the culture quickly grew on me. However, I soon learned to love the Egyptian people, who are some of the kindest, most hospitable people to be found anywhere in the world. This is not a casual observation, nor is this impression exclusively mine.
Many people who travel to Egypt begin their journey with at least a touch of apprehension, which simply dissolves after their arrival. I could perhaps attribute this to a number of factors.
First of all, people have been visiting Egypt as tourists now for literally thousands of years. Today, tourism in Egypt is an important industry that puts considerable food on the tables of ordinary Egyptians. For some families, generations have actually worked in the trade for hundreds of years. Hospitality has become second nature to these people.
But there is more to it than tourism commerce. I am not the first to note that Egyptians have a very special talent. They are able to detach their feelings about one government or another from the individual. They may not like the politics of some specific countries, but this does not affect the way ordinary Egyptians treat tourists from those countries. Indeed, while common Egyptians may not like, for example, Bush politics, they seem to very much like Americans, and I can say this from my personal experiences.
Perhaps this is because the common Egyptians themselves have, for most of the last two thousand or more years, been alienated from their own ruling governments. Prior to Egyptian independence in the mid-twentieth century, Egypt was controlled by foreign powers. Frequently, there was more than a little frustration with their own government's policies.
I should mention that I am Christian, not Jewish, but the following article very recently appeared in Haaretz, an Israeli Newspaper. It is not really very surprising to me. In fact, I remember several years ago visiting a small hotel at Nuweiba, and being told by the local Egyptians how much they missed their Israeli tourists.
Go to Egypt and Enjoy
by Gideon Bider
Newspaper headlines are screaming out the warnings: Don't travel to Turkey or Egypt on Passover. I don't mean to argue with these important people, but it seems only right to share with the public my impressions from a private visit I made three weeks ago to Egypt. My 25-year-old daughter completed her studies for a university degree and we decided to celebrate the event with a trip to Egypt. I was there over 20 years ago; my daughter was familiar only with the Sinai coast.
In mid-February, we acted on our plans. We reserved tickets on a flight from Ben-Gurion Airport to Cairo, with a return flight a week later, and also reserved a three-star hotel in Cairo for the first two days. We took an ordinary commercial flight on Air Sinai to Egypt (we preferred this flight over the El Al flight, due to the more convenient arrival time in Cairo in the morning). The checkers at the airport in Israel raised an eyebrow at the sight of Jewish Israelis choosing of their own free will to take a trip to Egypt, but the short flight went without a hitch. We landed in Cairo and within a short while had made our way through all of the inspections. We did not feel that we received any special treatment, for better or for worse, from the officials at the airport.
Leaving the terminal, as we were looking for transportation into the city, we were approached by a local travel agent, who asked us what we needed. We explained that we'd come from Israel to visit Egypt. And amid some surprise - and joy - he offered us a package deal: we soon agreed to a two-day tour of Cairo and the Pyramids, a journey on the night train from Cairo to Luxor, a visit to Luxor and an overnight stay in the city, back on the train, this time to Aswan, a tour of the city, the High Dam and the temple sites, an overnight stay in the city, travel to Abu Simbel, return to Aswan and a cruise on the Nile, return to Cairo on the night train, hotel for a night in Cairo, travel to the Faiyum depression, return to Cairo, hotel and transport to the airport.
I will not name the price, but it was low. We settled into the hotel in Cairo and went for a walk through the streets of the city. We walked on foot with a map, took taxis and saw the Egyptians in their everyday lives and activities. With the help of a driver and a local guide, we found our way to every place we wanted to go, stopped everywhere we wanted to, and photographed whatever we felt like photographing. At first we tried to conceal our identity: We said that we were Australians, and spoke English. We soon realized that there was no need for the facade, and resumed speaking Hebrew with each other. We may not have stuck an Israeli flag on our backs, but the desk clerks of every hotel we stayed at, and every agent who handled us, knew where we were from, and we were always received with astonishment and delight.
The organization was superlative. In Cairo, they even arranged an international student card for my daughter, which listed her place of study - Tel Aviv University. We walked the streets of Cairo, Luxor and Aswan, shopped in the stores, strolled through the markets, enjoyed the cafes, smoked narghiles, dined in local restaurants, and although we do not speak Arabic, we got along fine everywhere. Mainly, we visited all of the official tourism sites, those better known and those less known. We were at the Pyramids in Giza and Sakkara, we climbed up to the citadel in Cairo, visited the National Museum, toured the Valley of the Kings and the Temple of Karnak in Luxor, saw the Aswan Dam and visited the temples of Abu Simbel. We took a lot of pictures, at the Aswan Dam, as well.
I should say that we saw hundreds of tourists, mainly from Germany, Italy and Japan, but also from Scandinavia, Spain and Russia, a few from Britain but not a single one from the United States (or, of course, from Israel). Wherever we went, people were happy to see us, in the hope that we were perhaps the harbinger of a return of the Israelis. Only on the trip to the Faiyum depression was our car escorted by soldiers. The security police officers explained to us - and we accepted the explanation - that this was the practice for every tourist in the region, and it was not because we were Israelis.
The return trip was pleasant, as well. Everyone at the airport in Cairo was efficient and courteous, and although we had prepared ourselves for a long line of security inspections, within a half hour of our arrival at the airport we were already in the duty-free area.
We carry with us very good memories, both from the wonderful sites we visited and from our encounter with the polite and friendly Egyptian people, who are waiting for the arrival of tourists from Israel, not because the president has called on them to do so, but because of their good memories from previous visits by Israelis. As it says in all of the best travelers' stories, we returned "tired but happy."
Go to Egypt - because you will have nothing but pleasure.
The writer is a professor of geography at Tel Aviv University.
Last Updated: June 13th, 2011