Tourist Safety in Egypt
by Jimmy Dunn
On July 23rd, 2005, Egypt's National Day, there was a major terrorist event which occurred in Sharm el-Sheikh, which should be no news to anyone at this point. (we have been constantly updating the news on our Sharm News Blog). While official sources in Egypt now put the number of dead at 66, hospital officials claim the toll to be as high as 88. The act was a well planned attack, though for reasons unknown at this time, it was staged at about 1:15 in the morning, not exactly an optimal time for maximum damage, and clearly the attackers were not much concerned whether they killed Egyptians or tourists, as many more Egyptians are among the casualties than foreigners.
Our hearts go out to the victims in Sharm, both to the tourists and to the many Egyptians.
I will be headed back to Egypt in late August, as planned. Of course, after many, many years writing about Egypt every day, and keeping up with safety concerns in Egypt, I know that statistically, my chances of climbing into my car this morning and having a fatal accident on the way to work are greater, even after the Sharm event, than meeting a violent death in Egypt. This year there have been many millions of tourists who visited Egypt and if we compare the number of deaths with the murder rates in cities such as Washington, DC, New York and LA, I also know that I am multiple times more likely to become such a statistic in one of those cities than I am in Egypt. (See our feature story on "Safety in Perspective")
Irregardless of the events in Sharm el-Sheikh, Egypt is not a "soft target" for terrorists. One need only visit the country to make this realization. Most likely, this is one of the reasons that the Sharm attack occurred at 1:15 in the morning rather than several hours earlier when the carnage would have been much worse. Egypt does maintain very strict security measures that far exceed those taken in most western countries, with checkpoints all over the country and a strong presence of security personnel. Furthermore, the vast majority of Egyptians have no love at all for terrorists. It is a country that does not officially, or in the minds of its people, support terrorists. On the contrary, many of its citizens depend on tourism, which is highly affected by such events, to put food on the table for their families.
Yet, as we have seen in the US, as we have seen in London, Spain, Indonesia and elsewhere, all the security measures cannot always prevent terrorists from carrying out their twisted plots. On the other hand, as many of the tourists who are remaining in Egypt to finish up their vacations have noted, this sort of thing can and has happened anywhere in the world. We don't know where the next major terrorism event will happen, but if the pattern of incidents holds true, it will probably not be Egypt, but somewhere else.
In fact, there can be little doubt that those with radical views, and I will not refer to them as Muslim radicals because Muslims do not kill Muslims, and most of the people killed in Sharm were Muslims, are laying very low in Egypt just now, not that it will do them much good. Egypt has never been a friend of terrorists, not surprisingly, as when these people raise their ugly heads, their economy is jeopardized, their people are at risk, and even their leaders have been assassinated in the past. Even President Mubarak has been the focus of attempted assassinations, and just now, he is perhaps one of the most angry leaders in the world.
There is indeed a major security clampdown in Egypt, as would be expected after such an event, but there will also be changes made to improve the safety. The government of Egypt, as well as most Egyptians, are well aware that their tourism industry absolutely must be protected, and it has been our experience that they will take every single measure available to them in order to make tourism safe. In fact, we are told by sources at hotels and other tour organizations that police and other officials are getting little sleep at the moment. One hotel we spoke to reports that they have been visited by several different security organizations, checking safety measures, and apparently this is happening throughout Egypt as I write. Clearly, the security operations going on are far more extensive than what is being reported just in the Sinai.
Analysis of how many tourists currently in Egypt (and some headed that way) can be found on our Sharm News Blog as well as on our Cairo Fixer Blog. Basically, though news reports have indicated that many people were leaving Egypt, many more are staying to enjoy thier holiday, both out of resolve for not letting their lives be controlled by terrorists, and because many feel that they are no safer anywhere else in the world.
We expect to be able to report to you some of the measures that will be taken to prevent any such future attack over the coming weeks. Still, keep in mind that these events have occurred elsewhere, and Egypt cannot be singled out as being more dangerous than anywhere else these days.