Egypt Feature Story Egypt Tourist Safety in Prospective
by Jimmy Dunn
May 4, 2005: We've had some good years since 1997. Between then and last year, Egypt had no tourist deaths that we know of due to any form of violence. I exhorted not infrequently the safety record for tourists, and indeed, it was safer for a tourist to be in Egypt than at home, because the murder rate in most civilized countries account for more deaths than tourist deaths in Egypt (obviously, since there were none).
Then, last year Egypt suffered a major set back at Taba, resulting in the death of about 30 people, and this year we have had several more tourist deaths due to violent acts. (I will not report on these incidents here, as they are, as always, well documented in the news.) What's it all mean? We regret the loss of these tourists, and the Egyptian government is very serious about protecting foreign tourists. Furthermore, it should be pointed out that almost all Egyptians, many of which earn their living in the tourist industry, are outraged by this type of act. Egyptians remain a very hospitable people who truly enjoy inviting guests to see the wonders of their country.
In deciding on one's relative safety in Egypt, we must assess the risk, and in doing so, we find a number of interesting statistics, and perhaps a little more safety than what we might otherwise believe. Last year (2004), Egypt received about 8.1 million tourists. Of those, 30 died in one violent act, which indicates a death rate from violence towards tourists of about .004 per 1,000 visitors.
Now consider this. In the US last year, the murder rate was .04 per 1,000 people (CNN reports .062). Washington, DC, a prime tourist destination in the US was considerably worse than the national average, with a murder rate of .693 per 1,000 population. This means that a tourist visiting Egypt last year was some 173 times safer than one visiting Washington, DC. (The overall murder rate in Washington DC is about 1,000 times greater than for the overall murder rate in the country of Egypt. There were about the same number of murders in Washington, DC, as in all of Egypt). In fact, simply getting into ones car was much more dangerous than a trip to Egypt, with traffic fatalities amounting to .14 per 1,000 people in the US.
Admittedly, many European countries are safer than the US, with murder rates in Italy, the UK, Spain, Germany and France at around .01 per 1,000 and yet, this still indicates that the average tourist in Egypt was safer than at home in these European countries. And while there have been several incidents this year claiming the life of several tourists, the overall safety record is probably better than last year so far.
Tourist safety in Egypt is not a matter of luck. Admittedly, the safety procedures placed on the tourist industry, which is one of Egypt's most important sources of income, are sometimes stifling. Egypt keeps a very close eye on it's tourists, particularly Americans, providing groups with armed guards All major, and many minor, hotels are equipped with metal detectors and guards, and when violent events such as those of late occur, the government is known to go a bit overboard on arrests. Nevertheless, that is what it takes to protect their three thousand year old tourist trade.
What about the future? Overall, Egyptians are a very peaceful people and it is they who usually suffer the most from terrorist events. This is not to say that additional acts of violence might not occur in the future, in Egypt as elsewhere. However, the Egyptian government keeps a keen eye on major radical elements (more often than not from a prison cell), though it is possible that more minor elements can slip beneath the radar, as they recently did. Yet overall, the Egyptian government probably has a better awareness of radical elements within Egypt than the US and other western governments have on such people within their own borders. And while we cannot discount future problems in Egypt, neither can we guarantee in the US that our children will be safe when we send them off to school, that a fellow worker won't go postal, or that our own homegrown radical elements will not blow up another federal buildings.
In no way do we mean to diminish the loss of life of tourists who have died in Egypt, but some perspective needs to be put on what continues to be, regardless of recent travel advisories to the contrary, a destination that is relative to the risks that confront us on a day to day basis, a very safe and fun destination.