Update on Egyptian Tourism at November 26, 2001
by Jimmy Dunn
Tourism is picking up in Egypt, particularly among Europeans. The real news continues to be great deals and incentives.
However, many people continue to email us about concerns they have for travel to Egypt in the wake of the September 11th attacks in the United States. Since this web site is actually operated by a United States company, even though under the authority of the Egyptian Ministry of Tourism and the Egyptian Tourist Authority, initially we were very cautious after the September 11th events, so we have and continue to closely monitor the situation in Egypt through our office there, as well as returning tourists, ex-pat (foreign residents) living in Cairo, the United State Embassy and Egyptians themselves.
It should be noted that the United States Embassy in Cairo has issued no warren statements since October 30th, when they received an anthrax scare. However, the scare turned out to be a hoax, and there have been no cases of anthrax, or for that matter anthrax itself, reported in Egypt. Neither has the United States Embassy in Cairo or the Department of State issued any travel warnings specific to Egypt.
The question we are asked most often regards the attitudes of Egyptians to foreigners in general, and Americans specifically. Probably the most reliable answer to these questions is the email we have received from returning tourists (since the September 11th attacks). They have been overwhelmingly positive, many revealing touching stories of Egyptian hospitality.
There have been no reports of problems encountered by tourists specific to adverse feelings by Egyptians, though specifically European tourism to Egypt is picking back up, and we have received a couple of service related complaints related to two hotels. With the millions of tourists to Egypt each year, statistically, such complaints are not unexpected, though they are surprisingly rare.
What is surprising, perhaps, is tourism safety. Since 1997 we have received not one single report of a tourist dying in Egypt due to violence, even though many millions of travelers have visited the country in that period of time. Most countries with significant tourists cannot make the same claim, as crime takes its toll. However, with Egypt's ultra-low crime rate and effective tourism safety procedures, we know of only one injury since 1997 involving the attempted robbery of a Japanese tourist. This incident, which received international media coverage, was foiled immediately by nearby tourist police (the incident took place about a year ago). There are a number of reasons for this.
Travel Safety Precautions
Egypt has been safety conscious for many years. Many of the airport precautions that the United States is currently implementing today have been in effect in Egypt for years. Airport security is and has been federalized in Egypt, with strict rules and close scrutiny. For example, most people without tickets cannot even enter airports, much less boarding areas. But security measures actually go much farther. For example, almost every hotel, and certainly those frequented by tourists have metal detectors at the entrances, as well as one or more guards who monitor the entrances and often even the car parking areas. Large tour groups are often accompanied by guards everywhere they go, and land travel, particularly in southern Egypt outside of cities, is usually via a guarded convoy.
Tourism is one of Egypt's most important economic industries, and therefore tourist safety is perhaps taken more seriously then in any other country on earth. At every single site that tourists are likely to visit, one will find a special branch of Egyptian police, popularly called the Tourist Police. But one will also find the Tourist Police scattered about every hotel, many street crossings and simply scattered about any city that tourists are likely to visit. They not only protect the safety of tourists, but tourists interests in general. For example, they may be called to intercede in a payment dispute with a taxi driver.
Extremists and Terrorists
It is very frustrating to me when I receive email from people who accuse Egypt of harboring terrorists. Nothing could be farther from the truth, and in fact, Egypt is a founder of the fight against terrorists. No wonder. President Sadat, the President Mubarak's predecessor was assassinated by a prominent associates of Osama bin Laden, and President Mubarak, Egypt's current president has been subject to assassination attempts and threats. Therefore, Egypt has a zero tolerance for such individuals. In the past, human rights organizations have, in fact, accused Egyptian authorities of being too harsh on suspected extremists, and at times western authorities have even refusedto extradite suspected extremists who are wanted by the Egyptian government.
Beyond governmental efforts, Egyptians are a moderate and conservative people. They are not an "unknown factor", but rather very much members of the world community. They often act as a bridge between the West and Middle East (and Africa), not only physically but culturally as well.
So why were Egyptian nationals involved in the September 11th attack? The answer is a little difficult, but they had not lived in Egypt in some time. I cannot actually say why, anymore then I can explain the actions of Timothy McVeigh, the Oklahoma City Bomber and his associates. There are bad people everywhere, and others who get caught up for one reason or another in their madness. Yet Egyptians, very much like average Americans, adore peace and stability and are completely repulsed by acts of violence.