IS IT SAFE TO VISIT EGYPT ??
Is it safe to visit Egypt? It’s a difficult question to answer as the status quo in Egypt changes fairly rapidly.
A decade ago, about 14 million foreign visitors visited Egypt every year. That number plummeted to 5 million and less after what was labelled the Arab Spring of 2011 and the ousting of dictator Hosni Mubarak after a 30-year tyrannical reign.
From 2017, tourist numbers started creeping up again but a number of unforeseen incidences have given Egypt negative press and a question mark over its head as a safe holiday destination. This included a British couple dying of food poisoning, shark attacks and a murder.
In May 2019, an explosion targeting a tourist bus passing the Grand Egyptian Museum enroute to the pyramids in Giza was a stark reminder to the international community that security and stability in the country remains somewhat precarious.
It was the second roadside bomb in 6 months targeting a tourist bus. Fortunately no deaths were reported but in December 2018, three Vietnamese tourists and a local tour guide were killed. Egypt has much to do to boost tourism confidence while fighting to restore its reputation that’s marred by civil unrest, religious intolerance, a brutal crackdown on dissent and terrorism.
As you well know, there have been devastating bomb blasts and terrorist strikes across Britain and Europe in the past three years, and more recently one in a luxury hotel in Nairobi, Kenya. Egypt, like other countries around the world, has had to intensify security measures to protect its citizens and visitors.
There are NO-GO areas in Egypt that must be avoided at all cost, in particular Sinai Peninsula which is identified as a hotbed of terrorist activity. Southern Sinai should be only be visited out of necessity and with extreme caution. Once on the mainland, destinations east of the Nile River are considered safe while any place west of the Nile River is more risky to visit.
POLITICAL SITUATION IN EGYPT
In a bloody coup d'état in July 2013, Mohammad Morsi was stripped of power and General Abdel Fattah el-Sisi, chief of staff of the Egyptian Armed Forces, was made president. It was a case of replacing one dictator with another with Sisi launching a violent crackdown on civil society.
Sisi declared the Muslim Brotherhood - Egypt’s oldest and most influential Islamist group - a terrorist group and jailed its leadership, including Morsi. Hundred of supports were arrested and many remain in prison today, facing the death penalty. More than 600 civilians and 43 police officers were killed in exceptionally violent confrontations as police cracked down on Brotherhood protests.
Sisi’s regime banned protests and passed laws that mandated long prison sentences for anyone found “guilty of civil disobedience”. Prosecutors were given broad powers to extend pre-trial detention periods and the highest courts were purged of liberal and pro-Islamist judges. Human rights groups in Egypt estimate that between 40 000 and 60 000 political prisoners now languish in jail; 21 prisons have been built since Sisi took power.
Egypt faced terrible repression during the Nasser, Sadat and Mubarak eras but it’s nothing compared to President Sisi’s sustained cruelty.He tightened his dictatorial grip in April 2019 when a set of constitutional amendments were approved that granted him expansive new powers over the judiciary and Parliament, and allow him to remain in office until 2030.
This does not bode well for your average Egyptian citizentrying to survive in a country with an economy that’s characterised by high inflation, soaring prices, food shortages, water scarcity and cuts in energy subsidiaries; an economy fueled by a vicious cycle of IMF debts, corruption and chronic mismanagement of public resources.
TERRORISM IN EGYPT
Sporadic terrorist attacks have been carried out in Egypt and terrorism remains a threat. The government’s counter-terrorism campaign has seen a reduction in the number of terrorist attacks on the mainland; with increased policing and security presence at airports, popular tourist attractions, crucial infrastructure and historical sites.
Daesh-Sinai (previously known as Ansar Bayt al-Maqdis) is the most active terrorist group in Egypt. Most terrorist activity is targeted at government, security forces and Coptic Christians. More recently, foreign visitors have been targeted in bus explosions.
Most attacks occur in Northern Sinai but Daesh-Sinai has also claimed responsibility for attacks in South Sinai, Cairo, the western desert and Nile delta cities. In North Sinai, reports of terrorist attacks come in almost on a daily basis; particularly in the northeast corner of the governorate between Al-Arish city and Egypt’s border with Gaza.
Terrorist groups have kidnapped foreigners, government officials and civilians in the northern region for either financial ransom or political gain. People involved with tourism, humanitarian aid work, journalism and business operations in the region are faced with the risk of being kidnapped and held for ransom.
We may never know just how dangerous and precarious the threat of terrorism is in Egypt as journalists who issue reports about terrorist activity that contradicts official government statements are heavily penalised. The 2015 Anti-Terrorism law imposes hefty fines of the equivalent of $11 000 to $28 000 on local media not following the prescribed narrative.
It’s quite common for the presidency, General Intelligence or the Interior Ministry to issue orders to newspapers and television channels on what to publish and not to publish. Fortunately, social media circumnavigates draconian measures to silence the press and the world at large is able to follow events which unfold.
NO-GO AREAS FOR EGYPT
The Foreign and Commonwealth Office (FCO) strongly advices against travel to the Sinai Peninsula. In particular, avoid all travel to:
- the Governorate of North Sinai, due to the significant increase in criminal activity
- the Governorate of South Sinai, with the exception of the area within the Sharm el Sheikh perimeter boundary, which includes the airport and the areas of Sharm el Maya, Hadaba, Naama Bay, Sharks Bay and Nabq
- the area west of the Nile Valley and Nile Delta regions, excluding the coastal areas between the Nile Delta and Marsa Matruh.
The tourist areas along the Nile River are safe for visitors as long as the usual precautions are taken to stay out of harm’s way. This includes Luxor, Qina, Aswan, Abu Simbel, the Valley of the King and the Red Sea resorts of Sharm el Sheikh and Hurghada.
CIVIL UNREST IN EGYPT
Egyptian citizens have been embroiled in political turmoil and civil unrest since the Arab Spring of 2011 which was a series of pro-democracy uprisings that rolled out over several Muslim-dominated countries, including Tunisia, Morocco, Syria, Libya, Bahrain and Egypt.
Protests, marches and demonstrations flare up in Egypt but are quickly quelled by a fairly brutal police force mandated to enforce a zero tolerance for civil dissent. Keep up-to-date on the likelihood of civil unrest before and during your holiday in Egypt and avoid areas that are unsafe for visitors. You risk being arrested and detained if caught up in a protest.
CRIME IN EGYPT
The crime rate in Egypt is moderate to high. However, in recent years, there has been an increase in the number of reports of expats living in Cairo who’ve been a victim of a robbery, mugging, sexual assault, rape, smash-and-grab or hijacking.
If you’re on holiday in Egypt and travelling in the care of a reputable tour operator, you’re more likely to experience petty crime such as pick-pocketing, bag snatchesand theft out of hotel rooms. Common tourist scams such as credit card skimming and unscrupulous taxi services are a problem in Egypt, much like the rest of Africa.
SAFE TRANSPORT OPTIONS IN EGYPT
It’s recommended that you travel in the care of a reputable tour operator or, if need be, hire a car with a qualified driver/guide. Local knowledge is a benefit; Egypt’s road infrastructure is not well maintained, drivers can be reckless and traffic laws are not strictly enforced which means road accidents are common and the fatality rate is higher than the norm in Europe.
Public transport in Egypt
Public transport is not recommended for tourists. Whether it’s a pickup truck or a mini-bus that services the main towns and cities of Egypt, it’s a chaotic affair. A dozen people at a time squash into the vehicle, often with goods squeezed between passengers. The drivers only leave when their truck or minibus is full and stop whenever and wherever.
The Cairo Transport Authority runs a fairly efficient bus service but buses in Cairo are overcrowded and you’re likely to get your pockets picked in the crush. You can hail a private taxi from the airport or your hotel but if you don’t negotiate a fixed price up front, you could be stung by a con-artist driver demanding a ridiculous fare.
There are a few options for holidaymakers in Egypt which are suitable for short trips to reach the popular markets, museums and antiquities in Cairo:
Cairo metro rail
The best way to get around Cairo is by underground train. The metro system is clean, affordable and extremely efficient. There are 3 lines that converge in the centre of Cairo; with one line taking passengers to the Egyptian Museum and another to Cairo International Airport.
If you are a women travelling on your own in Egypt; board the middle cars because these are reserved for women only and you can avoid unwanted attention that female passengers often experience.
This is a scooter with seats. The drivers like to customise their tuk-tuks and they’re a popular with youngsters because they’re reasonably affordable.
LGBT RIGHTS IN EGYPT
Same-sex relationships are not widely accepted or approved of in Egypt, particularly among traditional Islamic citizens who find the idea to be immoral, scandalous and/or offensive. Egyptian law doesn’t explicitly criminalise homosexuality or transgender behaviour as the Egyptian legal system is governed by civil law rather than religious doctrines and ideals.
The LGBT community in Egypt has become for visible in recent years and there are more and more bars and nightclubs opening up in the main towns and cities which cater exclusively for gays.
TOP SAFETY TIPS FOR EGYPT
Take care when walking around Cairo and the popular tourist towns in Egypt. Pickpocketing, bag snatching and petty theft of phones, wallets and cameras is fairly common in crowded market areas. Avoid attracting unwanted attention to yourself; don’t flash fancy camera equipment, cash or expensive jewelry. Leave your valuables at home or in a safe in your hotel.
Avoid at all costs walking around after dark, particularly if you’re a women on your own. Most crimes committed in the city are non-violent but it’s not worth taking the risk. At the very least, a mugging where you lose your camera, phone and possibly important documents can derail your holiday plans.
Don’t do drugs
The possession, use and trafficking of drugs in Egypt is illegal and offenders will be fined heavily and face potential jail time. Do not offer to carry a package from an unknown of suspicious source in your luggage as you risk being used as a drug mule.
Be careful what you photograph
You are prohibited from taking photographs of military, government buildings and border crossing points. If you’re unsure if it’s safe to take a photograph of something, ask your tour guide for permission.
Don’t drink and drive
Drinking and driving is illegal in Egypt and punishable by a heavy fine or possible jail time. The same applies to using your mobile phone while driving. Remember, if you get tipsy or very drunk on a night out on the town, you are vulnerable. Your senses are dulled and you make poor decisions. You risk being followed home, falling victim to a crime and being seriously hurt.
Do your research on common tourist scams
Whether you’re in Paris or Cairo, you’ve got to watch out for the same old tourist scams. This includes card cloning, online fraud and overcharging. Do research on common ways tourists are ripped off in foreign countries and keep your wits about you so you don’t fall victim to whatever is popular in that country.Don’t trust people too quickly, rather rely on the advice and help of your tour guide.
Travel in the care of a reputable tour operator
For a safe and memorable holiday in Egypt, book a tour with a reputable tour operator. These tour operators make your safety a priority and will be quick to alert you to potential risks that could see you get badly hurt or put in a dangerous situation that could get you killed.
Assume all modes of public road transport in Egypt are not safe for foreign tourists. The drivers are often reckless, roads are not well maintained and many vehicles are not roadworthy. For this reason, you are safest in Egypt travelling in the care of a reputable tour operator in a luxury vehicle and with a responsible driver.
Be respectful of local cultures
Females on holiday in Egypt should dress conservatively to avoid unwanted attention. Men should avoid wearing sleeveless T-shirts and women should avoid wearing skimpy shorts and tight tops.
Homosexuality isn’t illegal in Egypt but it’s still considered taboo and not widely accepted. LGBTQ travellers should avoid public displays of affection out of respect for the local people who are still largely conservative, although not necessarily homophobic. Cairo and Alexandria are more gay-friendly than they used to be.
Don’t pet stray dogs and cats
No matter how cute or needy, don’t pet stray dogs or cats in Egypt. They carry infectious diseases and may bite or scratch you.
Don’t use the services of strangers
You’ll be badgered by strangers off the street to the point of harassment offering special tours to the main attractions. Ignore them and never use them. Go through a reputable source which is registered with the tourism authorities to hire a guide.
Be law abiding
You don’t want to find yourself locked up in a Egypt jail so it’s highly recommended that you abide by the country’s laws and stay out of trouble. In particular, don’t get caught up in a protest or demonstration because you could find yourself spending time behind bars.
Be careful crossing streets in Cairo
The traffic in Cairo is hectically congested. Cars don’t stop for you and they tend to ignore the few traffic signals still working in the city. It takes some skill crossing a busy intersection in Cairo. Your best bet is to follow close behind an local Egyptian and move when and where he/she moves.
Don’t drink the tap water in Egypt
Water in Egypt is highly contaminated and tap water should be avoided at all costs. Only drink bottled mineral water that you buy from a trustworthy source.
Be wary of shark attacks
Shark attacks off the coast of Egypt are rare but they have claimed lives on the Read Sea coast. Only go swimming in designated swimming areas at the popular beaches. If a red flag is flying it means there has been a shark sighting so stay out of the water until the coast is clear.
Egypt experiences extremely high temperatures and low humidity so be careful you don’t succumb to heat exhaustion or a heat stroke. Stay hydrated by drinking bottled water and apply a high-factor sunscreen. Stay indoors at the hottest times of the day, particularly from June to August when daily temperatures can reach the mid-40s.
MEDICAL FACILITIES IN EGYPT
Private and university hospitals in Egypt have excellent standards but the public hospitals lack resources and hygiene standards are poor. Nursing care is basic and you often have to buy your own medicine and sterile dressings from the local pharmacy as they’re not always provided in the public hospitals.
If you have a minor illness, go to a decent pharmacy first. The pharmacists in Egypt are well trained, speak English and can dispense a variety of medications. They can recommend a private hospital in the area if you need medical care.
Travel insurance is highly recommended for a holiday to Egypt, and should include cover for an emergency evacuation. If you need urgent medical treatment while on holiday in Egypt, you’re better off being flown back to your own country for treatment.
Check the small print in your travel insurance as some policies do not cover activities such as paragliding, scuba diving, helicopter rides and even motorbiking, cycling and hiking.
If you take chronic medication or prescription drugs, you need to carry your own supplies which will last you through to the end of your holiday in Egypt. Don’t rely on finding a pharmacy or medical doctor if you run out.
On the same note, pack a selection of medical products to treat minor ailments or injuries. This includes painkillers, cold & flu remedies, anti-inflammatories, anti-indigestion and the usual supply of antiseptic cream, plasters and bandages.
Medical insurance for Egypt is very important. You can take it out as part of your travel insurance cover or request extra cover from your existing medical aid company. In most African countries, doctors and medical facilities expect payment in cash if you’re a foreigner. Find out from your insurance company if they make payments directly to a medical provider or reimburse you when you return home.
One of the crucial things to cover is transport for an emergency evacuation. This might be an ambulance or helicopter. If you need urgent medical help when you are far from a city or town, sometimes the only option is to have you evacuated by air.
HEALTH WARNINGS FOR EGYPT
Travelling around Egypt is not for sissies. It’s hot, dusty and dirty but worth it to see its iconic archaeological sites and experience its rich cultural heritage. Take the usual precautions to avoid injury and sickness and you’ll be fine.
Heat exhaustion or heatstroke
Heat exhaustion is a common ailment, particularly among tourists that have come from colder climates. Symptoms include a bad headache, dizziness, vomiting and extreme tiredness. Keep hydrated by drinking lots of bottled water and, if need be, add rehydrating salts to your water. Wear a wide-brimmed hat and apply sunscreen lotion to prevent yourself from getting sunburn.
Heatstroke is a more serious condition and is caused by your body’s heat-regulating mechanism malfunctioning. It can lead to death if not treated in time. Symptoms include irrational behaviour, no sweat and loss of consciousness. A person suffering from heat stroke will be rapidly cooled down with ice and water and given intravenous fluid to rehydrate the body.
Also known as bacterial gastroenteritis, it’s a stomach and intestine infection that’s caused by drinking and eating contaminated water and food. Symptoms can be mild to severe; including abdominal pain, loss of appetite, bloody stool, nausea and vomiting.
You need to seek treatment immediately as it can lead to dehydration which is life-threatening. If you can’t keep down the prescribed medication because of the vomiting, you’ll receive it in an intravenous drip at a private hospital in Cairo.
Food hygiene is not good in Egypt and water is highly contaminated. Stick to drinking bottled water and only eat freshly prepared, cooked food served in a reputable restaurant. Don’t buy food off the streets at the local markets and wash fresh fruit with bottled water.
TB is common in Egypt, although it’s not nearly as rampant as elsewhere in Africa. You’re only really at risk if you are working as a teacher or doctor and are exposed to TB-carrying scholars or patients.
Bilharzia is a disease spread by minute worms that are carried by a species of freshwater snail. The parasites penetrate human skin when someone is paddling or swimming and then migrate to the bladder or bowel. Symptoms range from a light fever and rash to blood in the stool or urine. If left untreated, the bilharzia infection can cause kidney failure and permanent bowl damage.
Avoid swimming, paddling or wading in remote freshwater lakes or dams that make be suspect or slow-moving rivers. If you are concerned you’ve been infected, visit a specialist infectious disease clinic and request a blood test.
Enteric fever, more commonly known as typhoid fever, is a life-threatening bacterial disease that is a real risk for people on holiday in Egypt. People carry the Salmonella Typhi in their bloodstream and intestinal tract. When carriers or infected individuals shed the bacteria in their stool and can infect others by handling food or drinks. People can also be infected if they wash food with or drink contaminated water.
Symptoms of typhoid fever include weakness, headaches, stomach pains, loss of appetite and, in some cases, rashes. There are vaccines and antibiotics available to prevent and treat typhoid fever.
Hepatitis A is one of the most common diseases in Egypt. It’s a viral liver disease that’s transmitted by ingesting contaminated food and water or direct contact with an infected individual. It’s rarely fatal but can lead to chronic liver disease which is incapacitating and can be fatal if not treated.
Symptoms of Hepatitis A include jaundice, malaise, fever, loss of appetite, nausea, abdominal pain and dark-coloured urine. There’s no cure for Hepatitis A but you can prevent contracting it by drinking clean, uncontaminated water and having good hygiene standards.
Travellers need to have a yellow fever vaccination before arriving in Egypt and must carry their certificate with them. It needs to be presented to the immigration official on arrival in Egypt.
Yellow fever is spread by infected mosquitoes. Symptoms are similar to malaria; ranging from flu-like chills and fever to server hepatitis and jaundice. If left untreated or not diagnosed early, the disease is life-threatening.
Rift Valley Fever
There have been 4 major epidemic outbreaks of Rift Valley Fever in Egypt (1977, 1978, 1993 and 2003). The rare hemorrhagic fever spreads through blood and can pass from humans to infected wild or domestic animals. Symptoms include flu-like fever, chills and joint pain. Complete recovery is possible if treated in time.
The risk of contracting HIV in Egypt is moderately high but only a concern if you have unprotected sex or receive a blood transfusion while on holiday in Egypt. Always use a condom when having sex with someone you don’t know.
For an emergency blood transfusion, contact The BloodCare Foundation (www.bloodcare.org.uk) which can provide safe, screened blood transported to any part of the world within 24 hours.
VACCINATIONS NEEDED FOR EGYPT
No vaccines are specifically required for Egypt but it’s recommended that you are up-to-date with your vaccinations. This includes diphtheria, tetanus, pertussis, polio, measles, mumps and rubella. It’s also recommended that you have a vaccination to protect yourself against Hepatitis A and B, which should be administered at least 2 weeks before you travel to Egypt.
A yellow fever vaccination is required if you’re arrive in Egypt from certain countries in southern Africa, including Sudan.
IS EGYPTSAFE FOR WOMEN TRAVELLERS?
Egypt is a safe country to visit if you’re a female traveller as long as they take the usual precautions to avoid becoming a victim of crime, rape or other serious offences. What is problematic is unwanted attention from locals. Ignore someone harassing you and ask for help from a police officer if it becomes unbearable.
Avoid wearing revealing clothes like short skirts and skimpy tops. Dress conservatively, covering up your shoulders and legs. If you’re enjoying a beach holiday in Egypt, wear a sarong when walking around to cover up.
Try to sit next to another women or a family on the metro rail and avoid at all costs catching minibuses or taxis on your own.
IS EGYPTSAFE FOR CHILDREN?
It’s safe to travel around Egypt with children as long as you follow the usual precautions to keep them out of harm’s way. Children are welcome at restaurants and hotels and it’s an opportunity of a lifetime for them to visit the historic sites of Egypt.
Be warned that Cairo is congested and chaotic; it’s noisy and polluted. It’s not the ideal environment for children, unless you’re passing through Cairo enroute to the Red Sea resorts. Be vigilante and don’t let your children out of your sight because of the risk of kidnapping and child trafficking which is a global problem.
ENJOY A SAFE HOLIDAY IN EGYPT WITH A REPUTABLE TOUR OPERATOR
MoAfrika Tours is a leading tour operator in South Africa that offers an outstanding selection of tours to Egypt. We have a close association with the most reputable tour operators in Egyptwho make safety a priority.