Breaking News
Magical Egypt Tours Appearances Ancient Wisdom Foundation Books & Vidoes
Free Rein, Right Brain J.A.W.
Links Contact

Update: 10/10/01

How safe is travel to Egypt? Not suprisingly, this is the question everyone about to travel, or thinking about near-future travel to Egypt is asking.

The answer: as of this moment it is as safe as it has been for years. Will it remain so? I don't know. Nobody knows. I personally have no qualms whatever about going. Here is the situation and my interpretation of the situation.

Terrorist incidents began in Egypt in 1985 and continued sporadically, with varying degrees of damage done, until 1997, when the worst of them, the attack at the Temple of Hatshepsut in the West Bank at Luxor killed 72 people, nine of them Egyptian, the rest tourists.

Most (or all?) of these attacks were carried out by an organized Fundamentalist group intent upon overthrowing the relatively secular (and relatively benign) government of President Mubarak and installing a rigid Islamic rule more or less modeled on the Mullah model of Iran. The aim was not so much killing tourists as such, but rather the de-stabilization of the government leading - the Fundamentalists hoped - to disenchantment with Mubarak and increased grass roots support for themselves.

Tourism is the largest single source of hard currency for Egypt. The effect of these attacks was of course to periodically wreck the tourist industry, throwing the entire Egyptian economy, from bottom to top, into freefall. Since even the least mathmatically gifted Egyptian camel driver can add two and two, the Fundamentalists, not the government took the blame for the economic debacle. The Hatshepsut massacre was the last straw. Public outcry was intense and widespread. Serious, massive security was finally laid on by the government and finally, finally the obvious lesson registered with the Fundamentalists: killing tourists not only strengthened the government, it seriously eroded their own limited base of support. (The camel drivers could add two and two, but it took twelve years for the Fundamentalists to acquire this advanced skill.)

So, in 1997 an 'official' moratorium was declared. Tourists were placed off limits. Of course, though this may be the official position, there is nothing to prevent the lone loony fromspraying a bus with an Uzi. The fact is, however, that in the four years since the Hatshepsut attack, the moratorium has held. There have been no attacks on tourists at all. Does this mean there won't be? Will, the Egyptians respond to the calls for Jihad issued out of distant Afghanistan by Bin Laden and the Taliban? No one knows. No one can say.

What is certain is that Egypt is not Palestine, much less Afghanistan, and even the poorest of Egyptians do not have the same kind of emotional anti-American axe to grind as do the Palestinians, much less sympathy for the Taliban. You may have occasionally read reports by U.S. reporters (there was one a few months back by some woman in The New York Times) of rife anti-Americanism among the Egyptians. All I can say is that in 20 years of frequent travel to Egypt (not all of it confined to five star hotels!) not once, ever, have I actually had to confront hostility because I was American. There is universal, unwavering opposition to the State of Israel and most Egyptians deplore America's unwavering support of Israel, but this does not spill over into Anti-Americanism, it does not even generally translate into classic anti-Semitism.

In the case of that Times reporter, I'm inclined to think that her psychologically sensitive Egyptian interviewees were simply reacting naturally to an abrasive, intrusive busybody (hardly uncommon in the journalistic community) with an inflammatory and derogatory story already mentally written. In fact, it is an almost universal reaction on my trips, after a couple of days in Egypt, for people to come to me expressing astonishment at the skewed picture of the Arab world routinely put out by the Western media. It is skewed under any circumstances, but it is particularly inapplicable to the Egyptians, who are Muslim of course, and who speak Arabic, but who are not Arabs, and they're quick to let you know that. Of course, it still only takes one malcontent with a gun to dispel the cumulative effects of millions of welcoming smiles.

That's the situation. Until or unless the Egyptian Fundamentalist faction responds to the call, I do not consider travel to Egypt any more dangerous than it has been over the last four years. I like to think this attitude further reinforced by looking at the big picture: is a group capable of taking down two of America's proudest symbols with a handful of box cutters and our own planes as bombs going to bother with a few tourists in Egypt? I'd be more apprehensive these days of visiting Hollywood or Disneyland (well, actually I'd be apprehensive of Disneyland under any circumstances!) than Egypt. Meanwhile, our media dutifully and mindlessly parrots threats by the terrorists to target Americans and American installations abroad. Never do they question the practicality of such threats. Installations may be potential sitting targets, but unless you work at a regular job at an embassy or business, you represent a moving target. And unless you wear your Stetson and go around waving your American flag you are an effectively unidentifiable target. The threats are largely empty, especially for tourists.

Finally, there is the strictly logical and statistical viewpoint. How many times have you driven down the thruway, past a smoking wreck with ambulances alongside, emergency lights flashing. From the scene you can tell all this happened just minutes ago, and you think; 'Gee, if I hadn't gone back for my keys/purse/shopping list/whatever that I forgot, that could have been me!' But it wasn't you. Life has its built-in dangers. It could be you caught in the crossfire at your local post office when the disgruntled guy who got canned last year decides to get even. It could be your kid who gets gunned down in school when his psychotic schoolmate takes Dad's assault rifle from the dining room table where it's normally kept and opens fire. But if you're reading this, it wasn't you (and chances are it wasn't your kid either.) Americans also have a peculiarly distorted view of 'terrorist' capabilities. In a country with 250 million privately owned handguns in circulation, we tend to think that anyone in the world with a grievance can just open fire. It's not that easy. Yes, paramilitary groups everywhere will have ways to acquire weapons, but in most places (Egypt among them) it is by no means easy for the lone malcontent to buy an assault weapon, or even a revolver. In other words, in the 'normal' course of affairs, it's at least as dangerous just living in the peacetime United States* as it is living in most other countries in wartime. Following the Hatshepsut attack, The New York Times noted that even with those numbers factored in, the chances of any given individual getting killed in a terrorist attack were roughly the same as being struck by lightning. I realize, of course, that translating cold logic (backed up by unchallengeable statistics) into internal serenity is by no means easy to do. Nevertheless, there is the logic and there the statistics. The devil we know, we can often deal with, the devil we don't know is scary. I am familiar with Egypt, you probably are not. Over to you.

* On PBS radio the other day, this statistic: on average there are 50 U.S. murders per day. That's 18,250 murders per year (18,300 in leap years). This represents three times the death toll from the Trade Center and Pentagon attacks ... annually!

According to President George W. Bush (recent speech) ' we are a peaceful people'.

John Anthony West

PS. Not everyone has access to the reassuring words of wisdom above. Many people take the media and the government at face value (though everyone with a three figure IQ should long ago have become disenchanted with both) and cancel out or postpone their trips to Egypt. This becomes a very considerable bonus for those of us who don't get scared off. Normally, Egypt in season is absolutely jammed with visitors; overbooked. Years of leading trips have taught me how to avoid the worst of the crowds, but still there are crowds. Going there with tourism down 30 or 40% or more (the current figure) intensifies your Egypt experience exponentially.

Since writing the essay on safety, I've received a number of responses from people on my email list. The first, perhaps the most relevant, is an exchange between Nell Krenk and an American working for the US State Department in Cairo. Mrs Krenk will be accompanying me on my upcoming trip with her family, including three children. I am of course well aware that people interested in my trips know that I make most of my income from them, and so have every right to suspect that anything I have to say on the safety issue might well be colored by at least some measure of vested interest. So I'm delighted when my own convictions are endorsed from an outside source with no stake whatever in the matter and long hands-on experience. I've omitted the name of the State Department official, not because I've been asked to, but simply to spare him from any possible unwelcome feedback.

It is worth comparing the letter from Bob. F to the stuff you may be reading routinely in the New York Times and elsewhere.

The two letters that follow are from people who've been on my trips, and while these do not reflect the immediate situation, they are nonetheless relevant to it in my opinion. 'Shelli' is a lawyer in Indiana; 'Mark' is a systems engineer at Kennedy Space Center.


NKrenk@ wrote:

Dear Bob and Dana, Amy suggested I write to you. Our daughters play soccer together. My family has an incredible trip planned to Egypt Oct.21 thru Nov. 6. (Three kids, my husband and my father and I). with John Anthony West (Egyptologist and tour organizer). We are agonizing over the decision to go or not to go. The trip will only be officially canceled if the US restricts travel - so the decision to date is ours alone. Any feedback? I know you can't predict danger any better than we can, but could you share generally how American travelers are regarding by Egyptians in this political climate? If we were your family would you say "Stay home!" ?? Thanks a lot. We will lose a tone of money by not going but it's not worth putting ourselves at risk! My husband has no fear and will go, my father is afraid of getting stuck there and they have all left it up to me!! Thanks so much for your thoughts,


To: NKrenk@
CC: Marksbirds@ (MARKS, Amy)


You are right, one cannot predict the future. Danger lurks everywhere (like on US freeways.)

At least as of this writing, my guess is that US freeways are about as dangerous as a visit to Egypt.

We have lived here for 3 years. This is "home" for us and thus we are accustomed to the place. Street violence (purse snatching, muggings etc.) is all but nonexistent. The reason for this is that the government, for reasons of their own political security, has a tremendous apparatus for public security in place. We are (and you will be ) always under some kind of surveillance by heavily armed men. As a tourist here, you will probably be more "nervous" by the number of uniformed military/security personnel you will see carrying combat weapons and sitting behind barricades guarding tourist sites. Tourism is a huge industry in Egypt and the government goes to extraordinary means to make sure that no more people get hurt by political nuts.

Actually, a visit in October -Nov. will probably be "safer" than it would have been a few months earlier. Since NYC and our bombing in Afghanistan, Egyptian security forces have been much more in evidence and are clearly more vigilant.

Look .... as US government employees here (the real targets if trouble breaks out), there are plans on the books and some preparations to evacuate us. But few people on the ground here really believe that things will get that rambunctious in the near future. In any case, you and your family will stand little chance of getting stranded here. If the worse comes, the USG will be evacuating all Americans (tourists included) and we can count on the Egyptian Government military also to be protecting departing people. But again ..... plans are all on the books though few people I know really think this is a probability. A possibility: Yes. A probability: a long shot at this point. Just like a freeway drive to Portland on I-5. It is clearly safer to stay home, but not half as much fun.

Would I cancel a long planned family trip to Egypt at this time? Never! Indeed, I just spent a week with friends camping around isolated areas in the Western Desert near Siwa Oasis, only 35 miles from the Libyan border. The thought of some terrorist threat never really crossed my mind.

I am sorry if I may seem a little "flip" to you and your concerns about family security. But there are literally thousands of your country compatriots living in Egypt (oil company personnel, US Got, US military, businessmen, GO staff). Maybe we have overdeveloped "deny strategies" as a coping defence. But you asked me what I think, and you got it

. If you do get to Cairo though, give us a call. I will fill you in if there is any new publicly available "intelligence" about threat. Our home telephone is 378-2486 or call me on my cell phone 010-501-3429.

Hope to hear from you and to hear that you are having a good time.

Bob F.

PS If it makes you feel any safer, there are currently many thousands of US military troops running around the Egyptian Desert in joint military training exercises with the Egyptians. And, though nobody talks about it, it is much assumed that the US has forces using (or prepared to use) Egyptian air bases to strike at Afghanistan and other areas in the Mid-East. Egypt is really an ally for the USA in this region. _____________________________________________________________________

Another brief testimonial
Date: 10/16/2001 9:05:52 PM Eastern Daylight Time

Hi John, Read your statement on the terrorist issue and was immediately reminded of my first e-mail conversations with you in the spring of 1998. Of my three trips to Egypt so far (3/98, 2/99, 5/00-- I say "so far" as I plan to continue to go as often as my work schedule and finances will allow), my hands-down favorite was the one in March of '98-- less than 4 months after the tourist shootings at Hatshepsut's Temple. A substantial percentage of your expected group had canceled due to the perceived terrorism threat. As you may recall, that is when I signed on due to your sage advice that the crowds would be small and the sites would be even more phenomenal. Truer words were never spoken! Although I enjoyed the later trips very much, there is certainly something to be said about being able to revel in the wonders without having to wait in line. . . I should also add that as a woman traveling alone, I had expected to be stuck in my room each night watching "Gilligan's Island" in Arabic. To my infinite surprise, I was able to walk about on my own whenever and wherever I pleased--which I do not do in American cities. The splendor of Egypt, old and new, was an experience that touched my soul and forever changed my life. . . Hey, if you get a bunch of cancellations again because of the latest terrorist craze, sign me up! If I can come up with the cash (there's always something), there is no better time to see Egypt!

If you have any skittish first-timers who could use an encouraging word, feel free to give them my e-mail address or phone number. The ones who have been there before won't need any encouragement.

Love, Shelli


Subj: Re: Eg-update 6.0: Travel in Troubled Times
Date: 10/16/2001 12:49:38 AM Eastern Daylight Time
From: FullMoonSphinx@
To: JAWSPHINX@ (John West), friends@ancientwisdomfoundation.org

Hello John, Thanks for reminding us again of the actual situation in Egypt with regards to terrorism, the dangers of which more then often are grossly overstated by our media.

After having seen and having experienced the very warm and cheerful welcome given to each of us by the Islamic peoples of Egypt on your tour earlier this year I have no reservations myself about returning to Egypt in the near future which I plan to do as soon as I have built up enough vacation time again. I noticed during my stay in Egypt that violence in general was next to unheard of and I felt perfectly safe walking through the streets of Cairo & Luxor in the wee hours of the night. Itâ€Ùs really sad that this is not the case for many of our large cities here in America. I would say to anyone who is contemplating traveling to Egypt for the first time, that should they decide to follow through after having weighed the risks that they will come away from their experience of Egypt with a much healthier and wiser view of the Islamic culture and will realize that the majority of the Islamic people are a very peaceful, kind and simple people who are far removed from hatred and violence and they will also come away with a very profound appreciation of the illumed spirituality & knowledge that the ancient Egyptians themselves brought into their world here.

Peace to All! Mark



  J.A.W. Credentials   © John Anthony West 2002