Essay: Visit Egypt. Really

Essay: Visit Egypt. Really

Note to Vineyarders who like to travel: This is a great time to visit Egypt. Seriously.

Nancy and I just got back from a wonderful 12-day tour: Cairo, Luxor, and six days on the Nile and Lake Nasser. We never felt threatened in any way. The tourist industry is really suffering because the unrest is scaring tourists away. Everywhere we went, people said, “Thanks for coming,” “Glad to see you.” They meant it. The cruise ships, hotels, and restaurants are operating at one-quarter capacity, or less. They stay open because they fear that if they close, customers will go to a competitor and not come back. Waiters and such work for very little money, maybe just a few tips, but proud Egyptians would rather make a little than sit home and make nothing.

The reason it’s a great time to go is that there are no crowds, no long lines. Experienced Egypt travelers were astonished at how much access there is to everything. At the Cairo Museum, we went in at opening time (very short line) and went straight to the Tutankhamen floor, where we strolled from showcase to showcase, never having to worm our way to the front of a crowd. At the tombs and temples, our guide could lecture pretty much anywhere he chose. When pictures were permitted, there was never a problem framing just the right shot — no competition for camera angles, no other tourists in the way.

The unrest in Egypt is not caused by terrorists. The protesters are pro-democracy, the same ones who caused the revolution a year ago. They are angry that the Muslim Brotherhood seem to be conspiring with the military to steal their revolution. I spoke with a man who was beaten up a year ago in Tahrir Square. He feels that the protests need to go on, even though they disrupt the tourist industry in which he works.

The violence is mostly initiated by the military suppressing dissent. The police have been ordered to stay away from Tahrir Square, in order to avoid confrontations, which makes it a dangerous place (drug dealers and muggers). The protesters are trying to police themselves, but it’s dicey, especially in quiet times when there is no large-group protest. The protesters are mostly young people between 18 and 40, mostly (but not all) men. From what I saw of them from the car (all in quiet times), they look very tough and very determined, but the scene was not unlike Occupy Boston, except there were more vendors on the sidewalks selling food and souvenirs.

What danger there is for Americans is not from the protesters, but from criminals taking advantage of the unstable situation, or from the military, which is arresting foreign democracy advocates (including the son of Ray LaHood), or from getting between the protesters and the military. The American State Department web site does not warn against travel to Egypt, but says only that it’s best to avoid demonstrations.

I suspect your travel agent can strike a good bargain with tours and hotels in Egypt right now. They are desperate for business. No one can guarantee you’ll be safe, but from what we saw, you’d be in more danger in Athens or Oakland.

Dan Cabot lives in West Tisbury. He writes frequently for The Martha’s Vineyard Times.