Is Egypt safe to visit with kids?
Let me start by saying that safety is completely objective and your idea of “safe” may differ drastically from someone else, including mine. There is my disclaimer.
I searched the hell out of this particular question myself and I couldn’t find anything terribly useful (beyond government sites) except some reviews on Trip Advisor. So, I did all the research I could and my wife and I discussed it at great length. We discussed what OUR idea of safety was and we came to some interesting conclusions.
First lets discuss some of the reasons why it could be considered “unsafe”
REVOLUTION: Egypt is a country that had a revolution (mostly peaceful) that overthrew a dictator by the name of Mubarak. This revolution happened mostly through an occupation of the center of Cairo known as Tahrir square. Anecdotally, there are stories of Christians and Muslim groups of protesters protecting one another during various prayer times or from harassment by others during this “occupation”. This matters because it shows that the center of the Muslim world is a fairly secular place. This is, of course, comparing it to some not so secular places in the Middle East that I have no personal experience with. Regardless, the peaceful overthrow and subsequent secular protections were “step one” in assessing a danger quotient for a family of Americans visiting the Muslim world for the first time. Up until last year this square was lined with tanks that had snipers perched on them. It is my understanding that this was a show of force by the army against violent and extremist individuals during the mostly peaceful revolution. They had the added benefit of protecting the fantastic Egyptian museum from further looting. Yes, the Egyptian Museum, of National Geographic fame, was looted. For those that care, roughly half of those artifacts have been reclaimed. On a comforting Side-note,Tahrir square is backed by the Ritz Carlton on the Nile not what I was expecting when I arrived. The media didn’t so much show this “real” square as it did multitudes of protestors. Today there are no tanks, no crowds, just a small checkpoint with a handful of well-armed foot soldiers and another quotient of police at teh entrance to the Egyptian Museum.
GOVERNMENT: The Egyptian leadership changed hands to the Army until a new president was elected. However, this president was from the Muslim Brotherhood. This is an extremist group that was trying to move Egypt away from Secularism and in a more conservative Islamic direction. This gentleman was promptly deposed by the army (at the peoples request depending on whom you ask in Egypt) and the country is currently being run by an Army man who was supposedly “elected” by the people. From the various people on the street I spoke with I was able to ascertain that there are wildly differing beliefs on these occurrences. Some believe that the Muslim brotherhood forced their way in and rigged the election. Others believe that were democratically elected and should have been allowed to stay. Some Like the new Army president others don’t. Ultimately, the Country’s political landscape is a mess. To go with this civil unrest there are groups of extremists looking to overthrow or otherwise undermine the government in its current state.
TERRORISM: The Muslim brotherhood, according to the Army, is an extremist group said to be actively attacking government officials. Isis (Isil to them) is also operating in the country. One year ago they claimed responsibility for downing a Russian jet filled with vacationers from Sharm el Sheikh. This is a popular resort with Europeans on the Sinai Peninsula in the Mediterranean. The Sinai Peninsula is considered to be unsafe for anyone by the Egyptian government. The army is regularly being harassed by members of the terrorist group ISIS. There have been many deaths and it is considered a hot spot. There are also terrorist cells operating in the western part of the country, which is mostly uninhabited Sahara desert. Since the downing of the passenger jet in the Sinai Peninsula flights have been cancelled in and out of Egypt from most European airlines. The sitting Egyptian government has hired security professionals from England to help shore up their airport security procedures. Sharm el Sheikh is still considered safe for tourists by the British government as there is a heavy army and police presence to protect the tourists. Getting there, however, remains another story. Western flights are cancelled to the local airport citing “security issues”. Our guide informed us that the extremists aim for that site because they disapprove of the western culture spilling over into the Muslim world in the form of Bikini Clad women on the beach.
The Egyptian government is not staffed by fools. They recognize that 30 percent of the GDP of Egypt is from tourism. Without tourism, the country will die. Unfortunately, the terrorists recognize this as well. Current information points to explosives being used on a n Egypt air jet liner that was lost over the Mediterranean in route to Cairo from Paris 6 months ago; though it is still possible it was a malfunction on board the aircraft.
The US state department warns of active terror cells throughout Egypt that are currently targeting government officials, police and the military. There was a road side bomb used to kill Egypt’s Prosecutor General in July. Both the United states and the English governments consider greater Cairo and all the tourist areas to be safe but they do warn against ground travel to upper Egypt which is southern on the map. This means you shouldn’t drive from Cairo to Luxor or take the train. I highly recommend that you see the US Department of States Website HERE for the latest.
CRIME: According to the United States Department of State, most of Egypt’s crime is “crime of opportunity” think Petty theft, pick-pocketing and the like. These would be the same kind of crimes you have in any major city around the world such as Paris, Rome, and New York. With a city of 22 million people crime is remarkably low. So really the crime is nothing to worry about. In fact I would consider the regular crime rate lower than a number of western cities I have visited. It certainly felt safer walking around Cairo than Athens where everything was covered in a nice layer of graffiti and the street vendors are a bit more assertive. The usual precautions should be headed, don’t make yourself a target with expensive jewelry in dark ally’s while drunk at 3am and you’ll probably be fine.
OK so that’s the BAD. If I haven’t scared you off yet there’s a lot more to see here…
OUR idea of SAFETY: 12 days after we left Paris in 2015 there was a coordinated terrorist attack. A couple hundred people were killed. The Egypt Air flight that was downed 6 months ago had just left CDG in Paris and was en route to Cairo. I don’t think you can count that one on Egypt. There were more public attacks in Paris recently and there was of course the shooting at Charlie Hebdo and a subdued gunman on a Parisian train. I mention these things because Paris has much lighter world wide safety warnings than Egypt. I have no fear in visiting Paris, or New York, or Boston. Unfortunately terrorism has become part of the landscape. On the bright side your chances of being killed by a terrorist as a non-combatant are about 1 in 20 million. For comparison your likelihood of being killed in your morning commute is about 1 in 19,000. I like those odds. Those are the kind of odds you could take to Las Vegas.
London, Paris and New York are consistently on the map for terrorism and these attacks have been happening with greater regularity from lone wolf sympathizers of the Islamic state. I am not afraid to go to any of these western cities. I love these cities and I’m not about let some terrorists destroy their respective economies because of fear. So, I go there and I spend my money and we enjoy ourselves. So why so much fear around Egypt? The attacks in Egypt are no worse than anywhere else in any major city in the world at the moment but it occurred to me that my fear was somewhat irrational. Looking at the numbers Cairo is safer than Chicago. But “regular old American shootings” are something that I have grown accustomed to unfortunately. I have become desensitized to the violence in America but not to the idea, the fear, created by terrorism. How strange. I’m also terrified to fly and I do it anyway. Granted there’s usually a bit of wine to help with the anxiety but none the less I would never let irrational fear keep me from doing the things I want to do, so logically why would I let it keep me from Egypt.
REASONS TO GET OVER YOUR FEAR:
The Pyramids!!! The only remaining wonder of the “7 Ancient wonders of the world” 4500 years old and counting!
The Egyptian Museum is home to the largest collection of Egyptian artifacts in the world. Also, it is the only place you can see King Tut’s death mask, quite possibly the most famous artifact in the world.
Islamic (old) Cairo: We walked through old Islamic Cairo at night, which is like a living museum buildings and shops dating back to the 13th century. We saw the world’s first public university of higher education.
Coptic Cairo, another living museum
The people! The people are some of the kindest I have ever come across.
It’s CHEAP: The tourism is way down and with that collapsing demand comes collapsing prices. We stayed at a 4 seasons, a first for us, in a suite for 371 us dollars a night.
To fight terrorism: Egypt needs revenue to fight the people that are attacking it. The people are out of work. If you truly want to fight terrorism you need to visit Egypt now while they are down to help pick them back up.
As a side note on what to expect: The Government is doing an admirable job of making the tourists feel safe. Every tourist area is covered in Police and Army. Our hotel had Army and Police officers stationed at the entrance and there is a metal detector coupled with a scanner for the bags just to walk into the lobby. These people are there for you the tourist to alleviate some of the anxiety associated with the current political climate. You will find this level of security at all major tourist sites. We experienced some of the best service and friendliest people we have encountered anywhere. I hope that you have the opportunity to see the same warmth that my family did.
CONCLUSION: So! Is Egypt safe to visit with your kids? From a mathematical perspective, yes Egypt is safe. This is of course given that you follow basic rules of travel to foreign countries and stay in the green areas as defined by your government. I believe this enough to put my money where my mouth is. I took my children, ages 5 and 8 to Egypt. They rode a camel in the Sahara desert in front of the Great Pyramid. We had a full day tour of Cairo with two different wonderful guides from “Taylor made tours”. They walked right into the great pyramid at Giza and stood in the burial chamber of Pharaoh Cheops. They ate falafel. They went to the Egyptian Museum, and saw Tahrir square. Subjectively, We did all these things and never once felt unsafe. We met some wonderful Muslim people and found how tolerant the people were and how very little they were like the monstrous depictions of the media and our own extremists. The Kids discovered, once again, that people are the same wherever you go. There are good and bad ones, but most just want to live their lives with their families in peace. In many ways Cairo is safer than many western cities with low violent crime and theft rates. So, in short, yes Egypt is safe for you and your children. I encourage you to go.
Also because I feel that it is relevant: The Egyptians rebelled to get democracy, I voted with my dollars to help that democracy succeed.