Visit Egypt now? A traveler finds security reassuring
Posted by the Asbury Park Press on 10/8/06 BY ARTHUR Z. KAMIN
If you're a first-time vacationer to Egypt who is concerned about fast-breaking developments in the strife-torn Middle East, odds are that you may have asked yourself two crucial questions before departure: "Should I go?" "What kind of security does Egypt have for tourists?"
An unofficial on-site survey I took recently among Grand Circle Travel group members on an escorted tour revealed that all were asking those questions. Yet, 109 decided to take their chances and make the trip, while 20 others who were signed up backed out.
Vacationers, including a dozen present and past New Jerseyans, began their 15-day journey in Cairo on a tour that Grand Circle bills as "Ancient Egypt and the Nile."
It included a seven-day river cruise to that ancient land of pyramids, temples and tombs. The travelers, from all over the United States, said they were startled and comforted by the high level of security they found.
"I've never seen anything like it," said Sherif A. Samy, a Grand Circle program director and Egyptologist, who has been a tour escort for 23 years. "The tourism industry is important to Egypt. We want our visitors to know they are safe here."
Police and guards were at the ready with loaded automatic rifles in boats, trains, buses and planes, on foot, camels, bicycles and hot-air balloons. Uniformed and undercover security personnel were all over and kept a close eye on tourists in cities, small towns, at monuments, in museums, libraries and at airports.
Looming large over this trip were the summer's Hezbollah rocket attacks against Israel and Israel's military thrust into Lebanon. Those events made some travelers wary and apprehensive.
So did the recently uncovered London-based terrorist plot to blow up 10 jets leaving Britain for the U.S.
The travelers also were aware of Egypt's history of deadly terrorist attacks and bombings, including the Luxor massacre in 1997 when Islamic gunmen killed 58 tourists. Earlier this year, a suicide bomb attack killed at least 23 people in Dahab, a Sinai peninsula resort city.
On a train trip from Cairo to Alexandria, we found security was at its peak. Four buses in a convoy received a police escort from the hotel to the railroad station. A phalanx of police guided our group onto the train platform. All passenger cars had guards aboard.
In Alexandria, local police greeted the train and provided the same phalanx as buses were boarded for a tour of Alexandria's library. This was not preferential treatment. All Americans get the same protection, if they want it.
"We hesitated, but I'm glad we came," said Rhonda Rosamilia of Lower Township.
She said her husband, Salvatore, was ready to cancel three days before they left the U.S.
"Now, I can't get him to go home," she said.
The Rev. Adam S. Zele, a Methodist minister from Hollywood, Fla., came with his wife and two young children.
"We never had a concern for our safety," he said.
Other visitors to Egypt echo that response.
Robert B. Abel of Shrewsbury, an oceanographer who has visited Egypt 32 times, is working on fisheries and aquaculture projects with Arabs and Israelis.
He said security in Egypt never has been a problem.
"I feel safe because it is safe," he said.
Sahar Karykous of Long Branch travels to Egypt often, where her husband, Emad, is president of an international restaurant group.
"No one should think twice about going to Egypt," she said. "It is an extraordinary country."