Last spring I did a tour of Israel, Jordan, and Egypt – alone. When I returned home the question, “is Egypt safe?” was a constant topic. While planning this trip I had many close friends and family inform me of the dangers of Egypt, from terrorist attacks to sex trafficking; but misled perceptions weren’t going to keep me from my dream of visiting the pyramids. As with any trip, careful planning and general common sense is required. So is Egypt Safe? Let’s unpack my personal experience in Egypt as a gay solo traveler.
Let’s first point out that much like city’s in the U.S. there are areas in Egypt that are not safe (ie: the Sinai Peninsula). Also, Egypt is still considered one of the most dangerous countries to be a sexual minority. Although in Egypt it’s not necessarily illegal to be LGBTQ, many LGBTQ Egyptians live in fear and are persecuted by local authorities who loosely enforce a “law against debauchery.” As a single gay traveler I kept my conversation mostly conservative.
After visiting Jordan I took an overnight private bus to Cairo via a local travel agency. The bus ride was 10 hours overnight. The bus consisted of myself, a driver who only spoke Arabic, and an Egyptian woman named Janet. The bus had AC and was very comfortable. I spent some of my time speaking to Janet about her country. We shared headphones and swapped our favorite songs. Then I went to sleep.
I woke up to the sound of the bus door slamming open. My heavy eyelids shot open to the sight of an Egyptian military officer with a machine gun strapped across his chest. Janet said “show him your passport.” I jumped up and dug through my bag and presented the passport. He looked me up and down, compared the picture, then stepped off the bus, he gave the bus two slaps to move on. Not the most comforting sight to wake up too.
Throughout the trip, we were stopped 12 more times, each time I was woken up, and greeted with a machine gun. I’m not sure why they didn’t think I needed my beauty rest? How could they expect me to look like that picture in the passport when they keep ruining my naps! Still I didn’t feel unsafe, just uncomfortable. Janet reassured me that these precautions and checkpoints were necessary to keep the country and us safe.
When we finally arrived in Cairo around 7am I was greeted by my private tour guide, Mohamed. Mohamed was an Arabic man who had been giving tours of Egypt for over 10 years. He was very pleasant and only cared about providing me with the very best Egypt experience. He also wanted to reassure me that Egypt was a safe destination. He explained how tourism has suffered due to the media’s portrayal of Muslims. Mohamed spent time with me debunking the western perception of Muslims and distinguishing the difference between the evils of radical Islam and his religion – which he says is rooted in love.
Mohamed asked me introduce myself as Canadian when speaking to guides and guards, he said this was because Americans get asked too many security questions and it would slow down our visits. I’m not entirely sure that this was a direct answer, but I didn’t question it. None of them believed him anyways, they usually laughed and let me right in. Egypt can definitely be a culture shock, but any destination can be where you become the minority.
You don’t need an extended stay to tour the major attractions, just a couple of days. I was able to explore the Pyramids, the Egyptian Museum of Antiquities, and the Nile all in this timeframe.
The short answer is yes, I felt the areas I visited in Egypt were safe. However, due to the language barrier and human rights concerns I would not have felt safe without a guide. I stuck to a pre-planned itinerary and did not leave my room to explore the streets alone at night. Do your due diligence. Check with FCO or DOS before traveling, and again, use common sense.