How safe is it to visit Egypt?

Ben Abboudi, Regional Threat Analyst (Middle East and North Africa) at Healix International comments on the risks involved when visiting Egypt.

Egypt Situation Report

We consider Egypt to be a MODERATE security-risk country, the third highest on our five-tier scale. Travel can continue to the majority of Egypt with basic security precautions in place. The North African country, despite being beset by civil unrest and political violence, remains a magnet for foreign visitors. The government are currently in the process of building a new capital city, alongside a new international airport 45 kilometres (28 miles) east of Cairo. The majority of travellers will find that they intend to visit relatively secure environments where the implementation of basic security precautions will ensure a safe and enjoyable visit.

Security risks in the Western Desert and in towns bordering Libya, such as As Salloum and Siwa, are HIGH, owing to scarcely populated desert areas where criminal groups and Islamist militants have greater operational freedom than in central areas. The North Sinai is an EXTREME risk zone, owing to the embedded presence of Islamic State (IS) affiliates and an ongoing, destructive military campaign, dubbed ‘Sinai 2018’ conducted by the Egyptian military.

Primary Risks

Terrorism
Although terrorist activity in areas outside of the North Sinai has declined over the past year, the secular nature of Egypt’s government and their closeness with Israel and Western allies has ensured terrorist groups maintain intent to carry out attacks. The two main threat actors are the Muslim Brotherhood-affiliated Hasm Movement, and Islamic State’s Sinai Province (ISSP) affiliate. While Hasm’s targeting pattern is usually directed against the security forces, ISSP carry out more indiscriminate attacks. On 26th December 2018, a vehicle-borne explosive device was detonated near a bus carrying numerous foreign nationals near the Giza pyramids. Although foreign nationals remain a high-profile target, religious minorities, such as Coptic Christians, remain the priority target for militant groups. As a result of the persistent threat, current counter-terrorism efforts have focused on intelligence gathering, mobile patrolling and surveillance. The security forces routinely issue warnings regarding potential threats, and often thwart militant cells and plots before they become operational. The security forces also often conduct counter-terrorism operations, in which suspects are often killed.

Crime
Petty crime in more socio-economically deprived areas is the primary risk to foreign nationals, with pickpocketing and purse snatching the most common occurrence. Since the 2011 revolution, both petty and violent crime have increased, as have arson and sexual assault. Theft of valuables such as cash, jewellery and electronic items also occurs, especially in lower income areas. Busy or crowded areas such as transport hubs, markets, tourist areas and queues carry the highest threat. Crime rates are also significantly increased in the country’s west, where numerous bandits and organised criminal groups are located. The risk of crime is lower in the country’s popular resort areas. Females may be subject to explicit comments and physical and verbal assault are known to occur. Lone female travellers are often the main target.

Unrest
Protests and public displays of political dissatisfaction are banned in Egypt. Following on from mass protests took place in 2011, and then again in 2013 following the Muslim Brotherhood’s election into power. These were extremely violent and resulted in hundreds of deaths. Tahrir Square in Cairo was a key flashpoint location for unrest. Since 2013 there has been a significant decrease in protest activity. The heavy-handed nature of the security services and the maintenance of draconian emergency legislation has discouraged any political expression hostile to the government taking place. There have been numerous reports of foreigners involved during protests being isolated and attacked, and sometimes killed. Foreigners have also been arrested during such protests.

Socio-economic conditions rather than political change, are often the trigger for unrest. These can range from bread subsidies, a rise in the price of living, or a lack of governmental services. In May 2018, protests took place over the rising price of public transportation, in which 10 people were arrested. All protests are similarly likely to be forcibly dispersed or banned by the authorities. Although protest activity is limited, smaller-scale localised demonstrations occur sporadically and the security forces more often than not use heavy-handed measures to disperse them. Larger demonstrations and events are likely on the anniversary of revolution day on 25th January. Violent clashes in 2016 led to at least two locals being shot and killed in Cairo during the event, and scores of opposition politicians were arrested following events criticising the government in January 2019.

Additional Risks

Political Dissent
The country is currently under a state of emergency, and has been under a manifestation of the state of emergency since the outbreak of the Arab Spring protests. Under the state of emergency, the government can restrict freedom of assembly and movement and monitor communication systems. 113 people were arrested for anti-government comments in 2018, according to rights groups. The Egyptian authorities are often intolerant of political dissent and have enacted a large-scale crackdown on civil society since Abdel Fattah el-Sisi’s accession in 2013. The authorities have gone to far-reaching measures to avoid protest movements developing; from restricting the sale of yellow vest jackets to flooding security forces into public squares to pre-empt any potential protests.

Driving and Traffic Conditions
Road traffic collisions rates are extremely high in Egypt and road rules are often unregulated. It is not uncommon to see people driving the wrong way on one-way systems and at high speed in urban areas. In urban centres such as Cairo and Alexandria, there is gridlock in rush hour periods, including on roads leading to major airports. One sound that will stay with travellers going to Egypt is that of a car horn. There are also various pedestrians dodging traffic while crossing highways and busy roads. Cairo is one of the most polluted cities worldwide – it is the third noisiest city in the world, the third brightest city in the world and levels of air pollution are 11.7 times over the World Health Organisation recommended safe levels.

Healix Advice

  • Trust your instincts. If you feel the situation is unsafe, or someone is acting suspiciously, withdraw calmly but quickly to a safe location as soon as possible.
  • Although we reiterate that the risk of being impacted by political violence is low, we would advise that you minimise the time spent in lobbies or foyers. This is because, during active shooter incidents, it is typical for the attacker to open fire as soon as he or she enters the building.
  • Where possible, avoid unnecessary time spent at known flashpoints such as government buildings and university campuses. Expect a heightened security force presence around key installations and government buildings. Do not stop to watch disturbances as this could threaten your personal safety. In the event of unrest, business travellers and tourists are not likely to be at direct risk, but should avoid large crowds and gatherings as a security precaution. Allow extra time for journeys and carry identification to ease passage through checkpoints.
  • If you are caught outside in the middle of a riot or unrest, do not appear to take sides or attempt to photograph or film events, move at right angles out of the crowd and find the nearest building to seek refuge. Avoid drawing attention to yourself. Keep your head down and avoid confrontation. Walk rather than run to avoid attracting attention. If you are caught in the middle of a riot or unrest while in a vehicle: remain inside your vehicle unless it has become the focus of the protest, and avoid major roads and anticipate roadblocks.

Health Risks

Written by Dr Adrian Hyzler, Chief Medical Officer.

It is important to be aware that the standard of health care in Egypt is generally low throughout much of the country, including most tourist destinations. Specialist consultants often need to be flown in to the resort cities from Cairo for highly skilled interventional procedures. The health care in Cairo is of a more international standard but there are significant shortcomings regarding nursing care, and standards of hygiene fall well below those of western European or North American hospitals, for example. There would be serious consideration to evacuate anyone with serious life-threatening illnesses out of Egypt.

Anyone travelling to Egypt should ensure that all national immunisation schedules are up to date, including tetanus and MMR. All travellers should be aware of safe water and food hygiene to avoid such illnesses as typhoid, cholera and traveller’s diarrhoea – only drink bottled or boiled water and eat well-cooked food. Visitors should visit a health professional and discuss the option of Hepatitis A vaccine – this is well tolerated and affords long-lasting protection. Consideration should also be taken to vaccinate for: Hepatitis B if there is any risk of coming into contact with blood or body fluids since there is an intermediate/high prevalence of Hep B infection in the local population; Rabies is a significant risk in Egypt following contact through broken skin or mucous membranes with saliva of infected animals, and again vaccination is available.

There is no risk of malaria or yellow fever in Egypt. There is however the risk from insect or tick-borne diseases such as West Nile virus and Leishmaniasis. There is also a risk of dengue in Egypt. This is a viral infection transmitted by mosquitoes which predominantly feed between dawn and dusk. It causes a flu-like illness, which can occasionally develop into a more serious life-threatening form of the disease. There are no vaccines for these conditions and therefore it is advised to practise stringent insect and tick avoidance measures both day and night.

All travellers should always ensure they have appropriate travel health insurance with up-to-date declarations.

THE AFRICAN CUP OF NATIONS

The African Cup of Nations (AFCON) is set to be held in June and July 2019, in Alexandria, Cairo, Ismailia, Port Said and Suez. We have numerous trusted and reputable security providers in-country. Healix is able to offer customised AFCON risk assessment, site audits, event monitoring or a dedicated security provider. For more information regarding these services email gsoc@healix.com.

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