You’ll be hard-pressed to find a travel aficionado (or even just a regular person) who doesn’t have Egypt and the Great Pyramids of Giza on their bucket list. And considering Egypt currently is ridiculously cheap, you’d expect the country to be busting at the seams with tourists.
But unfortunately that isn’t currently the case, because a lot of people are concerned about safety in Egypt, what with the unrest after the 2011 revolution and reports of sexual harassment and terrorism.
So, as a local woman who lives, works, walks, travels and goes out in Egypt, let me tell you the real deal.
Safety concern #1: is terrorism still an issue in Egypt?
The honest answer to that is: not for the places you’ll be visiting. Any recent violence, if any, has been targeting army and police factions deep in the desert of the Northern Sinai peninsula, completely cordoned off and miles and miles away from both local civilians and tourists alike. Any area that has even the slightest 0.0001% of a terrorist attack is off-limits to tourists; security checkpoints are set up all over Sinai for just that.
Tourism police and army personnel are literally everywhere in the country; in every neighborhood and on all the roads and highways in between cities. If you’re traveling by car, expect to go through multiple security checkpoints before reaching your final destination. There’s nothing to be worried about -- they’ll just check everyone in the car’s ID (make sure to have your passport on you) and sometimes search the car for anything suspicious.
On some roads (for example from Aswan to Abu Simbel), tourists will be assigned a police escort, as just another extra security measure.
In a nutshell: you’ll probably feel a lot safer in Egypt than you would in other terrorism-targeted places, like Paris, due to the sheer number of visible security forces alone.
Safety concern #2: should I be wary of pickpocketing or mugging?
This is extremely rare in Egypt. While it’s known to happen with staggering frequency in big European cities, theft in Egypt is a rare event, to the point that I wouldn’t even think twice about it.
Just use normal common sense, like putting money or anything valuable in the hotel safe and not leaving your bag unattended in public places.
I would worry about pickpocketing a lot more in Paris or Barcelona than I would in Cairo; the cases in Egypt are almost negligible.
Safety concern 3#: as a woman visiting Egypt, will I be sexually harassed?
The honest answer to that is: possibly. It depends on so many things, like whether or not you’re solo or with a man, group or local; it depends on the neighborhood you’re in and whether you’re walking around or taking a cab.
So, what exactly do we mean when we say ‘sexual harassment’?
Like we spoke about in An Open Letter To Anyone Who Wants To Come To Egypt But Is Unsure As Hell, sexual harassment in Egypt means that a man on the street might say something to you, in Arabic or English, unsolicited. They might give you a ‘compliment’ (“so beautiful!”) or say something sexually suggestive. In either case, they don’t expect an actual response from you. Just ignore and just keep walking, or if police are nearby, report the perp.
Sometimes men or boys will shout things like “Hi! Hello! Welcome to Egypt!” at you; this isn’t sexual harassment, lots of Egyptians just get very excited when they see foreigners lol.
Verbal sexual harassment is far more common than physical sexual harassment (when a guy tries to touch you inappropriately).
Here’s my advice as a local woman on how to avoid sexual harassment:
I try not to walk alone at night unless in neighborhoods like Zamalek, Maadi, Garden City and some parts of Heliopolis
I take cabs or Uber/Careem for longer distances
I ride in the women-only car in the metro
I avoid secluded areas
I dress in a certain way when I know I’m going to be spending a significant amount of time walking around -- I wrote all the clothing details and recommendations in this essential clothes and packing list for women
If you follow the above tips, then there’s a good chance you won’t experience a single untoward comment your whole trip. And to put everything in context, sexual harassment in Egypt is not something that will pose actual danger to you -- it’s just annoying and really unnecessary, and the government and police are trying to crack down on it these days.
Safety concern #4: is there any violent crime in Egypt?
Nope. When it comes to violent crime, Egypt hardly has any and is far safer than most big American and European cities.
Listen, I know talking about safety always makes people feel tense and wary. But as someone who’s lived in Egypt’s biggest city my whole life, as a woman, I can tell you that with just common sense and some avoidance of sexual harassment, you’ll have nothing to worry about.
Also, and very importantly: Egyptians are really warm and helpful people, and if at any point you do feel unsafe, just duck into the nearest restaurant/shop/hotel and ask for assistance, and they’ll be more than happy to help you in any way they can.