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SAFE TRAVEL IN THE MIDDLE EAST
Many U.S. travelers think negatively when it comes to safety issues about traveling to several countries in the Middle East. Unfortunately, the U.S. media, in all its forms, does not do justice when they cover the Middle East, in the way they treat the entire region as one large country. The Middle East has come to be viewed by the U.S. public as one large area to be avoided--it is thought that if there is one part of the Middle East that is not safe, then the entire region is thought to be unsafe. Egypt Tours has been sending tourists to destinations in the Middle East for more than 19 years, and has been trying to educate American travelers about the different countries in the Middle East.
SAFETY FACTS VERSUS MYTHS
We agree that certain countries in the Middle East are not exactly pleasant tourist destinations. We wouldn't classify them as unsafe to go to or visit, but just unpleasant. Saudi Arabia and Kuwait, for example, are countries where women are required to wear complete veils, even if they are foreigners. Visitors also won't find certain forbidden items there, such as pork or alcohol.
Certainly, there are countries that actually are unsafe for Americans to visit under the current political climate, such as Iraq, Sudan and Algiers. But other Middle Eastern countries, such as Egypt, Jordan, and Syria are completely safe, as well as extraordinary tourist destinations. If you would like to travel to a country like Egypt, Jordan or Syria, don't cancel your travel plans because of Iraq or Sudan. The Middle East is about one and a half times larger geographically than the United States. Countries in the Middle East are spread far apart, and although there are problems in some of them, much of the region is, in fact, very safe. Many clients say, "I worry about what's happening in Israel." Here's a similar situation: If you live in Cleveland, Ohio and you want to fly to Houston, Texas, and an earthquake happens in San Francisco on the day you planned to fly, would you cancel your plans to go to Houston? No! Because you are familiar with the United States, you would realize that the earthquake wouldn't affect or interfere with your trip at all!
Many Americans worry about traveling to any country in the Middle East right now. These worries are mainly based on misconceptions, unfounded fears, and unfamiliarity with the region. Though there are a few countries in the Middle East where Americans are not welcomed or liked, don't assume that's true for all countries in the Mid-East region.
For example, many travelers to the Middle East canceled their tours to Egypt, Jordan and Syria when the Intifada or uprising started in Israel. Israel is a sovereign country, and although it borders Egypt and Jordan, that doesn't mean that travel to Egypt or Jordan is then deemed unsafe or that Americans are unwelcome in Egypt. During the Gulf War, a lot of Americans canceled their trips to Egypt and Jordan as well, due to unfounded fears. In fact, Egypt was fighting the war hand-in-hand with the United States, and also had ground troops participating in the liberation of Kuwait.
Some of the travel safety questions that clients ask about countries like Egypt, Jordan and Syria are:
Q: I heard that locals there are unfriendly to American. Is this true?
A: Americans are very welcomed and well-received in countries like Egypt, Jordan and Syria and even--believe it or not--Iran. They are the most favored and most loved Western nationality in those countries. People in those countries love to see Americans, extend their greetings, chat with and extend a helping hand when asked.
Q: Is it safe for a single woman to travel to the Middle East without a man companion or a husband and how would I be perceived?
A:Yes, of course it is safe, and you would not stand-out being alone. In addition, our staff is there to cater to your safety and comfort. Also more than 55% of Egypt Tours & Travel clients are women traveling alone.
Q: (Women ask:) Do I have to cover myself or my head? I want to respect the culture and I do not want to offend anyone when I get there.
A:Americans see the covered women of Saudi Arabia, Kuwait, Yemen and Iran and think that in all Middle Eastern countries women are required to cover themselves. This is not really true. For example, in Egypt more than 60% of the Egyptian women are not veiled. Even among those that do wear veils, most wear just the head-cover and not the full body veil.
Q: It seems that in the Middle East, the culture is so conservative. I wonder if I'll even feel comfortable wearing shorts?
A:Many Middle Eastern cultures are much more open and liberal than most Americans assume or think. Did you know that women in Syria and Lebanon serve in the military and police force? In Egypt, women work, smoke, drink alcohol, go to clubs and discos, wear shorts, tight jeans, and miniskirts, etc. In fact, in these countries, you may also come across some strip clubs and topless bars. In Egypt, there are topless beaches at some of the Red Sea resorts. Of course, this is not to say what you should or should not wear in the Middle East, but it should show you that American tourists, men or women, can wear shorts in Egypt, Jordan, Syria, etc., without having a problem and without offending the locals.
Q: I'm concerned about the Moslem militants and the possibility of tourists or foreigners being attacked.
A:Although this happened once in the past, the Egyptian, Jordanian and Syrian governments quickly retaliated and crushed the movement that was responsible. The Egyptian government is quite proactive in protecting their citizens and visitors. When traveling to countries like Egypt, Jordan and Syria, you are not taking any more risk by traveling there "safety wise" as opposed to traveling to any other country in Europe, South America, or the Far East. A country like Egypt gets visited annually by about 6 million tourists--that is slightly more tourists than a heavily populated city like Chicago. These tourists come from all over the world--England, France, South Africa, Spain, Germany, Canada, United States, Switzerland--and all of them travel in and out of the country safely. Egypt has about 162,000 Americans or U.S. citizens that live and work in Egypt. These Americans work for places like the U.S. Embassy, the American University in Cairo, American companies like Motorola, Pepsi Cola, Coca Cola, McDonald's, Kentucky Fried Chicken, General Dynamics, and Pizza Hut, just to name a few. They do their daily chores, send their children to schools there and they mix and mingle with the Egyptian population on a daily basis. We usually tell worried customers who are unsure about the safety of traveling to a country like Egypt, that when those Americans begin packing their things, then it is time to delay your trip to Egypt until conditions would be better. But you can be sure that these resident Americans are comfortably and safely living and working in Egypt today.
Following is just one of numerous letters that we receive addressing how safe it is to travel to certain countries in the Middle East. Below is an e-mail that we received on July 8, 2002, from one of our American clients, Mr. and Mrs. Harvey, who live in Alaska and have just returned from a trip to Egypt:
Dear Egypt Tours & Travel,
My family and I have toured Europe over the last six years. Naturally, I am concerned about safety when traveling to a foreign country. We determined that Egypt would be a safe country for us to visit and spent almost three weeks there during June '02--touring in and around Cairo, cruising the Nile from Luxor to Aswan and spending a week at Sharm-El-Sheikh on the Red Sea.
We did not encounter any anti-American sentiment during our trip. To the contrary, all the Egyptians we came in contact with were polite and friendly. When someone asked if we were Americans, it was because they were simply curious and wanted to engage us in conversation. On the Nile cruise we met a family from Cairo who took us to the market in Aswan one evening and for a stroll along the Nile. We felt totally safe during our walk through the market and down the Nile.
I was impressed with the number of police and security officers throughout Egypt. Their presence in Cairo, at the major tourist sites and along the Nile made us feel more secure. We could relax and enjoy our vacation knowing that some type of security was almost always present wherever we went.
Our trip itinerary and the detailed arrangements made by Egypt Tours & Travel were excellent. We were provided contact cell phone numbers of our Tour Representatives in Cairo, Luxor, and Aswan and encouraged to call them at any time with any request. Even though we never had the need to call, it was a comfort to know they were just a phone call away. One evening while relaxing on the cruise boat someone brought me a cell phone and said I had a call waiting. It turned out to be our Tour Manager from Cairo, just calling to check in and see if we needed anything.
We had an incredible and safe trip to Egypt and hope to return in the future!
Juneau, Alaska, USA
Finally, though there is unrest and violence in some areas in the Middle East, the large majority of this geographical area is perfectly safe for the American traveler. Egypt Tours & Travel takes great care to assure 100% safety for all its guests. Since our tours are operated by private cars and guides, you will be taking the most safe, comfortable and reliable tour possible. We look forward to seeing you on one of our custom, tailor-made, comprehensive tour packages in the near future.
For any further travel safety tips or questions about any of the destinations that we cater to, please call our offices at (800) 523-EGYPT or (800) 863-4978 or if you are calling from outside the United States, please call (773) 506-9999.
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