By Max Security’s Travel Security Department
While the situation in Cairo isn’t as bad as the media makes it out to be, the reality has changed drastically since Mubarak’s ousting.
In the past weeks, media coverage on Egypt has focused on the plight of a select group of protesters who took to the streets of Downtown Cairo to combat teargas-firing government troops with rocks and Molotov cocktails. Tahrir Square, Mohammed Mahmoud Street, and the rest of central Cairo were made to seem as if the entire city had been engulfed in a battle royal of tear gas and black smoke. While even the average Cairene will tell you not to go near Downtown, the rest of the city remains largely unaffected by ongoing political unrest, with locals making every effort to return the capital to a sense of normality. While the effects of political turmoil may have been hyped, Cairo has become especially hazardous in recent months, and there are a number of dangers that still pose a risk to the unsuspecting visitor.
Depending on your luck, traveling to Cairo can be a roller coaster ride right from the get-go. Cairo’s international airport itself has been the scene of various scuffles relating to just about every contentious topic in the Egyptian discourse. Labor related sit-ins, fighting between supporters and opponents of the Syrian regime, and frustration over the general disorder and overcrowding at the arrivals hall have commonly resulted with the intervention of baton-wielding military police.
In Cairo, each area of the city presents its own challenges to safety and security, with formerly safe business districts undergoing evolving crime pandemics. Today, a number of factors are contributing to various trends in crime in the Cairo Metropolitan Area. Egypt’s floundering economy is a primary factor, as Egyptians have become increasingly impoverished since Mubarak’s fall. In addition, the Transitional Government is having difficulty supplying its various civil service sectors with sufficient wages, causing ongoing labor strikes. The high profile police workers’ strike in October was one such result. Currently, Egyptian security forces are presented with a number of challenges. They must work with an under-staffed, under equipped and increasingly ill-respected police force to confront rising trends in crime and lawlessness, which is further fueled by a collapsing economy. One of the most telling indicators of this rise in lawlessness has been the surge in drug dealing and illegal street vending, acts which were heavily suppressed under Mubarak. Visitors to Cairo’s heavily toursited areas like the Khan al Khalili market and Abdeen Palace are likely to be hassled by these black-marked peddlers.
Cairo’s most dangerous districts remain the downtown area, given the high concentration of symbolic and strategic sites which have become favorites for various protest movements. Tahrir Square, the Maspero state media building, and the array of government ministries in the area have all been the focal points of demonstrations and subsequent clashes in recent months. The districts which surround the downtown area including Shubra and Abbasiya, have also seen their fare share of unrest, including sectarian violence between Coptic and Muslim residents.
While political and sectarian unrest rarely reaches more upscale areas like Maadi, Heliopolis, and New Cairo, criminals have capitalized on the absence of security forces in order to operate in these areas. Bag snatching, mugging, and armed robberies have increased considerably in the vicinities of banks and restaurants frequented by foreigners and people of means, especially at night. Districts like New Cairo have expanded so rapidly that the police force has been unable to provide protection with its existing manpower, resulting in an increase in break-in robberies and illegal squatting by homeless citizens.
Given this new and rapidly changing reality, ensuring a smooth and safe visit to Cairo requires a bit of planning, precautionary measures, and most importantly- common sense. While crime and civil unrest are on the rise, traffic accidents more than ever comprise the primary threat to safety, meaning first time visitors should consider hiring a personal driver to navigate Cairo’s congested streets. Given the spike in assaults and crime targeting women, female visitors should avoid walking alone at night, and should always make sure to dress conservatively to avoid attracting unwanted attention. Before heading out for sight-seeing, consult with locals about the current safety and security situation of your destination. As in any major city, don’t leave valuable items unattended in your vehicle, while passports and other crucial items are best kept in your hotel room safe.