How Safe Do I Feel Doing Language Immersion In Egypt Now?
- Written byDonovan Nagel
- Read time4 mins
Leading up to my flight here I was getting the same reaction from almost everyone – is Egypt really safe for foreigners?
Are you sure it’s wise to go there?
I’m certainly not an expert on Middle East politics but what I can do is tell you how I feel living here at the moment.
First of all I don’t really feel any different now in 2014 than I did the first time I arrived here back in 2002.
Let me say up front that Egypt is and always has been my favourite place to visit. The people here are some of the most hospitable and friendly that I’ve met anywhere in the world.
I feel at home here.
North Africa and the Middle East have always been unpredictable but as we’ve all seen in recent months and years there’s been a lot of turmoil in the region:
- Tragic loss of civilian life in the latest Gaza/Israel conflict
- Militias in Libya to Egypt’s West
- Attacks on the Sinai peninsular
- Syrian civil war
- One of the most barbaric crimes in modern history currently being carried out by ISIS murderers against Assyrians and Yazidis in Iraq).
Egypt of course has gone through a roller coaster of political upheaval over the last couple of years and even though there seems to be a stable government now in power, the revolution is still fresh in peoples’ minds and I think it’s too early for anyone here to say what’s ahead.
As my Egyptian friends have been telling me there are still a lot of frustrated and angry people here after everything that’s happened and this is compounded by the fact that the economy is in a pretty bad way at the moment.
People are struggling financially.
As well as the economy, electricity cuts out every day here in Cairo (it’s really annoying!) and I’m told by a lot of people that this is at least partly because the Qatari government who supported the ousted Brotherhood cut fuel exports to Egypt in protest.
Again, I’m no expert on this but it’s what I keep being told here.
You can tell that there’s definitely more of a security presence on the streets here now (e.g. more concrete barriers to prevent car bombs around buildings, heavily armored soldiers guarding many places, the closure of Sadat metro station in Tahrir (it’s so annoying having to transfer at Shohadaa station instead on a hot train packed full of people! :() and so on).
But apart from these things life goes on as it always has and Egyptian kindness and hospitality are always the same.
I feel safer living in Cairo than I do living in Australia
Okay so I had two bad experiences here last week.
The first time was when two guys tried to take my wallet (it was kind of my own fault for being stupid enough to get into the situation) and the other was a group of young guys calling me ‘yahudi’ (Jew) and telling me to ‘itla3 min musr’ (get out of Egypt).
To have two shitty experiences in the span of a couple of days was disheartening to be honest. It made me question whether Egypt had gone downhill since the last time I was here.
But after thinking about it for a while I realised that I was actually just very unlucky.
These are very rare instances and I just happened to be in the wrong place at the wrong time.
I’m absolutely certain that walking alone at night through big cities like Sydney, London, Paris (or probably just about any city in the US) is far more dangerous than walking through a city like Cairo.
There are more murders, bashings and robberies in those places than there are here without a doubt.
Sure, you get the occasional ‘nasab’ (نصاب) trying to get money out of you in a place like Cairo but as a foreigner you very rarely feel physically threatened by anyone.
I admit that for the first time I did have some doubts and concerns about coming to the region because of all the current news but shortly after arriving here I realized that those fears were mostly unwarranted.
I’m not saying we should disregard headlines entirely but it’s not wise to let the media scare you away from travel.
Bad shit happens everywhere.
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I have been searching information about this matter for some weeks and your post helps a lot to understand safety issues in the Middle East BUT you write here from your point of view, as a man. What about safety for a woman?
Now that I bring up the subject I would like to ask one question to non muslim women studying Arabic:
How do you cope with the views most Arabic speaking countries have toward women?
As a female student of this beautiful language I can’t help to notice that in the Middle East (with the exception of Israel) Women are treated different and this difference in many cases makes me feel uncomfortable and sadly, this is affecting my motivation on continuing learning the language.
I ask because I am not only a language learner, I am also a traveler and I love to travel to places where they speak the language I study for example summer courses in Universities etc But with Arabic this is complicated. Even in the University I have been warned about this. I could go into more details of all the warnings I have received but I don’t want to offend anyone. After all I would like to hear more opinions on a respectful manner.....
If you are a woman and you have done summer courses in the Middle East/language immersion I would like to read about your experience there, maybe with your help I can form a better and realistic perspective on this matter.
I would be living in the Western desert with Bedouin the whole time.
Close to Libya? People are advising against travel that far out toward the border.
Not sure though myself.
Were you in Alexandria recently Donavan? If so, what was the general feeling towards foreigners?
Yea I was.
Same as everywhere else. Fine.
Are you holidaying here?
No, not a holiday.
What is the date this article was written? I am debating whether to go to Egypt for over 4 months. In my case, I would be in the desert not the city. I have not been able to find feedback from anyone not staying in any tourist places nor any cities. Appreciated your perspective. If you have a link to anyone who is in Egypt in the conditions I stated above, I would appreciate if you could share it. Thank you.
Egypt’s completely fine now. Where in the desert are you going exactly?
I’ve been travelling through the desert recently and it wasn’t a problem (although in some places you need a military/police convoy to ride with you just in case).
The only place I wouldn’t recommend you go to is Sinai. It’s still very unstable there.
I don’t know, Donovan. If you like Egypt, that’s great. And I’m the first to admit that oftentimes, people in a country aren’t anything like they’re portrayed in the media—a prime example is Russia. I don’t know about Australia, but there is a ton of anti-Russianness present in American media. The average American has a vague stereotypical conception of Russians, and it usually isn’t flattering. But Russians are so nice and love it when people learn their language. They’re just really cool in general (as I’m sure you know).
However, I don’t think I could ever feel comfortable in a country where people will call you a Jew as an insult and tell you to get out of their country. I can deal with the second insult—there are jerks everywhere! The first deeply bothers me, though, hence I had to leave this semi-long and detailed comment. :)
It is a rare occurrence though as I said. Not at all Egyptians are like this.
I guess it’s no worse being called a “Jew” in Egypt than it is every middle-eastener being called an “Arab” or “Muslim” in Australia. Sad that they’re used in a derogatory way, but such is the world we live in, unfortunately. Super excited to read this post though, I’ve been DYING to go to Egypt since I was about 4 or 5 :)
Exactly, Iona! It happens everywhere.
Will you visit Egypt soon? :)
Nice post Donovan, thank you for sharing your experience.
What I hate most about some Egyptians is that they consider every westerner a Jew, moreover, they consider every Jew a Zionist, then they act upon this assumption to justify doing any harm to them (and this is the same justification they used to rape a reporter in Midan al-Tahreer), considering the political disturbance between Arabs and Zionists.
It happened to me too, as a Palestinian living in Egypt my whole life, the last thing you want to be asked about is your nationality, as you’re better off without telling them, since either they’ll change the way they treat you, or ask you whether you’re with Hamas or Fateh, and if you choose Hamas yawaelak!
(Don’t you see it weird that if you like Hamas or Zionism you’re an enemy of Egypt, even though they’re each of them is the enemy of the other)
As I said, I’m just talking about some Egyptians, the rest which is the most of them are kind.
I find your experience as a Palestinian living in Egypt interesting. I have met a lot of Iraqis and Sudanese here as well (mostly refugees) who struggle to fit in.
Agree with you that most Egyptians are very kind. I love them as brothers and feel very at home here. Do you spend a lot of time with a Palestinian community in Egypt or are your friends mostly Egyptians?
Sorry for the linguistic errors, can’t edit.
Sorry for some unintentional errors which I have been unable to edit.
Thank you Donovan for such an honest article. Your honesty is demonstrated in your professional analysis of current situation here in Egypt. You have expressed your love of the country also enabled you to properly analyse the causes of some of the mishaps you encountered. Your kind feelings towards Egyptian makes you enjoy your stay. Thank you for demonstrating that despite the downside of political change we have succeeded to sustain our hospitability and kindness to foreigners. Please do spread the word that “ it’s not wise to let media scare” travelers and tourists from visiting Egypt.
I would like to ciongratulate for your success in achieving immersion in Arabic, Which is demonstrated in resorting to Arabic terms and correctly uising them in their appropriate context!.
Thanks Reem! :)