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Country Reports

Egypt Country Report

Overview

INTRODUCTION

Egypt continues to grapple with poor security conditions in certain areas of the country. The instability in northern Sinai continues to be a major national security issue, while the security vacuum in neighboring Libya continues to hold implications for the western desert. As the government of President Abdel Fattah Al-Sisi continues to execute deep economic reforms while cracking down on the outlawed Muslim Brotherhood, the risk of unrest and low-level violence in major urban areas remains ever-present.

AREAS TO AVOID

Certain Western governments advise against travel to a large portion of Egyptian territory, in particular the Sinai Peninsula. Nonessential travel - including business travel - to Middle Egypt (between Faiyum governorate and Luxor) is also advised against. In Upper Egypt and the Nile Valley (between Luxor and Abu Simbel), travelers should remain aware of their surroundings, pay close attention to developments to domestic current events, travel exclusively by air, and not venture outside of major cities. Travel to Alexandria and Cairo and their surroundings carries a lower risk than other parts of Egypt, but nonetheless requires a heightened level of vigilance due to generalized security concerns (including the risk of terrorism).

POLITICS

Since Abdel Fattah Al-Sisi's victory in the May 2014 presidential elections, his government has consolidated political control and the army remains a key political arbiter. In recent months, the government's attention has been consumed by the necessary passage of deep economic reforms amid an increasing cost of living for the majority of the population, a factor driving disenchantment with Al-Sisi. The crackdown on the Muslim Brotherhood remains a critical part of the government's policies, fueling hostility among the group's members. The Brotherhood's more extremist young members have targeted security forces and government personnel in shootings and small bombings across the country and especially in Cairo.

These policies and the country's campaign against terrorist groups present in the country are unlikely to change in the near term. The risk of social unrest will not just persist but likely continue to increase for the foreseeable future, with corresponding security concerns for travelers to the country.

TERRORISM

The Sinai Peninsula remains the single greatest hotbed of terrorism in the country, especially in the restive north. In November 2017, in the deadliest attack in Egypt's modern history, more than 300 people were killed during Friday prayers at the Al-Rawda mosque in the city of Bir Al-Abed (North Sinai). A group of armed militants gunned down worshipers fleeing the site after a suicide bomb was detonated in the mosque. The mosque was frequented by Sufis, followers of a mystical branch of Islam deemed heretical by Islamist extremists. No group claimed responsibility for the attack, but Islamic State (IS) affiliate involvement is suspected. The attack prompted President Al-Sisi to give Egyptian security forces a three-month deadline to restore security and stability to the Sinai region.

The local branch of IS, Islamic State-Sinai Province (IS-SP) regularly targets security forces with snipers, improvised explosive devices (IED), vehicle-borne IEDs, and coordinated attacks. In addition, the terrorist group targets those in the civilian population that it believes have cooperated with security forces or resist the group's presence; the rate of civilian kidnappings (often followed by executions) is relatively high. In recent months, IS-SP has entrenched itself primarily in the city of Arish, but it retains strong capabilities across the peninsula's north and periodically conducts attacks in central Sinai.

The peninsula's south, while at risk, does not see the same levels of violence as elsewhere in the Sinai since the social and security environment there is less amenable to IS-SP. In response to the persistent instability, much of northern Sinai remains a special military security zone, with increased numbers of police checkpoints and a media blackout in place.

There is a moderate threat of terrorism in the rest of the country, though this is greater in Cairo. In the capital, small-scale attacks by armed anti-government groups, often composed of former members or sympathizers of the Muslim Brotherhood, occur on a regular basis and mainly target security forces. High-level government personnel have also been targeted. The tendency to target economic and civilian assets seen in 2014 and 2015 seems to have abated. IS-SP has also proven capable of striking civilian targets in the capital, killing 27 in a December 2016 suicide bombing of Al-Botroseya chapel in the seat of the Coptic Orthodox Church, the Saint Mark's Cathedral complex. Coptic Orthodox communities are regularly targeted in violent social unrest and terrorist attacks by both resentful locals who view them as being close to the government and the Salafist extremist groups in the country. On April 9, 2017, two coordinated attacks targeting churches in Tanta and Alexandria left around 50 dead. In response, President Al-Sisi declared a state of emergency which has been in place ever since. On May 26, Christians were once again targeted when a bus carrying Copts was attacked by gunmen, killing 23.

There is a moderate but persistent risk of attacks targeting tourist sites not just in Cairo but across the country, though the government has implemented tight security measures following a string of attacks in recent years. The risk of kidnapping in the mainland is relatively low in areas near the Nile River but rises in the Western Desert and especially in the Sinai Peninsula.

The Western Desert is the greatest strategic vulnerability to Egypt given the security vacuum in neighboring Libya. This is mitigated somewhat by cooperation with local nomadic tribes and the Libyan National Army in eastern Libya, which forms an imperfect buffer zone. Nevertheless, cross-border smuggling both by criminal and terrorist groups occurs regularly, leading to periodic clashes between security forces and armed elements in the Western Desert. This can have unfortunate consequences for travelers in the region, as seen in the accidental September 2015 targeting of a tourist bus by an Apache attack helicopter. Areas along the Nile south of Cairo also see periodic violence between terrorist groups (primarily linked to Al-Qa'ida) or armed anti-government groups and government security forces.

SOCIAL UNREST

Protests are somewhat common (especially after Friday noon prayers) and should be avoided, particularly those organized around universities and mosques. Political developments remain the most likely triggers of unrest, as seen throughout 2016 and 2017 in relation to the government's attempts to cede the Red Sea islands of Tiran and Sanafir to Saudi Arabia, which provoked nationalist sentiment and inspired multiple protests. More localized protests can also spring up in response to abuses by security forces, as seen on multiple occasions throughout 2016, making the risk to travelers unpredictable and mandating awareness of political and local developments for travelers seeking to avoid the risk of violent unrest that these protests can present.

CRIME

Risks related to crime cannot be neglected as theft, assault, and other crimes (e.g., carjacking, armed robbery, credit card fraud, etc.) are not rare and foreign nationals may be targeted. Additionally, multiple cases of sexual assault and harassment have been reported in recent years, including in areas considered safe (hotels, etc.) as well as in taxis. Finally, there is a latent and very low risk of abuse and unwarranted detention during interactions with security forces. Such incidents are isolated and rare, in part given the government's concerns of maintaining the country's image as safe to visit. Nevertheless, travelers should remain alert during all interactions with police.

HEALTH

Travelers are advised to take out an insurance policy prior to departure to cover medical fees as well as medical evacuation. Certain private medical facilities do offer high standards of care, but these can be prohibitively expensive and public care is not reliably up to high standards, especially in rural areas.

Due to less-than-ideal health conditions in the country, basic precautions should be taken (e.g., regularly wash your hands, drink only bottled or purified water, eat only thoroughly cooked food, do not consume drinks with ice cubes, etc.) to avoid contracting traveler's diarrhea, a common ailment for foreigners in Egypt. Visitors should be aware of the presence of venomous animals in the country (e.g., snakes, spiders, and scorpions). Cases of hepatitis A, B, and C are common, as are schistosomiasis (in the Nile Delta and Suez Canal regions) and leishmaniosis (in the Delta Nile, Sinai, and Suez Canal regions). Close doors and windows in the room where you sleep and use a mosquito net. Protect yourself from insect bites by wearing clothing that covers as much skin as possible and using insect repellent. Egypt is also subject to periodic instances of avian flu, such as the November 2016 detection of H5N8 for the first time in the country. Animal rabies also poses a risk. The best defense against this is to avoid contact (bites, scratches, or licks) with both domestic and wild animals. If you are scratched or bitten, seek medical attention as soon as possible.

Dengue fever is likely to be present in Egypt, although no cases have been reported since the October 2015 outbreak in Dairut (Asyut governorate) during which more than 250 individuals were hospitalized with dengue-like symptoms. Dengue fever is a mosquito-borne disease found mostly in urban and semi-urban areas. Symptoms of classic dengue fever include fever, headache, muscle and joint pain, fatigue, nausea, and rash. Dengue Hemorrhagic Fever (DHF) is a potentially deadly complication that is characterized by high fever, enlargement of the liver, and hemorrhaging. No specific treatment or vaccine is currently available.

Water and air pollution are major concerns in Cairo and may create or aggravate respiratory problems (e.g., asthma).

INFRASTRUCTURE

The road mortality rate is high. According to the World Health Organization (WHO), around 12,000 people die in car accidents in Egypt every year. This is partly due to the poor condition of the roads, poor driving habits, and antiquated vehicles. The overall safety of the country's train network is also unreliable. In early February 2016, a train derailment near Beni Suef injured more than 60 people.

LEGAL

When in Egypt, travelers should respect local traditions and customs, especially those linked to Islam: do not eat, drink, or smoke in public during Ramadan (from May 26 to June 25 in 2017), avoid public displays of affection (particularly near religious places), etc. Entering mosques or other Muslim religious sites is generally prohibited for non-Muslims, except for sites oriented toward tourism. Some restaurants refuse to sell alcohol, particularly during Ramadan and outside touristic areas.

It is forbidden to photograph public buildings and military equipment.

Egyptian law forbids all trafficking and export of archaeologic objects. 

The UK government continues to enforce a ban for passengers flying non-stop to the United Kingdom from Egypt that prohibits travelers from transporting any electronic device larger than a standard-sized smartphone (16 cm x 9.3 cm x 1.5 cm / 6.3 in x 3.5 in x 0.6 in) in carry-on luggage. This includes laptops, tablets, e-readers, cameras, DVD players, and video games, which will have to be stowed in checked luggage for the duration of the flight.

Climate

Egypt's climate is Mediterranean along the Alexandria coast, semi-arid around Cairo, and fully arid in the south. The ideal time to visit the country is in the autumn (from late September until late November) when temperatures start to cool in Europe and Egypt is still bathed in a mild heat (temperatures fluctuate between 25°C and 35°C from north to south). Winters (mid-December through February) are better for those who dislike temperatures over 30°C but tend to be cloudy. During this season, it is best to pack a good jacket if travelling to Cairo as there is very little indoor heating in Egypt. Spring (March-April) comes relatively late and passes quickly; it is also the windy season when the Khamsin (a hot and sandy wind) passes over the country two or three times. Summer is often scorching; you will have to adapt as the locals do, beginning your day early in the morning and taking a long break at midday.

Useful Numbers

Country Code: +20 Police: 122 Fire Dept.: 122 Ambulance: 122

Electricity

Voltage: 220 V ~ 50 Hz

Outlets:

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