Please note – the views in the following feature are those of the author and are not necessarily endorsed by Safe Travels Magazine. Before travel, we recommend that you always do your own research, read travel advisories and buy appropriate travel insurance.

In the third of our ‘Is it safe to …?’ series, we asked a range of experts if it is safe to go to Egypt. Egypt is going through a period of political upheaval, as the repercussions of the Arab Spring continue to play out. Attacks continue in the Sinai peninsula where a police officer was abducted in broad daylight at the end of last month. Also in August, two people were killed and five injured at a checkpoint not far from Cairo. Freedoms, including freedom of speech and freedom of the press, are frequently challenged by the authorities – here, here and here. The LGBT community has reported harassment and abusesRussia security services are apparently unhappy about the decision to resume flights to/from Egypt and KLM announced it will be suspending flights from Amsterdam due to concerns over the economy and currency. You can read further coverage of recent developments in Egypt here.

In light of this, we asked several experts what risks visitors might face and what they can do to mitigate those risks – essential reading if you are heading in that direction!

Government travel advice

Links to travel advice on visiting Egypt from the following governments –

Please note that the travel advice varies – it is worth reading them all and reaching your own conclusion.

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stirling-assynt

Katrina Burns at Stirling Assynt

Email : info@stirlingassynt.com
Website: https://www.stirlingassynt.com/
Twitter: @stirlingassynt

Stirling Assynt is a global business intelligence and country risk management network headquartered in London and run by a team of professionals with significant commercial and government sector expertise in higher-risk countries. Our value is in giving reasoned assessments of threats and explaining the implications of political and terrorist developments. The service we provide allows our clients to be better informed and thus able to address complex challenges in difficult regions, and our predictions are consistently proved to be credible and accurate.

How safe is it to visit Egypt?

Attacks against tourist targets in Egypt – most notably the downing of a Russian passenger plane in late October 2015 by Islamic State’s Sinai-based affiliate Ansar Jerusalem (AJ) – has clearly deterred many people from visiting the country. Indeed, tourist arrivals in the first half of 2016 were 50% lower than the previous year, which was already a poor year for tourist numbers.

However, the security forces have become increasingly capable since October, which has restricted AJ’s ability to operate outside the Sinai. This has reduced the risk of attacks in other parts of Egypt popular with tourists, such as Cairo, Alexandria and the Nile Valley.

That said, while the threat from militants has receded, worsening economic conditions – partly driven by the collapse of the tourist industry – have led to small demonstrations becoming more common, which can be disruptive and can also pose some risks to those in the immediate area. However, another widespread popular uprising is unlikely at present – there is little appetite for further instability, and the Government is cracking down hard on potential dissidents.

What are the biggest risks?

AJ remains very active in the Sinai. Most of its attacks are aimed at the security forces, but foreign nationals should generally avoid non-essential travel to the area, as jihadists will regard them as ideal targets for attack and kidnapping.

Although areas outside Sinai are generally safer, an attempted strike against tourist or commercial interests in Egypt proper, especially in Cairo, Alexandria and Luxor, cannot be ruled out, given that AJ considers inflicting economic damage and undermining foreign investor confidence as a key way to undermine the Government and foment instability. However, given the group’s restricted capabilities outside the Sinai, any such attack would be isolated and would also trigger a renewed military crackdown on suspected jihadists.

Foreign business travellers to Egypt may also face a limited threat from the Movement of the Hands of Egypt. This is a small group which mainly comprises Islamist youths who have become disillusioned with the political process following the state’s crackdown on the Muslim Brotherhood, the country’s main opposition party. The group’s attacks are largely small-scale, unsophisticated and chiefly directed against security and Government-linked interests, though it has struck foreign firms in the past in an attempt to deter investment and its attacks can pose risks to anyone in the area.

What are the overlooked risks?

Sexual harassment – and potentially the risk of more serious assault – poses a very significant risk to women travelling in Egypt. Women travelling alone are most vulnerable, and women should take care to avoid travel after dark, use only taxis arranged by their hotel or local partners, and should remain alert at all times.

Foreigners in urban centres and popular tourist sites could also encounter street crime, potentially including pickpocketing as well as violent theft.

Travel by road is also dangerous due to extremely poor driving conditions and so visitors should take care when travelling by vehicle, and should avoid attempting to drive themselves.

In addition, travellers should avoid discussing potential sensitive issues unless these are conducted in a clear business context. These include discussions of the President and the country’s political process, human rights, Egypt’s relations with Israel, and religious and social issues.

Finally, tensions between Coptic Christians and Islamist communities can result in periodic clashes, though these tend to occur in more remote areas that foreigners are less likely to visit.

How should people mitigate this?

Foreign visitors should keep a low profile during their trip to Egypt, and avoid displaying signs of wealth, such as through wearing visible expensive jewellery and watches. Women should also make sure to dress modestly. Travellers should also avoid the use of public transport, including trains and the Cairo metro, and should select reputable hotels that have good security procedures. However, travellers should also avoid staying close to Government buildings or diplomatic missions in key cities, especially Cairo, as these may be targeted by militants or protesters.

Demonstrations can also result in clashes with the security forces, and so foreign visitors should take care to avoid these. Those travelling in the country should be aware of the areas of the greatest risk and should check with the local authorities or information provided by foreign Governments, such as the UK’s Foreign and Commonwealth Office or the US State Department, over any change of security advice for particular locations.

What duty of care provisions should employers sending staff to Egypt have in place? What should employees ask for?

Employers should make sure that their staff has been provided with pre-travel briefings and that they are aware of the procedures employed by the company in the event of an attack, significant unrest or in the case of falling victim to crime. Employees travelling to Egypt should make themselves aware of the location of their Embassy and ensure that they have contact details for their firm’s security team. Employers should also know the location of their travellers in Egypt, including details of their accommodation, flights and itineraries, and should know how to contact them in an emergency.


Logo-and-Risk-management (1)

Andre Colling, red24 Analyst Manager & Middle East and North Africa Analyst

Email: andrecolling@red24.com
Website: www.red24.com
Twitter: @andrecolling

How safe is it to visit Egypt?

red24 consider Egypt to be a medium to high risk travel location. The specific risk rating will depend on the area of travel or operation. There are specific high to extreme risk areas in the country. These include the Sinai Peninsula, particularly the North Sinai governorate, where a low level Islamist militant insurgency is ongoing, and the western desert – the security environment in this area is undermined by its proximity to the chronically insecure Libya, a low security force presence and presence of armed smugglers and militant groups transiting the desert. Cities and towns located in the centre of the country along the Nile River are prone to periods of severe civil unrest. One driver of unrest is communal tension between Coptic Christian and Muslim residents. Most resort towns and tourist areas, even in high risk locations, are relatively secure. The Egyptian state places significant emphasis on securing these sites. High profile attacks in the past against foreign tourists have tarnished the country’s image.

Egypt’s security environment has improved markedly since the 2011 to 2013 period following the Arab Spring, the ousting of the Mubarak regime and the ousting of the Muslim Brotherhood government. The military-backed regime has tightened security significantly and cracked down heavily on the opposition. We’ve seen a marked decrease in acts of terrorism over the past year. While the threat remains the frequency of incidents is likely to remain low if conditions remain the same. Compared to the rest of North Africa, Egypt is safer than Libya but less secure than Morocco.

What are the biggest risks?

The biggest risks are political instability and associated civil unrest, terrorism stemming from self-radicalised persons and militant groups and crime. Terrorism is a particular concern at the moment, specifically as it impacts on the aviation sector. The 2015 Metrojet disaster is thought to have been caused by a bomb smuggled on board. The government has since acquired the services of the British and Russian government and private security agencies to review and upgrade key airport sites.

What are the overlooked risks?

Transport safety is a major concern. The rail system is underdeveloped and poorly maintained and rail accidents are common. Bus and other road traffic accidents are also frequent occurrences and have resulted in the highest number of foreigner deaths in the country in recent times. Hazards related to health, including sun and heat stroke, are common complaints of travellers. However, when it comes to these ‘secondary concerns’ (health issues, driving, petty crime etc), common sense precautions will reduce the risk of being adversely affected. For example if your taxi is clearly in a bad state, don’t get in. Likewise, if the bus you are travelling in is speeding ask the driver to slow down or ask to get out. If its a hot day, wear a hat and drink plenty of water or simply remain indoors.

How should people mitigate this?

Avoid the North Sinai governorate and if travelling in the western desert, in rural areas of the South Sinai governorate and in the country’s urban centres in the centre of the country, do so with a local escort, at a minimum. If you are a first time visitor to Egypt, assume nothing and take advantage of local knowledge as much as possible. Before you leave for Egypt, check local media for any major political developments or security concerns. If something has occurred, consult with a security provider, like red24, contact your embassy or review your government’s travel advisory service (if they have one).

What duty of care provisions should employers sending staff to Egypt have in place? What should employees ask for?

Security mitigation measures depend on the travel area, the experience of the travel, the type of work they are involved in and the length of stay. Generally, organisations should ensure that their travelling employees are regularly briefed, either verbally or through bespoke reports, by a security provider. They should also be provided with regular news updates. This is particularly important immediately prior to and after travel. Depending on travel location, organisations should consider regular check-ins with their travellers and/or a security detail, if travelling in North Sinai or western desert area, for example. Partnering with a security provider like red24, means your organisation can be secure in the knowledge that your employees are safe and that you can concentrate on what is important, your business.


 

allan-associates

James Pothecary at Allan & Associates

Email: jpothecary@allan-assoc.com
Website: www.allan-assoc.com
Twitter: @A2Globalrisk

James Pothecary is a London-based political and security risk analyst specialising in the Middle East, North Africa and Central Asia. James works at Allan & Associates, a security risk management agency, which provides a wide range of protective services from travel risk assessments to crisis management response.

How safe is it to visit Egypt?

Hundreds of thousands of people visit Egypt every year without incident. However, there is a real and present security risk from political violence, particularly but not exclusively outside the major urban centres and tourist resorts, and travellers should carefully consider the necessity of travelling to such areas.

What are the biggest risks?

The terrorism risk is likely the top security concern of travellers to Egypt. There have been a number of major incidents in the past few years. On 1 January 2013, a vehicle-borne improvised explosive device (VBIED) detonated in the northern city of Alexandria, killing over 20 people. The 31 October 2015 destruction of Metrojet Flight 9268 is highly likely to have been caused by an IED, although this has not been conclusively proven by investigators. These incidents demonstrate that the risk is real, and although statistically unlikely to affect travellers it cannot be discounted as a genuine threat when in-country.

This concern is more valid in some parts of Egypt than in others. The North Sinai province, on the border with Israel, is in the grip of an active Islamist insurgency, and the security situation at the Libyan and Sudanese borders is very poor due to a lack of effective law enforcement capability. Travellers in major urban areas, such as Cairo and Alexandria, and popular tourist resorts, such as those along the Red Sea and in southern Sinai, are less at risk. That said, there have been a number of serious incidents. Three tourists were stabbed by militants likely linked to Islamic State in the Red Sea beach resort town of Hurghada in January 2016, demonstrating that although tourist resorts have an improved security environment relative to the country as a whole, there is still an underlying threat from violence.

In terms of public disorder, the current situation in Egypt is calm. However, protests have periodically flared up since the 2013 military coup d’état. The local population is sensitive to domestic and international political issues; plans to hand back two Red Sea islands to Saudi Arabia in April of this year sparked major unrest, including in Cairo. The government is currently in the initial stages of implementing cutbacks to its generous subsidy programmes; this has led and is likely to continue to lead to unrest on an escalating scale. Travellers are not the primary target in such demonstrations, yet there have been several instances of foreign nationals being attacked during incidences of unrest. For example, on 11 February 20113 a female journalist was beaten and assaulted while reporting on celebrations in Tahrir Square, following President Hosni Mubarak’s ousting in a popular revolution, and in June 2013 a Dutch journalist covering protests against the government was gang-raped. Major protests in tourist resorts and major cultural sites such as Luxor are much less common.

What are the overlooked risks?

Female travellers are likely to be subjected to attention throughout Egypt, including in the capital Cairo and at major tourist sites. Mostly, this is restricted to verbal harassment. Nonetheless, the statistics are bleak. A 2013 survey by United Nations Women said that 99 per cent of Egyptian women and girls reported experiencing some level of sexual harassment. Female travellers should travel with a companion whenever practical, and avoid walking alone at night.

Road travel is also relatively dangerous. Egypt has one of the highest rates of road traffic collisions (RTCs) in the world. The 2015 World Health Organization statistics show a fatality rate of 12.8 individuals per 100,000, compared to 2.9 per cent in the United Kingdom for the same year. Travellers should avoid self-driving and instead rely on trusted and capable drivers for movement in-country. Radio-dispatch taxis would be a low-cost option, although travellers should ensure they have negotiated the fare before entering the vehicle.

How should people mitigate this?

In urban and tourism areas, individuals – as long as they rely on their own common-sense – will be able to move about without being overly concerned with their personal security. That said, travellers should ensure they have relevant numbers saved on their phone for emergency situations: the embassy, the Egyptian tourism police, and emergency contact numbers (police: 122, ambulance: 123, fire service: 180) for work or home.

Individuals, depending on their personal appetite for risk, could avoid sensitive locations – such as government buildings – in order to avoid potentially hostile attention from the security forces. While this is not necessary, from a security perspective it would be preferable. In times of heightened political sensitivity, however, all personnel should avoid symbolic places such as Cairo’s Tahrir Square or the October 6 bridge, due to the risk of being caught up in violence between protestors and security forces.

If travelling outside major cities and tourist sites, specialist personal security procedures must be observed. If moving near Egypt’s borders this could include the employment of a dedicated personal security detail. At a minimum, individuals travelling outside urban areas must ensure that they use reputable and trusted drivers.

What duty of care provisions should employers sending staff to Egypt have in place? What should employees ask for?

Personnel travelling to Egypt for a long period of time should ensure they are aware of the national culture and behavioural expectations, and employers should ensure their staff are fully briefed on this before travel. In particular, staff should avoid posting statements on social media that could be construed as interfering in Egypt’s domestic affairs. Furthermore, management must implement communications procedures so that individuals can flag any problems or concerns with their employers quickly.

Employers must also plan for the worst, even if hoping for the best. Political violence in Egypt is a fact of life, and unrest could rapidly escalate without warning. Contingency, business continuity and evacuation plans should be in place for such situations. For these plans to be effective, good intelligence is required on the current political and security environment in Egypt. This comes down to high-quality intelligence. Individuals and businesses should consult local media, or ideally use a dedicated information service, to ensure they stay abreast of ongoing developments.

Employers should keep reserve funds of readily accessible cash on stand-by in case employees require rapid evacuation, and provide comprehensive insurance for their staff. In high-risk areas, A2 recommends kidnap-for-ransom insurance.


Griffin Birch

Stuart Birch, Director at Griffin Birch

Email: stuart@griffinbirch.com
Website: www.griffinbirch.com
Twitter: @Griffin_Birch

Griffin Birch helps organisations with their employee safety overseas, focusing on the medical, security, and consular risks for business travel and assignment. In this changing world, Griffin Birch can help your organisation to assess and quantify the risks you and your people face, strategically plan to mitigate them, evaluate how existing services and insurances can be used more effectively, and dovetail this into your existing contractual structure.

How safe is it to visit Egypt?

Egypt has been considered a ‘High Risk’ location by the UK Foreign & Commonwealth Office (FCO), and by many security assistance companies, since the beginnings of the many phases of its revolution, starting with the birth of the ‘Arab Spring’ in January 2011.

The country is suffering from a harsh, state-led crackdown on opposition and peaceful dissent, with accusations of widespread kidnap and torture of locals across all regions. Reports of some as young as 14 years being taken, and the unexplained death of Italian student Giulio Regeni, show the current state’s fear of uprising, as well as its capability for brutality.

Whilst it is unclear how this would affect foreigners visiting the country, many flights from Western countries into Egypt have been cancelled indefinitely.

What are the biggest risks?

Geo-political turmoil and personal security are the most immediate risks. There is a high risk of terrorism, and the high-profile bombing of airliners such as the Metrojet flight 9268 (a Russian airline) of October 2015 points to a potentially home-grown resistance to foreign influence and tourism.

Even the reported ‘security upgrades’ in and around the beach resort of Sharm El-Sheikh, complete with the hiring of well-respected security consultants Control Risks by the Egyptian government, should be taken as part of a broader view. Flights to the resort are few and far between, due to the terror risk, and the political turmoil in the North Sinai Governate to the north of the resort could easily spill over to this once-popular tourist spot.

However, considering an alternative view of a British expat who has lived in Egypt for many years, she says that “since the uprising we have travelled south to Aswan on public transport (train) with no problems, and enjoyed the warm Nubian hospitality at that end of the country. We have driven the 10 hours west to Siwa on numerous occasions and been enveloped in the rural oasis Berber community without a hint of apprehension, we have been up and down the Alexandria road and in and out the Delta without a whiff of concern and we’ve travelled East into Sinai (plane and car). There is more security in Sinai and we are not allowed to drive our 4WD into the peninsula which is a pain. But Southern Sinai is as beautifully wild, rugged and peaceful as ever and our Bedouin friends trustworthy. North Sinai is off limits but it was more or less even before 2011. The most dangerous thing in Egypt remains the traffic.”

Much depends on your tolerance for risk and thirst for adventure, and if you have local friends on the ground this can change the situation considerably.

What are the overlooked risks?

Economic collapse and over-reliance on foreign countries could lead to another change of state within Egypt, leading to more violence and oppression.

Government debt is now close to 100% of GDP, and there have been restrictions on foreign currency exchange which have acted as a brake to an already-struggling economy. A rapid deflation of the Egyptian Pound is imminent, which puts pressure on those most vulnerable, which further increases the probability of political turmoil. The economic isolation since Hosni Mubarak’s infrastructure was deconstructed, coupled with some unfortunate attacks on gas pipelines in Israel and Jordan, have left Egypt dependent on foreign energy producers. This is a geo-political timebomb – if these producers ever call in their dues, a country with no means of repayment may find itself in an unsustainable position.

How should people mitigate this?

The default position on travel to Egypt should be to avoid it, unless absolutely necessary.

If your position is that of the risk/reward equation falling in favour of travelling to Egypt, then perform a careful and realistic risk assessment, and prepare well, focusing on the personal security aspects of the risk. You should consider your strategy within these three stages of your trip:

Before entering the country

  • Before all else, consider working with a security consultancy with experience of the region. Griffin Birch can advise you on this.
  • Your entry and exit procedures will require careful planning. Flights into Egypt are few – are you prepared for a ground border crossing?
  • Vet all hotels and transport before booking, and if you have a Travel Management Company (TMC) doing this on your behalf then vet their process. The overall responsibility still lies with your board of directors, not with your TMC, if operating in a corporate environment.
  • Book all travel beforehand, as much as possible. Ask for photos of drivers to be provided and keep this information at hand. Avoid public transport – keep to privately-hired and trusted firms.
  • Consider cultural awareness training – its value cannot be overstated.
  • Check with your Travel/Medical insurers as to what their stance is on cover within Egypt. They may have terms that stipulate non-cover in areas operating under a state of emergency, for example.

Operating within the country

  • Dress to fit in, not to stand out. Hide what might be considered wealth, and try not to act like a tourist (e.g. taking pictures in the street).
  • Raise your awareness level in all situations – be aware of who and what is around you.
  • Keep to your itinerary as much as possible and avoid areas outside of your hotel and your meeting locations.
  • If you are responsible for travellers, use a tracking process, e.g. via smartphone or similar, to monitor them. If a crisis emerges, knowing their location and being able to check in with them in real time will be of immense value.
  • Review your, or your company’s, crisis management process before travel is authorised, and communicate this to all travellers. Who will you call if things get difficult?

Exiting

  • Don’t change your behaviour just because you’re jumping into a taxi on the way to the airport. Maintain your vigilance until you’re out of the country.
  • Consider the potential consular challenges of a country in political turmoil – there are services available that you may call upon that can manage your interaction with your embassy. Less than 1% of all embassy enquiries are actioned, globally.
  • Ensure your crisis management process includes an exit strategy if things get really ugly, either for medical or security reasons. If there is an exodus and you’re waiting in the queue to get on a flight, you prolong your risk exposure.
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