Friday, January 31, 2014

Egypt: US Department of State Updates Travel Warning, Tourists Be Cautious

Effective January 30, 2014, the US Department of State alerts US citizens to the risks of traveling to Egypt due to continuing political and social unrest.  

Based on an assessment of the security situation in Egypt, the Department of State lifted the ordered departure status for US Embassy personnel on November 6, 2013.  The State Department lifted ordered departure status for US Consulate General Alexandria on December 16, 2013. However, Consulate General personnel are based out of the US Embassy in Cairo while required facility security upgrades are being made in Alexandria.
Political unrest, which intensified after the July 2013 change of government, is likely to continue in the near future. 
Demonstrations have on numerous occasions resulted in violent clashes between security forces and protesters and between protesters supporting rival factions, some of which have resulted in deaths and injuries to those involved and in property damage. Participants have generally thrown rocks, and Molotov cocktails, with security forces responding with tear gas. Police, on occasion, have used live ammunition as a crowd control measure and in response to live ammunition used by demonstrators against police. 
Most violent protests have occurred in major metropolitan areas, including Cairo and its suburbs, Alexandria, and Port Said. Gender-based violence in and around protest areas, where women have been the targets of sexual assault, poses an ongoing concern. There has been a recent and notable increase in the use of explosive devices to target police or other government institutions or individuals, which have resulted in casualties and damage to infrastructure.
The security situation in North Sinai, including the major east-west coastal highway and the towns of El Arish, Shaykh Zuwayd, El Gorah and Rafah, has been marked by ongoing violent attacks on Egyptian security personnel and by continuing and frequently intense security operations against the sources of violence. The US Department of State strongly urges US citizens to avoid travel to North Sinai.
The security situation in most tourist centers, including Luxor, Aswan, the Luxor-Aswan Nile cruise routes, and Red Sea/Southern and Western Sinai resorts such as Hurghada, Sharm el-Sheikh, Dahhab, Nuweiba, and Taba has been calm; US citizens should nonetheless remain alert to local security developments.
The US Department of State strongly urges US citizens to avoid all demonstrations in Egypt, as even peaceful ones can quickly become violent, and a foreigner could become a target of harassment or worse. On June 28, 2013, a US citizen was killed during a demonstration in Alexandria. 
US citizens have also been arrested and deported for being in close proximity to demonstrations and for taking pictures of demonstrations, police and military. Foreign journalists, credentialed or not, have also been increasingly targeted by both security forces and Egyptian citizens while attempting to cover demonstrations or gain access to restricted areas.  Several have been detained for prolonged periods as a result of their activities, and others have been subjected to verbal or physical assault by citizens suspicious about the reason for their presence.
Because of the proximity of the US Embassy to Tahrir Square and other demonstration locations in Cairo, the US Embassy has sometimes been closed to the public on short notice due to violent protests. The Embassy will notify US citizens as quickly as possible of any closing and the types of emergency consular services that will be available. Should security forces block off the area around the US Embassy during demonstrations, US citizens should contact the American Citizens Services section before attempting to come to the US Embassy during that time. US citizens are urged to remain alert to local security developments and to carry identification and, if moving about alone, a cell phone or other means of communication that works in Egypt.
The US Embassy restricts its employees and their family members from traveling to specific areas listed in the Country Specific Information Sheet, and advises all US citizens to do the same.  Depending on the current security situation, the US Embassy may also restrict the movements of its employees and their families within Cairo itself.  We continue to urge US citizens to stay current with media coverage of local events and be aware of their surroundings at all times. Please check our Country Specific Information Sheet for further security guidance. Remain alert to local security developments and be vigilant regarding your personal security; know the locations of police and fire stations, hospitals, and the US Embassy.
Unless otherwise indicated in a public announcement, the US Embassy is open for all routine American Citizens Services by appointment. US citizens needing emergency assistance do not need an appointment. Visit the Embassy website to check the latest changes to Embassy hours or services. US citizens with routine phone inquiries may call the Embassy's American Citizens Services section at 2797-2301, Sunday to Thursday from 0900 hours and until 1600 hours.  For emergencies after business hours and on weekends and holidays, US citizens can contact the Embassy Duty Officer via the Embassy switchboard on 2797-3300. The US Embassy is closed on US federal holidays. U.S. citizens in Egypt are encouraged to enroll in the Smart Traveler Enrollment Program (STEP). By enrolling, U.S. citizens make it easier for the Embassy to contact them in case of emergency.
For the latest security information, US citizens traveling abroad should regularly monitor the Department of State's Internet website where the Worldwide CautionCountry Specific Information for EgyptTravel Warnings and Travel Alerts can be found. Follow us on Twitter and the Bureau of Consular Affairs page on Facebook as well. Download our free Smart Traveler app, available through iTunes or Google Play, to have travel information at your fingertips.
Up-to-date information on security can also be obtained by calling 1-888-407-4747 toll free in the United States and Canada, or, for callers outside the United States and Canada, a regular toll line at 1-202-501-4444. These numbers are available from 0800 hours and until 2000 hours EST,  Monday through Friday (except US federal holidays).
The US Embassy in Egypt is located at 5 Tawfik Diab Street (formerly known as Latin America Street), Garden City, Cairo. For emergencies after business hours and on weekends and holidays, US citizens can contact the Embassy Duty Officer via the Embassy switchboard on 2797-3300. 
For the full text of the Department's latest travel warning on Egypt, see the below:


http://travel.state.gov/content/passports/english/alertswarnings/egypt-travel-alert

COMMENT: Although I understand fully the political pressure my former colleagues at the US Department of State must deal with in terms of the tourism impact on the Egyptian economy, I have BOLDED all sections of the text of the Department's updated travel warning, as all mandate security vigilance at all times.

It is essential that foreign travelers to Egypt realize fully that Egypt is not yet "out of the woods," in terms of it being a normal tourist destination. It is not.

Calamities of all sorts can occur with little notice, so I do emphasize that anyone traveling to Egypt for non-essential travel keep in mind that security threats can occur at any time.

It should be noted that the Department of State has not distributed a Crime and Safety Report for Cairo in 2013 or 2014, largely because the political situation in the capital is so fluid and unpredictable.

Personally speaking, I would not visit Cairo as a tourist destination until such time as the political situation in the country is more stable, as many tourist destinations in the capital may be inhibited by demonstrations, traffic delays and closures depending on the level of political unrest.

From the standpoint of Luxor, Aswan, the Luxor-Aswan Nile cruise routes and the Red Sea/Southern and Western Sinai resorts such as Hurghada, Sharm el-Shiekh, Dahhab, Nuweiba and Taba have been calm.

If traveling to any of the above destinations, it would be far more prudent to depart from international airports outside of Cairo.