The Egypt Dilemma

When I was first planning this trip to the Middle East, I always intended to travel to Egypt as well. Israel-Jordan-Egypt — seems like the perfect combo trip, right? Neighboring countries, so crossing land borders would be easy and I wouldn’t have to worry about the logistics or costs of booking additional flights.

Of course, the political situation in Egypt has only been getting worse. Shortly before I left, my father and stepmother gently suggested that I drop Egypt from my itinerary and go to Greece or Turkey instead. I made no promises, but said I would consider it.

And I have been. I’ve been considering it for the whole month I’ve been traveling, and keep going back and forth. I’ve long decided that I would in fact be going to Turkey (a good friend of mine is in Russia now and will be in Istanbul at the end of August, so I plan on meeting him there), but Egypt was still pulling me as well.

I’ve been getting very mixed messages from the few travelers I’ve met who’ve been there. I was all gung-ho about going until I met a guy back in Tel Aviv who had been to Egypt, and he made it sound pretty bad. He and his friend had hired an armed guard to escort them across Sinai and still didn’t feel safe — they ended up leaving after only three days. On the bright side, he said, he’s probably the only one in a hundred years with photos of the pyramids with no people scattered around them, because the site was practically empty.

So that pretty much put me off going, at least until I met up with my friend Lawrence. I know him from New York and he was on a different Birthright trip just before me, so while we’re each traveling independently we’ve been meeting up here and there. His intention has always been to go to Egypt on this trip, and his confidence and determination once again started to sway me. But I wanted to go to Jordan first.

Now in Jordan, I’ve been really torn. Several of the workers at my hotel in Petra were Egyptian, and when I asked they said they thought it was relatively safe for me to travel there, though maybe not the best time. Lawrence, who already crossed into Egypt several days ago, initially said “Come on over, it’s fine!” (He later amended this when he had been there longer and I’d voiced my specific concerns as a female traveler.)

I was all set to book a ticket (I figured the best way for me to cut risks would be to fly directly into Cairo, rather than taking the possibly suicidal overland route through Sinai), when I started to have doubts again. My father, who is not usually a worrier, sent me a late night email begging me to reconsider. Rather than overblown, irrational parental fears, he made good points about how volatile and unpredictable that environment is right now, particularly the anti-American sentiment and overwhelming amounts of violence against women.

Once again, a dilemma. I think if I were a man, I would feel comfortable traveling to Egypt right now, provided I packed my street smarts. After all, I was in Israel when rockets were flying overhead and rarely felt in danger. But the fact is, women are being targeted and abused systematically in Egypt. Assaults have become commonplace, and police and the government are using rape as a weapon to control women.

The street harassment here in Jordan, while not very threatening, has already made me uncomfortable at times. I know the atmosphere in Egypt is going to be much worse.

But on the other hand, I have never let the fact that I’m a woman stop me from doing anything. Is this really the time to start?

After mulling over my father’s email for twenty-four hours, weighing everything I’ve heard from various sources, and sleeping on it, I’ve decided that maybe it is. Yes, rape and assault can happen anywhere, and obviously I am not protecting myself from them just by not entering Egypt. But the overwhelming male anger, terrible statistics and stories from the last couple years, and complete lack of accountability apparent in Egypt makes it an unwelcoming place for a solo female traveler. As a young female American, I am especially at risk.

So I’ll be skipping Egypt this time around. I can only hope the situation will be better in a few years, because I truly would like to go eventually, when I can travel without feeling like there’s a permanent target on my back.

I’ve just purchased a cheap round-trip ticket to Istanbul from Tel Aviv for next week. I’m not thrilled about having to go back through Israel just to catch a flight, especially since I’ll be crossing the King Hussein-Allenby border this time, which is supposed to be much more crowded and hectic, but it would have been $300 more to fly from Amman. Then I’ll have almost a month in Turkey before flying back to Israel and having another few days there before heading home to the States.

Now to catch up on writing about my time in Jordan so far. Wish me luck!

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