As Egypt continues to rock with turmoil from the past weeks’ revolution in Tahrir Square and beyond, I found myself reflecting on a trip we took with the whole family to the land of the Nile several years ago.
This wasn’t a trip to the Sinai (which is what most Israelis think when we tell them we visited Egypt). Rather, we flew to Cairo, spent a couple of days touring the pyramids and taking in the treasures of the Egyptian Museum, then took the night train to Luxor, toured the astounding tombs in the Valleys of the Kings and Queens, before heading further south to Aswan with its laid back water-faring vibe.
As tourists, we were struck by a palpable feeling of safety. I remember telling my wife that this is what it would be like if the Palestinian Authority truly had peace with Israel and we could sip coffee in Ramallah and Nablus. Yes, the security check as we entered the hotel grounds was thorough, but we’re used to such things in Israel, I figured.
That security, I now realize, was the result of a heavy-handed police state that kept the quiet by squashing dissent and rounding up anyone vaguely suspicious. And I can’t fail to mention that we scrupulously hid our Israeli identity, traveling on U.S. passports and speaking only English (although our son tried his hand at a little Arabic he learned in school, prompting our tour guide to comment, “I didn’t know they taught Arabic in American schools!”)
The stories from travelers evacuated from Egypt that I’ve read in the news – violence in the streets, tanks in Luxor, the economy in shambles – is unnerving of course, with the potential political ramifications even more so. Will a post-Mubarak still be safe for tourists? I hope so. But I suppose that’s the least of our problems…