In early January I had the pleasure of travelling to Egypt, one of the oldest countries on Earth. While our tour ended barely three days short of the start of the internal conflict, we were able to get a glimpse at the real Egypt; at the places and people that make up the country, and not the political unrest that is undoubtedly what most people think of when they hear “Cairo”.
During the tour, our guide told us something that would prove to be rather prophetic. He said, “Tourism is critical to Egypt, and we cannot afford another incident like Luxor.” Both the Government and people of Egypt rely on Tourism for income; in such a resource-scarce region, it has proven to be a profitable, if unstable income. Simply put, in January Egypt was hoping for a good few eventless years to stabilise Tourism. Now, I fear, they may be set back yet again.
There are two cultures in Egypt; that which you see in the museum, and that which you see in the street. Modern Egypt is one of organised chaos and simple courtesies, often hidden to outsiders. The snarling traffic, largely ignorant of any marked road rules, communicates via a simple yet effective system of honks. Incoherent to us, this system allows for all kinds of insane manoeuvres that could never be attempted in a normal country.
In the words of our guide from the airport to hotel, “We drive according to the other cars, not the road. That way, you can react to when someone does something wrong much better.” Naturally, it was only seconds later that we were rear-ended on a freeway on-ramp. The guide, in ambiguous spirits, quickly got off to check the damage. When he came back he told us, “When you think about it, it is much safer to drive in Egypt”.
As with all tourism, the truly invaluable insights into a culture come not from the artefacts in museums or pages of prose at a temple; they come from a single moment overheard or caught in the corner of your eye, wherein you learn about what truly makes a country and its people tick. Watching market vendors chat amongst one another when no tourists around, seeing the guards with rifles texting on their phones, all these things indicate to me that while Egypt may seem vastly different from other countries, the people share the same values as us, and we are a lot more alike than we may realise.
While any potential tourists will likely be looking at Egypt with trepidation, I urge you to reconsider. It is the government that has changed, not the place or the people. Egypt should be in everyone’s top ten places to visit, if not at the top itself. The ancient culture, amazing relics and atmosphere of a vastly different yet oddly familiar country are not to be missed.