Egypt has long been a popular choice for global travellers who are usually drawn by the country’s famous history of the ancient kingdoms that once ruled this region.
Spectacular wonders from this captivating era such as the Valley of the Kings, the Abu Simbel Temples and of course, the Great Pyramids of Giza have ensured Egypt has enjoyed a steady flow of foreign tourists for well over a century, much to the envy of its regional neighbours.
After almost four months in the middle-east, and a month in Egypt itself, I left the country with a far from shining attitude that had me wondering if Egypt’s famous history has made it spoilt with tourists it no longer deserves…
I met Annie in a hostel in Amman, Jordan. I had just arrived from Syria and Annie was taking some time off from her work in Dubai to do some travelling before heading home to see her family in the USA.
We were able to bear each other’s company enough that we decided to team up to see the rest of Jordan, which eventually led to Annie changing her plans and joining me in backpacking through Egypt as well.
Annie is blonde and there’s no denying she’s a good-looking girl – two predominant warning signs for attracting unwanted attention in the Middle East. During our time together in Jordan, I could tell that Annie’s experience of living and working in Dubai had taught her how to dress and act ‘appropriately’ for the social standards of this region, so I gave little thought to worrying too much about travelling with her in Egypt.
We left Jordan on a ferry from the Red Sea port of Aqaba, excited to begin our adventures in Egypt.
A few weeks into our Egyptian travels we set out to explore Luxor, arguably one of Egypt’s largest tourist hubs.
Arriving in Luxor on the overnight train from Cairo, there are two things you will notice immediately, especially if you are travelling independently:
One, the hagglers at the train station jump on you faster than flies to a fresh cow shit and two, it’s hot as balls… like “will-melt-the-soles-of-your-shoes-if-you-walk-on-the-road-in-the-middle-of-the-day” hot…
Due to reason number two, Annie and I left most of our sight seeing for either the mornings or afternoons.
One afternoon we were walking down a main street of Luxor to get some dinner when mid conversation, we were interrupted:
“Hey you! Sexy!… I want to fuck you! Yeah you love it! I fuck you good! Show me your pussy!”
I turned to see an Egyptian man, about the same age as me, leaning out of the window of his car yelling this at Annie while he waited for the traffic to move.
Before my logic could catch up to me, I made eye contact with him and spat in his direction (not actually on him, just on the ground, he was about 15 metres away from us).
He wasn’t impressed to say the least.
The attention quickly moved off Annie and onto me:
“Fuck you! I fuck you up! You fucking fuck!”
The traffic moved and my delightful host sped off.
…I went looking for medication to reduce my blood pressure…
I’m not going to deny that my reaction was fucking stupid – but in this scenario, I’m not going to accept being labelled as insensitive/racist/ignorant for what I did in a situation I didn’t ask to be in.
And fuck Egypt…
My brain explosion in Luxor that resulted in my (somewhat) out of character response was not an act of ignorance to the country and culture I was in.
It was vented from the culmination of weeks of having to endure incidents of sexual harassment and discrimination towards someone who had become a close friend of mine as well as the continual attempts at fiscal exploitation of us both for the simple fact that we were foreigners.
There was one common characteristic I noticed almost immediately amongst Egyptian Muslim men that I didn’t recognise in neighbouring Arab countries – A large amount of them have calluses on their foreheads, a scar from a lifetime of bowing their heads against carpet in prayer.
To the men who bare it, it’s a symbol of their religious fervour.
To the travellers who find themselves daily on the receiving end of dishonest business tactics of lying and bullying by men with these ‘righteous’ marks, it’s nothing more than a symbol of vanity and hypocrisy.
Some may see my criticisms as an ignorant generalisation, a harsh judgement where many are held accountable for the actions of a few and I can understand this. However, the fact that that I continually hear from other people who chose to see the country on their own terms instead of on a tour group largely despised most parts of their travels in Egypt, shows that the problem isn’t entirely my making. I believe it lies with the wider Egyptian society that continues to sit by and let this culture somewhat thrive.
I find it hard to say which is my favourite country I have travelled to, but I won’t hesitate in telling you that Egypt was the worst – and that sucks…
All the negative situations I experienced in Egypt I have definitely experienced in other parts of the world as well, but the daily consistency of it in Egypt puts the country in a league of its own.
The relentless requests for Annie’s hand in marriage in return for camels far overshadowed the young man who took the initiative to make sure we were able to contact my friend on his own phone when we first arrived in Cairo.
The continual interruptions of “free present for you!” scams while trying to take a moment of solitary marvel at the numerous historic sights we visited far overshadowed the efforts of a police officer who helped us get the right ticket at the central train station in Cairo.
The sly groping of Annie whenever we were in a crowded place or transport far overshadowed one of our transport drivers who turned his van around after realising I had left my wallet on the seat, returning it to me intact.
The continual use of the “menu in English – the bill in Arabic (and twice the price)” trick far overshadowed the incredible… well I think I’ve run out of good things that happened to us? But I could give you three pages on scams at the Pyramids alone.
I know Egypt hasn’t had the best run of luck in its modern history. Oppressive governments, religious extremism, wars with its neighbours and not to mention a funky little revolution that recently caught much of the world’s attention. These are all things I couldn’t even begin to imagine what it would be like to grow up and live under, but unless the country as a whole is willing to implement a social dialog which stamps out this attitude and culture towards its tourists, it’s only itself that it is truly going to fuck.
This is a very heavily opinionated piece, maybe you have had similar experiences or even ones that are completely opposite to mine. This is a subject that needs to be out in the open, so please feel free to contribute to the discussion in the comments below… – Ash.