When I tell people I'm going to Egypt, they are happy and excited for me. Then, almost everyone asks me if it's safe there, and says, "Be careful." The recent incident in Berlin has caused me to reflect on why this is.
First: I am not complaining about friends expressing concern for my safety. I know that they are coming from a place of care and concern.
But they are also coming from a place of fear. The media has conditioned us to think of the Middle East as inherently unstable and unsafe. Add to that the violence during and after the 2011 Egyptian revolution, and western fears that US-backed dictator Mubarak would be replaced with a fundamentalist theocracy.
In Canada, there's also another layer: what I observe as a prevalent Canadian attitude about travel safety. To my mind, many Canadians are inordinately worried about safety when travelling. They are often timid about the world, risk-averse, people who value safety over adventure, and the known world over exploration. The majority of Canadians like their travel pre-packaged, predictable, and tame. As with all generalizations, exceptions abound, but I observe this on a regular basis.
The Canadian media stokes fears of travel, with sensational reporting on crime against vacationing Canadians, especially in Mexico. From what I can glean from news stories, some of this violence seems to be directed at tourists in heavily touristed areas. This CBC story sought to put the incidents in perspective, but CBC is among the worst offenders of sensationalist scare-stories about Mexico.
When my friends urge me to "be careful" in Egypt, I think there must be some measure of Islamophobia involved. I don't think it's conscious -- but I really don't know. We're traveling to "the Muslim world" or "the Arab world," as people say. To many people, that equates with danger.
When I traveled to Europe, no one expressed concerns for my safety, despite bombings in Paris, Madrid, and London in the not-distant past -- to say nothing of the murder rate in the United States. Yet Egypt is the only destination that has earned all the "be careful"s.
It's not that I haven't thought about the risk of going to Egypt and Jordan. I've been looking into the relative safety of this trip, off and on, for a few years. I came to the conclusion that for tourism, Egypt is safe enough. I assessed the risk as best I could -- and also assessed our age, financial situation, and the timing of this trip in our lives -- and decided now was the time. (I'm also hoping that we'll take advantage of tourism to Egypt still being depressed, encountering smaller crowds and better ease of travel.)
We flew to Ireland exactly two months after September 11, 2001, and just hours after a flight leaving from the same airport crashed and burned just after take-off. We could see the lights of the emergency crews from the runway. That felt a lot riskier than the trip we're planning now. And of course, the worst thing that ever happened to me happened while I was home, sleeping in my own bed.
In terms of specific trip planning, we did make a few concessions to safety. We've ruled out a few sites that seem too far off the beaten track, which in another place and time we might have trekked to. We were considering the Siwa Oasis, but it entails a long bus ride through the desert, and the oasis itself is right near the border with Libya. We're skipping things like that.
The way I look at it, there are risks everywhere. Life is risk. We risk life every day. The most important thing is to try to live life as fully and as meaningfully as possible.