Perception Busting in Egypt

You guys are the Perception Busters.

– A comment on our Facebook page in response to our arrival in Cairo earlier this week. And a label we’re happy to embrace.

Egyptian Man with Beard - Alexandria, Egypt
Egyptian man on the streets of Alexandria, Egypt.

If you’ve been following us on Facebook or Twitter recently, you’re probably aware that we’ve been in Egypt this past week.

Egypt? But isn’t it unsafe now?

When we shared with our friends and readers that we were headed to Egypt, we could understand their fear. After all, recent news has been full to overflowing with images — protesters and demonstrations, violence and crackdowns — pouring in from Cairo’s Tahrir Square. Based on that newsreel alone, you might be inclined to think that all of Cairo — and perhaps the whole of Egypt — is under attack and up in flames.

We’d like to offer an alternative story, straight from our experience on the streets, straight from the people we met during our first days in Egypt. We offer this not to refute the violence that has ensued on Tahrir Square, but to suggest that it’s not the only thing happening in Egypt right now, that life carries on for many in rather ordinary ways, and that visitors like us are genuinely welcomed with curiosity and warmth.

So while some people imagine we might be dodging bullets, we’re actually dodging people approaching us and giving us rounds of freshly-made bread on the street.

The Egyptians we met weren’t only warm, they were downright kind. They also wanted to ensure we were safe.

Egypt is safe for you. Just stay away from Tahrir Square,” some would say in response to our visit. But they’d finish with “Welcome to Egypt. Have a nice time.” And these weren’t people anywhere near the tourist sites, but people we happened to meet in the old town of Alexandria.

Here are just a few of their faces.

Hookah Pipe Time - Alexandria, Egypt
An Egyptian man takes a hookah (water pipe) break at an Alexandria cafe.

Egyptian Woman, Vegetable Vendor - Alexandria, Egypt
Vegetable vendor with smiling eyes on the streets near Alexandria’s catacombs.
Egyptian Boy with Bread - Alexandria, Egypt
Egyptian boy on a family flat bread run.
Egyptian Man on Streets of Alexandria
Friendly banter with this Egyptian man in old Alexandria.
Disclosure: We were in Egypt to speak at the 4th Annual IOETI Conference in Cairo. Our trip and three-day tour were paid for by the conference organizers. As always, all opinions here are entirely our own.

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Comments

  1. says

    Nice pics! And I agree, just because there is violence going on in a country doesn’t make the whole country unsafe, in the same way that just because one area of a city is dangerous, doesn’t mean it’s unsafe to visit that city. Avoid the dangerous areas, and you should be fine.

  2. says

    You guys are the perception busters, from Iran to Egypt your perspective is one I can trust and am glad to see the positive sides of these countries versus everything you always read in headlines. Thanks for sharing your great photos!

  3. Sutapa says

    It would actually be an awesome time to visit Egypt. Tourism is down, hence, no long lines and prices are also reasonable, I would think…

  4. says

    I will be arriving in Egypt in a few weeks and this makes my heart GLOW! Egypt is the #1 country I want to visit in the world. I purposely put it in the middle of my RTW trip for that reason. I can’t wait to spend a month here and visiting some of the most amazing places of human civilization. Thanks for sharing this.

  5. says

    Thanks so much for sharing this perspective. The warmth and hospitality of the Egyptians that you describe here mirrors my own experience in Cairo in 2004. I was staying at the same hotel for about a month, and one day, my roommates were very late meeting me back there, so I was locked out without a key. A couple staying above us noticed my friend and I sitting alone in the hot sun, and they insisted we come to their suite for refreshments. They served us coca-cola and snacks, and we discussed the relationship between the West and the Middle East. They wanted to emphasize that the Egypt (or the Middle East in general) that you see on TV is not representative of the majority of Egyptians. They said what you see here, us having conversation, experiencing community, and showing generosity is the real Egypt. I was really grateful for this experience and felt privileged to see this side of the country and culture. Sadly, most people only get to experience the world through television, and that doesn’t always do the best job of telling the whole story. Thanks again.

  6. Zakir says

    I went to Cairo with my wife last October, we found that people there are friendy and it is safe unlike what you saw in TV.

  7. says

    @Dave: Exactly. It’s difficult to get this across when it’s in the best interest of media outlets to create as much drama as possible.

    @LivingIF: Am glad that we can share a different perspective and that others can benefit and continue the conversation. Thank you!

    @Sutapa: Exactly. We feel bad for people in the tourism business, but if you ever wanted to go to Egypt and see it all without any queues and crowds, now’s the time.

    @Don: Hope for the future indeed. Hope for the fact that people are people, wherever they happen to live.

    @Jaime: Enjoy. Egypt is certainly a worthwhile stop and now is as good a time as any.

    @Ellen: What’s so amazing about your experience (and we’ve had others like it in Iran, as well) is that people go out of their way to show you a different view. They know what the media tells everyone and they just want to share what they see as the real, the truth, their truth. And for this, we are grateful.

    Television does a pitiful job of telling the story, I’m afraid.

    @Andrew: Thanks. More from Egypt coming soon. Definitely check it out for yourself when you get a chance.

    @Zakir: Exactly. I think the general public needs to see and hear more about these off-TV experiences. Whenever we tell people in the U.S. about our experience, they almost can’t believe it. But they do. Then the television is back on, and the old narrative creeps back in.

  8. says

    I too have had positive experiences in Egypt. I’ve also had a hell of a lot of negative ones, and I would observe that, simply because of more criminals and fewer police on the streets and societal breakdown, things are less safe after the revolution.

  9. says

    @Theodora: We’ve found that in every country there are positive and negative experiences, but hopefully the positive interactions outweigh the bad. Regarding the idea of “perception busting” mentioned here, it was in connection with the demonstrations in December 2011 where everyone back home thought the whole of Cairo – and the whole of Egypt – was under fire and full of violence because of the way news reports were portraying the situation. The point of this post was to show — in the moment — that life was carrying on, very much as normal, in the rest of Cairo and other parts of Egypt (e.g., Alexandria).

    Personal security issues like theft and harassment have unfortunately been the norm in Egypt’s tourist areas for decades (my mother remembers this from her visit over 50 years ago). However, you and a couple of other people we talked to have highlighted that these problems have increased since the Revolution. I still have not heard of many incidents of armed crime (like what happens often in Central America), but tourists should be aware of the situation so they know what to expect and how to protect themselves.

    @Jim: Glad you enjoyed this and that it brought back good memories about Egyptians from your visit years ago!

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