US embassy warns about visiting Egypt’s pyramids of Giza

A stern warning from the US embassy in Cairo about visiting Egypt’s famed pyramids of Giza is not good news for the Egyptian economy, which depends on foreign tourism.  Giza is the site of the Great Sphinx and the Great Pyramid.

The US embassy has issued a warning for American tourists to avoid the pyramids of Giza at night, and only go if they’re with a “recommended or trusted guide,” because large crowds of people are surrounding and terrorizing cars of tourists, possibly to extort money out of them.

In recent weeks, the U.S. Embassy has become aware of an increasing number of incidents at or near the Giza Pyramids. The majority of these incidents are attributed to over-aggressive vendors, though the degree of aggressiveness in some cases is closer to criminal conduct. Other more serious incidents have been reported involving vehicles nearing the Pyramids, with angry groups of individuals surrounding and pounding on the vehicles – and in some cases attempting to open the vehicle’s doors. While the motive is less clear (possibly related to carriage operators wanting fares), it has severely frightened several visitors. A common theme from many of these reports is the lack of visible security or police in the vicinity of the Pyramids. U.S. citizens should elevate their situational awareness when traveling to the Pyramids, avoid any late evening or night travel, utilize a recommended or trusted guide, and closely guard valuables.

While expats in the region say that the US embassy often “overblows” the threat, in this case, the associate provost at the American University in Cairo, said the threat was warranted, and he issued an even sterner warning on his blog:

It’s getting really bad out there. I’ve been going off and on for 13 years, whenever a visitor is in town. So I’m pretty tough when it comes to dealing with the normal scams to which my tourist friends are subjected at the Pyramids. I’ve dealt with corrupt police, and I’ve dealt with a jerk Bedouin pretending to become very angry when I told him $100 for my friend to ride a camel for 15 minutes was ridiculous (he grabbed my shirt and screamed theatrically in my face as a police officer laughed nearby).

Egypt, Pyramids, Giza, Middle East

The Great Sphinx’s face with a set of pyramids in the background and a beautiful purple sunset sky day in Giza, Cairo, Egypt, via .

So, it’s not like I’m easily scared by anything that happens at the Pyramids, that repository for all of Egypt’s most villainous swindlers (every nation has some). But in recent months it has become almost unbearable. It feels almost like an openly criminal environment now. The problem is not only “lack of visible security,” but in some cases the security are either working with the vendors on their scams, or are sexually harassing female foreigners quite openly, even those who are obviously accompanied by their husbands.

In short, if you visit Egypt in the near future, don’t even think of going to the Pyramids unless you’re on a large organized bus tour. Anything else is a big risk, for now.

And the World Economic Forum recently ranked Egypt last among travel destinations in terms of safety.

[T]he evaluation of the safety and security environment has dropped to the lowest position of all countries covered in the Report (140th).

This is awful news for Egypt’s tourist industry, that’s suffered over the years, first from terrorism, then from the recent political unrest.  All of this led to fewer tourists:

Tourist numbers have fallen, from 14 million in 2010 to 10.2 million in 2011, and 10.5 million for 2012. The good news is that, after a sluggish start, total numbers for 2012 picked up with a strong surge toward the end of the year.

Tourism is a huge part of the Egyptian economy.  CNN reports that the tourism industry employs 18 million people in Egypt, which is an insane number.  And tourism brought in more than $10 billion in 2012.  So the news of the pyramids becoming increasingly unsafe, and the guards being either in cahoots with the criminals, or simply not caring, isn’t going to help.


Follow me on Twitter: @aravosis | @americablog | @americabloggay | Facebook | Instagram | Google+ | LinkedIn. John Aravosis is the Executive Editor of AMERICAblog, which he founded in 2004. He has a joint law degree (JD) and masters in Foreign Service from Georgetown; and has worked in the US Senate, World Bank, Children's Defense Fund, the United Nations Development Programme, and as a stringer for the Economist. He is a frequent TV pundit, having appeared on the O'Reilly Factor, Hardball, World News Tonight, Nightline, AM Joy & Reliable Sources, among others. John lives in Washington, DC. .

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  • Guest

    Distraction post. Nothing to see here, people…

  • Roger M.

    I visited Egypt for a week in late May. In Luxor, the aggression is even more severe than Cairo. Carriage operators make a u-turn to chase you for a block and inevitably shout curses as you refuse to give. Boat captains at the waterside grab your arm until you shout and struggle away. Once inside a temple or archaeology site, for which you’ve already paid a high entry fee, expect to find a shady characters at every nook demanding an additional bribe before you take a simple photo.

  • samizdat

    I wonder if he was making a snarky (and humorous) aside about the Pharoahs themselves being the swindlers, with the Pyramids playing the ‘repository’ role. That is what came immediately to mind.

  • It was getting dangerous when I was there. The old ‘take you out on the camel’ and then charging a 100 bucks trick to get you back is as old as the pyramids themselves. I just hopped off and walked back. But, there are infested in the tourist areas radical and dangerous creeps who pray on tourists and particularly women. You can tell them by the dark bruises on their foreheads. Still, for the brave a moonlight exploration of Giza is a lifetime experience.

  • caphillprof

    My brother and I visited Egypt in 1973. The government was very uneasy about two young Americans on their own, particularly one whose middle name suggested that he might be Jewish; and our travel plans were gently reorganized under the watchful eyes of a “travel agency.”

    We had a good time, enjoyed the sites and the only bad event occurred in the Nile Hilton near the gift shops, when a guy in rather flamboyant native dress swept buy, looked us in the eye and in perfect English said, “You Americans should stay in your own country.” Everybody else had been pleasant and polite.

  • emjayay

    “…the Pyramids, that repository for all of Egypt’s most villainous swindlers (every nation has some).”

    No, that is not how national heritage sites work in civilized countries. In for example the United States, places like that are National Park sites, and no vendors are allowed except where they are liscensed and strictly controlled, like the commercial stores and food operations, and mules at the Grand Canyon. In England, Stonehenge is an English Heritage site, and no vendors are allowed. It is not that complicated, and there are examples for countries like Egypt to follow. It would be in their interest to do so.

  • nicho

    The US government is upset because it’s the corporations job to rob people — and they don’t want some skeevy gang in Egypt horning in on their territory.

  • Indigo

    The treasures of Ancient Egypt are definitely worth the visit. Now might not be the time but when my travel buddy and I went in 2004, friends tried to talk us out of it because of the international situation. They advised waiting until peace was resolved. My only response to them was to ask when, in our lifetimes or in all of history, was that region at peace?

    It was a good trip, we saw the ancient monuments, had a nice visit with the sphinx, and paid our respects to King Tut in his tomb, later when we traveled to the Valley of the Kings. You might say we worshiped Amun-Rah at Karnak where the Holy of Holies remains intact. All under the watchful eye of not-all-that-friendly, traditionally garbed Egyptians. We traveled, as the article subtly recommends, with a large tour bus group with armed guards accompanying us at all times.

    No problem. What fool in their right mind would wander into obviously dangerous territory without precautions? It’s always dangerous to step out of the front door, doubly so when going boldly into a socially volatile setting. There’s places here in Orlando where I don’t go after dark, let alone to some of the local malls. Why should it be otherwise in Cairo and environs?

  • Indigo

    The treasures of Ancient Egypt are definitely worth the visit. Now might not be the time but when my travel buddy and I went in 2004, friends tried to talk us out of it because of the international situation. They advised waiting until peace was resolved. My only response to them was to ask when, in our lifetimes or in all of history, was that region at peace?

    It was a good trip, we saw the ancient monuments, had a nice visit with the sphinx, and paid our respects to King Tut in his tomb, later when we traveled to the Valley of the Kings. You might say we worshiped Amun-Rah at Karnak where the Holy of Holies remains intact. All under the watchful eye of not-all-that-friendly, traditionally garbed Egyptians. We traveled, as the article subtly recommends, with a large tour bus group with armed guards accompanying us at all times.

    No problem. What fool in their right mind would wander into obviously dangerous territory without precautions? It’s always dangerous to step out of the front door, doubly so when going boldly into a socially volatile setting. There’s places here in Orlando where I don’t go after dark, let alone to some of the local malls. Why should it be otherwise in Cairo and environs?

  • Duly Noted… Thanks.

  • Definitely a shame, but I don’t doubt the local authorities and Egyptian national government know what they need to do, else risk losing all those tourists.

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