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Overseas Security Advisory Council
Bureau of Diplomatic Security
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Egypt 2019 Crime & Safety Report: Cairo

The current U.S. Department of State Travel Advisory at the date of this report’s publication assesses Egypt at Level 2, indicating travelers should exercise increased caution due to terrorism. Do not travel to the Sinai Peninsula (with the exception of travel to Sharm El-Sheikh by air) or the Western Desert due to terrorism; or to the Egyptian border areas due to military zones.

 

Overall Crime and Safety Situation

The U.S. Embassy in Cairo does not assume responsibility for the professional ability or integrity of the persons or firms appearing in this report. The American Citizens’ Services unit (ACS) cannot recommend a particular individual or location, and assumes no responsibility for the quality of service provided.

Review OSAC’s country-specific page for original OSAC reporting, consular messages, and contact information, some of which may be available only to private-sector representatives with an OSAC password.

Remain alert to local security developments, avoid demonstrations, and be vigilant regarding personal security at all times throughout the country. Carry identification and a cell phone or other means of communication that works in Egypt, and pre-program the U.S. Embassy’s telephone number and email address into the device.

Egypt was under a government-declared State of Emergency for all of 2018. Egypt’s demonstrations law prohibits gatherings of more than ten persons without advance permission from the Ministry of Interior (MOI); authorities have quashed previous illegal demonstrations in a relatively short time. The last known demonstrations occurred after the reduction of subsidies and increase of rates for the Metro train fares in May 2018. Because of the volatility of past demonstrations, peaceful demonstrators and bystanders alike may be subject to questioning, detention, arrest, and conviction for participating in or proximity to unauthorized demonstrations. It is illegal to photograph police stations, military barracks, and certain other sensitive public buildings, or their respective personnel; authorities enforce the law in the context of demonstrations. For more information, review OSAC’s Report Picture This: Dos and Don’ts for Photography.

Crime Threats

There is moderate risk from crime in Cairo. The vast majority of criminal acts against foreigners tend to be crimes of opportunity, such as purse snatching and pickpocketing that are often carried out by young males. Semi-professional thieves target unaware visitors in restaurants and shops stealing purses, phones, and purchased goods. Thieves have also broken into vehicles when valuables were clearly visible.

There have been several instances where individuals passing on a motorbike have grabbed handbags, sometimes inadvertently injuring the victim. There were reports of criminal ruses against foreign visitors, often employing feigned concern over a stain/spill on an article of clothing; while helping to wipe the clothing, the criminal lifted a wallet from a purse or pocket.

Be alert to being overcharged for various services, and for becoming victims of scams common in tourist destinations worldwide. Expect to encounter aggressive vendors at Egypt’s many tourist attractions and archaeological sites. Some will offer “free” gifts to tourists which, once accepted, often lead to demands for money. Harassment can occur anywhere. Most tourist sites have specially designated tourist police who can assist in uncomfortable situations.

 

Other Areas of Concern

 

Unexploded ordnance (UXO) is located on battlefields along the Mediterranean coast west of Alexandria, in the Eastern Desert between Cairo and the Suez Canal, on the Sinai Peninsula, and in the Suez Canal zone from World War II and the Egyptian-Israeli wars.

Transportation-Safety Situation

For more information, review OSAC’s Report, Security in Transit: Airplanes, Public Transport, and Overnights.

Road Safety and Road Conditions

Driving in Egypt is extremely hazardous; vehicle accidents remain a significant safety concern. Intercity roads are generally in good condition. Unmarked surfaces, stray animals, sandstorms fog, and disabled vehicles without lights or reflectors are among the many hazards present on highways, especially after dark.

Driving Cairo’s busy streets can be extremely challenging for those used to driving in accordance with enforced rules and regulations. Even seasoned residents must use extreme care and situational awareness to navigate the hectic streets of the capital. Impatient drivers typically ignore traffic rules. Although the enforcement of traffic laws is generally lax and unpredictable, foreigners may be subject to extra scrutiny. Driving under the influence of alcohol or drugs could result in arrest or detainment. Expect vehicles that use no lighting at night; few if any road markings; vehicles traveling at high rates of speed; vehicles traveling the wrong direction on one-way streets, divided highways, and connecting ramps; drivers ignoring lane markings and squeezing vehicles in between lane markers, creating additional vehicle lanes; a high volume of pedestrians dodging traffic; and a variety of animals wandering the roadways.

Visitors intending to drive in Egypt should carefully consider other options, such as a ride-hailing cellular phone-based app, taxi, or hired driver. Drivers must take the utmost precaution and drive defensively. Be especially cautious during the rare winter rains, which can cause extremely slippery road surfaces and localized flooding; Egyptian drivers are not familiar with driving in wet conditions, making such periods particularly hazardous. For more information on self-driving, review OSAC’s Report Driving Overseas: Best Practices.

Pedestrians should also exercise extreme caution, especially in high-volume/high-velocity streets like Cairo’s Corniche, which follows the eastern bank of the Nile River, and Alexandria’s Corniche along the Mediterranean.

Egypt’s Central Agency for Public Mobilization and Statistics (CAPMAS) reported accidents on highways occur 24.6 times per day, compared to 32.4 over the same period in 2017. It also reports 8.7 deaths from road accidents per day, compared to 10.7 over the same period in 2017. Injuries from road accidents dropped to 33 per day, compared to 40.4 in 2017. The main cause of road accidents was driver error, at 75.7%; followed by technical malfunctions, at 17.1%; and poor road maintenance at 2.9%. Information provided by the World Health Organization in a 2015 report provided conflicts with CAPMAS statistics, reflecting roughly 12,000 lives lost to traffic accidents every year, or 32 per day.

Public Transportation Conditions

Taxis and car-sharing services remain an efficient use of public transportation in large cities (e.g. Cairo, Alexandria). U.S. Embassy employees may travel in taxis or other car services. Foreigners can often be targets for higher taxi fares; some drivers often claim their meter is broken. Some females have found it helpful to refrain from engaging in conversation, beyond basic pleasantries, with taxi drivers. Women should consider sitting in the back seat of taxis. For more information on ride sharing, review OSAC’s Annual Briefing Report Safety and Security in the Share Economy.

U.S. government personnel may not use public buses, microbuses, or ride-sharing apps, such as Uber Bus, or Cairo’s metro system. Trains are a particularly unsafe means of transportation, with accidents that sometimes involve mass casualties; Embassy personnel may not travel by train. Overcrowded metro stations and trains can be a common area for opportunistic crimes (e.g. pickpocketing, sexual harassment). Avoid using these methods of public transportation.

U.S. government personnel may not travel outside the greater Cairo and Alexandria areas by motor vehicle, with the exception of travel to Alexandria and the North Coast beach resorts, or beach resorts on the western side of the Red Sea. Mission policy also prohibits personal travel via privately owned vehicle to any part of the Sinai Peninsula or the Western Desert. U.S. government personnel must limit travel outside of greater Cairo or Alexandria to daylight hours.

Aviation/Airport Conditions

In 2015, a Russian Metro Jet crashed shortly after takeoff from Sharm el Sheik, a popular tourist destination on the Sinai Peninsula. Although Egypt has not officially announced the findings of its investigation, ISIS claimed responsibility for the attack, publishing a photo of what it says is the improvised explosive device (IED) that brought the aircraft down. Since the Metro Jet incident, Egypt has made significant improvements to airport security.

International air carriers have enhanced security measures. At Cairo International Airport (CAI), large crowds waiting for arriving passengers gather outside Terminal 3 for EgyptAir, but no longer have access to the front of the terminal. Arriving U.S. Embassy personnel typically arrange for an expeditor and/or trusted transportation company to pick them up inside the terminal. Taxis are available at the terminals at all airports, but beware unauthorized chauffeurs.

Terrorism

There is considerable risk from terrorism in Cairo. There are a number of terrorist organizations operating in Egypt. The self-proclaimed Islamic State-Sinai Province (IS-SP) terrorist group (formerly known as Ansar Bayt al-Maqdis (ABM), an ISIS affiliate) is the most active terrorist group in Egypt; it pledged allegiance to ISIS in 2014. There are also the Islamic State in  Egypt (IS Egypt), Harakat Sawa'd Misr (HASM), Liwa al-Thawra, Harket Elmokawma Elsha'biya, a.k.a. “Popular Resistance” terrorist groups, and other various smaller terrorist groups. Terrorist attacks can occur anywhere in the country. Terrorists have used IEDs, car bombs, and drive-by shootings to target police, security and government officials, and government and diplomatic buildings, resulting in deaths, injuries, and damage to infrastructure and persons, including civilians. Terrorist attacks have also targeted public venues, including tourist sites, civil aviation, and other modes of public transportation. There is a possibility of terrorist attack in urban areas, despite heavy security presence.

Terrorists have targeted religious sites, including mosques, churches, monasteries, and buses carrying pilgrims traveling to these locations. Terrorist attacks are primarily, but not exclusively, due to the actions of violent extremists operating out of the northern Sinai Peninsula, which continues to be an unstable area of the country. Terrorist organizations are primarily active in the northeastern parts of the Sinai governorate. Most attacks in North Sinai are against the Egyptian government (military installations and personnel). Egyptian security forces launched ‘Operation Sinai 2018,’ which resulted in a significant intensification of military activity in North Sinai. Terrorists have also conducted attacks in the Western Desert – the large, mostly isolated area west of greater Cairo and the Nile Valley.

A number of terrorism-related incidents were reported in Egyptian news and on Egyptian social media in 2018. These include:

  • On August 6, 2018, a vehicle explosion occurred at El-Batal Ahmed Abd El-Aziz in the Dokki area of downtown Cairo. The Egyptian authorities stated the incident was the result of a vehicle battery overheating. Many observers do not believe this was a credible explanation, and suspect the incident was a result of deliberate action. There were also conflicting reports on the number of civilian injuries and fatalities.
  • On August 12, 2018, Egyptian security forces foiled a suicide bombing attack targeting a Christian church outside Cairo. The incident occurred at the Coptic Virgin Mary Church in the suburban town of Mostorod, just north of the capital. The bomber died after detonating an explosive belt on a bridge after police denied him entry to the church. There were no other reported injuries from the attack. The attempted bombing targeted worshipers gathered to celebrate the annual Assumption of the Virgin Mary. No group has claimed responsibility for the attack.
  • On September 4, 2018, a pedestrian’s backpack exploded in a suspected terrorist-related incident near the U.S. Embassy in Cairo. The Egyptian government wrote in a statement having arrested a suspect after a bottle containing flammable chemicals exploded as he was walking towards the Embassy. The statement added that the device intended “hostile action,” and that the suspect had “embraced extremist ideas.” No injuries occurred, and no group has claimed responsibility.
  • On November 2, 2018, at least seven people died and 14 others injured when gunmen opened fire on two buses driving towards the St. Samuel the Confessor monastery in Minya province south of Cairo. Assailants reportedly used side roads to reach the main highway and shoot at the buses as they were nearing the monastery. ISIS has claimed responsibility for the attack.
  • On December 28, 2018, an IED attack blew up a tourist bus approximately 2.5 miles south of the Giza Pyramids. The tourist bus was carrying Vietnamese tourists traveling from their hotel to the pyramids. The attack resulted in four fatalities – three Vietnamese tourists and an Egyptian tour guide. No group has claimed responsibility.

 

While the incidents above do not confirm that extremist elements are targeting private-sector interests, the expansion of attacks targeting civilian interests raises concerns about wrong-place, wrong-time violence leading to collateral damage. To mitigate this, the Egyptian government maintains a heavy security presence at major tourist sites, especially the resort town of Sharm El-Sheikh and the many temples and archaeological sites located in and around Cairo, Luxor, Aswan, and Abu Simbel.

Political, Economic, Religious, and Ethnic Violence

Civil Unrest

There is considerable risk from civil unrest in Cairo. Political protests are rare, but could occur without warning anywhere in Egypt. If protests do break out, they could result in clashes with police and security forces. In the past few years, the size and frequency of demonstrations decreased markedly. Egypt’s demonstrations law prohibits gatherings of more than 10 people without advance permission from to the Interior Ministry. In the past, demonstrations have led to violent clashes between police and protesters, resulting in deaths, injuries, and property damage. Peaceful demonstrators and bystanders may be subject to questioning, detention, arrest, and conviction for participating in or being in proximity of unauthorized demonstrations. While there may be periods when the crowds appear celebratory or non-threatening, criminal acts could occur under the shroud of anonymity that a large crowd provides.

Avoid areas where there is heavy police presence or crowds assembling, exercise caution if within the vicinity of any large public gatherings, and stay away from demonstrations.

Religious/Ethnic Violence

There has been some sporadic sectarian violence, but this has not targeted Westerners. Some attacks on the religious community seek to increase tensions between religious groups and undermine perceptions that the Egyptian government is capable of protecting these communities. For more information on Religious Freedom and Egypt’s annual report, visit the U.S. Commission on International Religious Freedom’s website.

In November 2017, IS-Sinai claimed responsibility for an attack on a mosque during a Friday sermon in Egypt’s Sinai Peninsula, setting off bombs, opening fire on worshippers, and killing more than 230 people and wounding 130 others in the deadliest ISIS attack on Egyptian civilians. This incident sparked the planning for Sinai-2018 Egyptian military operations on the Sinai Peninsula, which continued throughout 2018.

Post-specific Concerns

Environmental Hazards

Egypt is a geologically active region; seismic activity occurs on occasion. Although earthquakes are rare, damage can be severe, especially to older buildings due to lax building codes and inferior construction. The last earthquake that resulted in major damage was in 1996.

The U.S. Department of State has assessed Alexandria, Cairo, and other urban areas of Egypt as having air pollution levels three or more times higher than the most polluted areas in the U.S. Air pollution is most severe during the winter, when weather patterns prevent vehicle and factory emissions and pollutants from burning agricultural waste from dispersing into the atmosphere.

Insufficient solid waste collection and disposal services are causing ecological and public health problems, including accumulated garbage and contamination of water supplies in some areas.

Personal Identity Concerns

While in Egypt, individuals with disabilities may find accessibility and accommodation very different from in the United States. Businesses and institutions in Egypt generally do not make special accommodations for persons with disabilities, and Egyptian authorities do not enforce laws mandating access to transportation, communication, and public buildings by persons with disabilities. Pedestrian sidewalks and walkways are limited, uneven, high, and sometimes used by cars and motorcycles. Accommodations on public transportation are not offered for elderly individuals or persons with disabilities. Crosswalks exist, but motorists have the right of way; pedestrians should exercise extreme caution.

The laws in Egypt do not explicitly criminalize same-sex sexual activity, but authorities have arrested LGBTI persons on charges including “debauchery,” “prostitution,” and “violating the teachings of religion,” providing for prison sentences of up to ten years. Reports of such arrests have increased in recent years. Gay men and lesbians faced significant social stigma and discrimination in society.

Females regularly report instances of sexual harassment. These incidents vary in severity, from lewd comments and gestures to more explicit indecent exposures, inappropriate physical contact, and sexual assault. A number of women, including foreigners, have reported sexual harassment and assault in taxis, on isolated streets, and while transiting crowded protest areas. Incidents can occur on streets, but have also occurred inside victims’ homes at the hands of maintenance or delivery workers. Women are also likely to encounter different religious and cultural norms. Foreign women should dress conservatively in public. At night, women and teenage girls may want to exercise additional caution and not travel alone. Women, especially those traveling alone, should exercise particular care in crowds, on public transportation, and in rural and isolated areas.

The Embassy continues to receive reports of U.S. women subject to domestic violence, sexual harassment, verbal abuse, and rape. The Consular Section encourages women who seek ACS assistance to take legal action against perpetrators in order to bring them to justice. Egypt’s National Council for Women’s Ombudsman’s Office may be able to provide assistance to victimized women in Egypt. There is also a domestic violence hotline which the Embassy’s ACS Unit can provide to victims. Women victimized overseas may be entitled to receive compensation for counseling and/or other services such as relocating back to the United States.

Police Response

Foreigners may experience varying levels of professionalism when dealing with the police. Police are generally responsive to visitors in need of assistance, and initiate investigations based on reports of criminal activity. Emergency response times, and the ability to conduct in-depth criminal investigations on petty crimes, generally fall short of Western standards. While misdemeanor crimes may not receive the attention a visitor would expect, police tend to pursue felonies more assertively. Egyptian authorities do take crime seriously, and are proactive in providing assistance where needed, but language barriers can sometimes hinder progress with reporting crimes in a timely manner. The Egyptian Interior Ministry claims to have resolved more cases in 2018 than the previous year, and continues to make improvements. View the Egyptian MOI Facebook page on the internet for additional statistics related to crime and terrorism.

How to Handle Incidents of Police Detention or Harassment

Everyone in Egypt is subject to local laws. Police may expel, arrest, or imprison anyone who violates local laws, even unknowingly. The Egyptian legal system is different from that in the United States, with significantly different standards of evidence and due process. Egyptian police and security forces do not require probable cause in order to stop, question, and detain individuals. Failure to carry proper identification, such as a passport, may result in detention and questioning. Police arrest suspects when there is evidence to suggest one has committed a felony or misdemeanor. Police may detain anyone without affording access to immediate legal counsel during the investigative stage of a criminal case. Punishments often are harsher in Egypt than they are in the United States for comparable crimes.

Upon arrest for any reason, make every effort to contact the U.S. Embassy, or ask police or prison officials to notify the U.S. Embassy immediately. Although protocol requires police services to notify the Embassy in the event of an arrest of a U.S. citizen, this may not always be the case depending on the time, place, and circumstances surrounding the arrest. Egyptian law considers dual nationals to be Egyptian citizens; Egyptian authorities do not automatically notify the U.S. Embassy in these cases. Family members, friends, and/or traveling companions may notify ACS if the arrested U.S. citizen is unable to do so.

Crime Victim Assistance

The Embassy advises U.S. citizens to contact ACS at U.S. Embassy Cairo at 2797-3300 should they require assistance.

Nationwide Emergency Telephone Numbers

Emergency Police

122

Ambulance

123

Fire Brigade

180

Tourism Police

126

International Call Services

120

Inter-Government Call Services

10

Telephone Directory

140. 141

International Telephone Directory

144

Railway Police

145

Public Traffic Admin. For Highway Accidents

012111000

General Security Services (criminal offenses)

115

 

Medical Emergencies

 

Medical care generally falls short of U.S. standards, but there are many Western-trained medical professionals. While medical facilities are adequate for non-emergency matters, particularly in frequently visited tourist areas, emergency and intensive care facilities are limited. Most Nile cruise boats do not have a ship's doctor, but some employ a medical practitioner of uncertain qualifications. Hospital facilities in Luxor, Aswan, and Sharm el Sheikh are not to U.S. standard, and are inadequate at most other ports of call. Although availability of ambulances is improving, getting them through Cairo traffic can be very challenging.

Contact Information for Available Medical Services

For medical assistance, refer to the Embassy’s Medical Assistance page.

​Country-Specific Vaccination and Health Guidance

Beaches on the Mediterranean and Red Sea coasts are generally unpolluted. However, persons who swim in the Nile or its canals, walk barefoot in stagnant water, or drink untreated water are at risk of exposure to bacterial and other infections and the parasitic disease schistosomiasis (bilharzia).

It is generally safe to eat freshly prepared cooked food in hotels, on Nile cruise boats, and in restaurants. When selecting a restaurant, select a clean and reputable place; eat only freshly prepared, cooked foods; and avoid all uncooked food, including raw fruits and vegetables. Tap water outside of major cities may not be potable. Drink bottled water or water that has been boiled and filtered. Well-known brands of bottled beverages are generally safe if the seal is intact.

Mosquito-borne diseases, while rare, do occur in Egypt. Most Red Sea resorts have established mosquito control programs. Authorities spray pesticides in some areas of Cairo, often with limited or no notification.

The CDC offers additional information on vaccines and health guidance for Egypt.

OSAC Country Council Information

The Cairo Country Council is active. The Embassy hosts OSAC Country Council meetings on a quarterly basis and ad-hoc meetings as necessary. To get involved, please email OkamuraCM@state.gov. Interested private-sector security managers should contact OSAC’s Middle East & North Africa Team with any questions.

U.S. Embassy Location and Contact Information

Embassy Address and Hours of Operation

U.S. Embassy Cairo, 5 Tawfik Diab Street Garden City, Cairo

Hours of operation: Sunday-Thursday 0830-1700

Embassy Contact Numbers

Telephone: (20) 2-2797-2301

After-hours Emergencies: (20) 2-2797-3300

Fax: (20) 2-2797-2472

Email: consularcairoacs@state.gov

Website: https://eg.usembassy.gov/

Nearby Posts: Consulate Alexandria

Embassy Guidance

U.S. citizens traveling to Egypt should register with the Smart Traveler Enrollment Program (STEP) to ensure they receive pertinent security updates and notices.

Additional Resources

Egypt Country Information Page

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