I spent a full morning pondering the ethical and proper reply to a foreign reporter who wants to move to Cairo and join our team. She had asked innocently whether Cairo is safe.
My first reaction was “of course, it is safe. Cairo is a safe city”… But what if I said yes it is safe and then she comes and something happens to her, would I be responsible? I live here and nothing has happened to me…(a little voice in my head says “Yet”). How would one handle this? Is it really safe? Just because I was not the victim of some random act of violence, why do I feel safe?
Stepping back and taking a good look at the news, I realised that according to the media, violence has reached unprecedented levels in this country lately. From fatal road accidents, to sexual harassment, sectarian violence, to random gunshots and fires. Even hospitals are unsafe.
A round up of one week of news reports, a Thursday to the following Thursday, would brief into:
Thursday 26 July, in Dahshour a man is killed, houses were burnt down, businesses looted, families displaced, and a whole city is at a stressful unrest with Central Security Forces all over the little town’s streets.
Tuesday 31 July, Cairo’s Al-Qasr Al-Eini Hospital shut down its emergency room after gunmen entered and attacked doctors and patients. A man is killed, hospital staff robbed and beaten, several injured.
Thursday 2 August, the Nile City Towers and Fairmont hotel witnessed violence which resulted in the death of one man and the injury of several others, at least ten burnt cars, the reception was destroyed and the whole place closed down.
Hospitals are closing down, hotels are attacked, thugs with blades and other weapons are everywhere, Christians and women are attacked. That is the way it is being viewed and relayed by the media.
But let’s take a closer look at the question: is Cairo a safe city? Well, compared to what? Compared to New York for example, of course Cairo is safer. We still don’t lock our doors, we still stay out late and drive back safely. Cairo streets are still full of people till the wee hours of the morning. We are still not on the US “Travel Warning List”, even if countries like Saudi Arabia are.
I remember when I visited Nairobi, and was unable to walk the streets after sundown without escorts from the hotel who would not let me walk and insisted they were not responsible for me if I did not ride in the hotel car with the armed driver and the armed tourist guide, just to go out for dinner.
I remember how the streets of London were deserted after 11pm on week nights. I remember how downtown Toronto scared me at 1am on a Saturday night. And I compare this to Cairo at 3am, and I am bound to feel safe, despite all the news reporting.
The issue here is that we are used to a much safer life, so the scattered incidents are a shock to us all. Also, the type of violence has changed, the rise of the “thugs” who were mainly puppets in the hands of the disbanded State Security apparatus, has taken us by surprise. But these thugs move for a reason, there are no random attacks on people, there are organised moves with a target. Take for example the attacks of governmental hospitals, what could possibly be the reason for this? There is neither money nor equipment to steal from such poor hospitals. I have no idea why these attacks happen, there must be a thousand conspiracy theories, maybe one of them is true. But this is a topic for another time.
So is Egypt safe? Yes, it is, so long as we keep filtering the news and putting it in perspective. So long as we read crime rates in other countries, even the more advanced ones. So long as we know that it will never be as safe as it was before because the police need to get back to work soon.
Is Egypt safe? Yes, but not because we have police to protect us, or because we have strong laws that are being enforced. Egypt is safe because, no matter what the media tells you, the average Egyptian is not violent, his revolution was not violent, and his temperament is not violent.