Is Egypt Worth It?
Reflections on a visit to the Arab Republic...
I was lucky to visit Egypt on a day trip during a family holiday to Cyprus in 2002. It was a formative experience for me, despite it being a whistle-stop tour of Cairo. We squeezed in time at the Egyptian Museum in Tahrir Square, and a visit to the Giza Plateau to see the Sphinx and the Pyramids, as well as the obligatory shopping spree. I didn't know it until I was there, but it was a life-aim to stand inside one of the Pyramids (we visited Khafre's pyramid), and staring into the eyes of Tutankhamun's death mask changed me forever. As you'll see in the brief clip above, those eyes have a haunting, lasting gaze. It was shortly after this trip that I decided to pack in my job and do some traveling, to see a bit of the world. I was nineteen.
I'm now thirty-six and the world has changed a lot since then. Even though my visit was post-9/11, and Al Qaeda was the global threat du jour, Egypt was still a tourist hot-spot, the same as it had been for a century or more. Since my visit, the world has seen the death of Osama bin Laden, and the replacement of Al Qaeda with Daesh as Terrorist Threat Number One. Egypt took part in the "Arab Spring" revolutions and deposed two presidents in quick succession, the Islamist Muslim Brotherhood rose and fell, and the tourists decided to stay away.
Despite all this, there is a strong allure to Egypt. Its rich history, and the plentiful stories of treasures yet to be found beneath the sand still draw in the archaeologists, and even Hollywood has had a hand in filming a number of movies there, boosting the country's international profile. There is a plan to draw the tourists back to Egypt, and Cairo specifically, in their millions through the new Sphinx International Airport in the West of the city, and theopening of the world's largest Archaeology Museum, the Grand Egyptian Museum on the edge of the Giza Plateau in 2020.
When it opens, the GEM will see the complete treasures of Tutankhamun (some of which are in the midst of a global tour) united for the first time on display. Some five thousand pieces from the Boy King's tomb will be the star attraction, with many never-before-seen pieces. In total, the GEM will boast some fifty thousand pieces, the greatest Egyptology collection the world has ever seen, in the rightful hands of its home country.
But is it worth it? And will it be enough to bring the tourists back in their millions? There is, of course, more to Egypt than just Cairo, and more to the country than its history. As the Arab Republic looks towards its future, people are questioning whether to go back. Egypt remains popular for its snorkeling and water sports on the Red Sea coast, and the Bibliotheca Alexandrina at Alexandria on the country's Mediterranean shore has shelf space for some eight million books, with collections donated from all over the world.
For me, however, the allure of Egypt will forever be its history. I've barely scratched the surface of the archaeological sites in Egypt, and I fully intend to go back one day to see the temples at Luxor and Abu Simbel, the Valley of the Kings and the Siwa Oasis, and of course the Grand Egyptian Museum and the Pyramids at Giza. I'm also curious to see what happens with the old Cairo Museum. I already have a pin in my mental map there, and look forward to exploring more.
I would say that, for the sensible, safety-conscious traveller, Egypt is worth it. If you can get yourself on an organised tour, and there are plenty, or if you have your wits about you, and aren't afraid of solo travel, go for it. Respect local customs, as you would anywhere in the world, and take heed of governmental travel warnings before you leave for the country. Take plenty of photographs, and leave nothing but footprints, and you'll have yourself a worthwhile trip.