Friday, November 10, 2006

packing heat in Egypt

In Cairo, our travel company assigned a bodyguard named Mohamed to follow us around all day.



"Is our bodyguard packing heat?" I asked the group, because the question sounds cool and is one that I've never had the opportunity to say, until now.

"Don't you see the two automatic shotguns in his belt?" Brent said. I looked at Mohamed, walking in front of me. A round grey tube peeked out from between the slats of his suit as he walked. I couldn't tell whether it was the gun barrel or a holster ornament, but nonetheless I quickened my pace to walk next to him instead of behind him.

Mohamed joked around with us in broken English all day. He called Julie "Japan" and Mingjing "China". This was during the fasting month of Ramadan. Halfway through the morning, Mohamed looked at Brent's 6'2" stature, patted Brent on the belly and gave him the moniker "No-Ramadan".

At every monument site, there were also tourism police standing guard with machine guns. They walked up to us and insisted on taking photos with us. I found it hard to say no to a man holding a machine gun.



Afterwards they would ask us for baksheesh (tips).

I wonder if the government meant it to be reassuring, the bodyguard and the police and the rifles everywhere. Because I found it far more nerve-wracking. I knew about the terrorism incidents in the past decade. Brian was actually in the Valley of the Queens during the 1997 shoot-out and saw the policemen firing at the terrorists. But it still seemed more likely that one of these tourism policemen would shoot me -- out of accident or anger -- than for a terrorist to appear on the scene.

Perhaps it's because I live in the sanitized world of the US where postal worker rage is far more frequent than terrorism.

Gentle Readers from other parts of the world, would you feel more or less reassured with the armed guards around?

9 comments:

Anonymous said...

Egypt has long suffered from terrorism against tourists.

From http://travel.state.gov/travel/cis_pa_tw/cis/cis_1108.html

SAFETY AND SECURITY: Egypt suffered a series of deadly terrorist attacks in or near tourist sites in late 2004, 2005, and 2006 – often coinciding with major local holidays.

Kim said...

My friend who went to Egypt said everyone there is obsessed with getting their picture taken and will always ask if they can be in your picture. She has all of these pictures with random egyptians! hehe

Anonymous said...

Hi Nin:

From an Australian perspective, whenever I travel and see police or guards carrying firearms, particularly machine-guns or shotguns, yes that makes me more, rather than less, nervous.

We have pretty restrictive gun ownership laws. And except at a few major events (the Olympics, foreign VIP visitors etc) you just don't ever see heavily armed police, Army or security dudes out in public. So firearms just aren't part of most people's consciousness. Consequently to see lots of heavy firepower in people's hands is always a bit confronting to this Aussie traveller.

I remember visiting Moscow during the turbulent late 1990's and seeing guys with machine guns lounging around everywhere, guarding banks, ATMs and even some supermarkets. Sure didn't make me feel any safer.

Ditto for the squads of barely post-teen gendarmes with automatic weapons to be seen around French airports and railway stations nowadays. Some of them seem barely old enough to be shaving yet, let alone mature enough to be wielding submachineguns in crowded public places.

Ben Luk said...

Yeah, it made me more nervous. I had similar experience when I visited Myanmar 2 years ago. And it's even worse - the guard who was carrying a machine gun was probably less than 18 years old.

René said...

I guess it just depends on the country. I spent 8 months in Singapore, seeing armed guards, armymen or policemen quite often. However I never felt nervous in their presence, rather really secure.
But when I was in Malaysia for a short trip and we were stopped by armed guards, I did feel a bit nervous.

Johnny said...

One of my ex-colleagues was unlucky enough to have 1st person experience of the London bombing in 7/06, and he became a different person after the trip. It is natural to scrutinize the security measures during peace time, but it is hard to predict when evil strikes.

Bob Adams said...

I just returned from Egypt last week. Our group had armed guards with us whenever we left the hotels. Personally, I felt very comfortable with these men guarding our backs. Seeing Tourist Police and other police at all major intersections - all armed with machine guns - I was very glad they were in place. We want to remember that there are folks who want to kill us - just because we exist. Be thankful for the protection.

Bob Adams said...

I just returned from Egypt last week. Our group had armed guards with us whenever we left the hotels. Personally, I felt very comfortable with these men guarding our backs. Seeing Tourist Police and other police at all major intersections - all armed with machine guns - I was very glad they were in place. We want to remember that there are folks who want to kill us - just because we exist. Be thankful for the protection.

Anonymous said...

I'm from Finland and no guns don't really affect me. Cops and guards carry pistols here, I don't really see what there is to be nervous about. Might as well be nervous if a carpenter carries a hammer or saw.