Difference between revisions of "Egypt"
Revision as of 04:48, 17 May 2006
Egypt (Arabic: مصر Misr / Másr; more fully, the Arab Republic of Egypt, Arabic: جمهوريّة مصر العربيّة Gomhuriat Masr Al-Arabiah) is a large country located in north-eastern Africa with its capital located in its largest city, Cairo. Egypt also extends into Asia by virtue of holding the Sinai Peninsula. Egypt is bordered by Israel to the north-east, by Jordan and Saudi Arabia to the east (across the Red Sea), by Sudan to the south and by Libya to the west. The country is bounded by the Mediterranean and Red Seas (to the north and east respectively) and geographically dominated both by the River Nile and its fertile well-watered valley, and by the Eastern and Western deserts.
Egypt (together with its southern neighbour Sudan) is perhaps best known as the home of the ancient Egyptian civilization, with its temples, hieroglyphs, mummies, and - visible above all - its pyramids. Less well-known is Egypt's medieval heritage, courtesy of Coptic Christianity and Islam - ancient churches, monasteries and mosques punctuate the Egyptian landscape. Egypt stimulates the imagination of western tourists like few other countries and is probably one of the most popular tourist destinations world-wide.
Egypt can be divided into a number of convenient regions for the traveler:
The regularity and richness of the annual Nile River flood, coupled with semi-isolation provided by deserts to the east and west, allowed for the the development of one of the world's great civilizations. A unified kingdom arose circa 3200 B.C. and a series of dynasties ruled in Egypt for the next three millennia. The last native dynasty fell to the Persians in 341 B.C., who in turn were replaced by the Greeks, Romans, and Byzantines. It was the Arabs who introduced Islam and the Arabic language in the 7th century and who ruled for the next six centuries. A local military caste, the Mamluks, took control about 1250 and continued to govern after the conquest by Egypt by the Ottoman Turks in 1517. Following the completion of the Suez Canal in 1869, Egypt became an important world transportation hub, but also fell heavily into debt. Ostensibly to protect its investments, Britain seized control of Egypt's government in 1882, but nominal allegiance to the Ottoman Empire continued until 1914. Partially independent from the UK in 1922, Egypt acquired full sovereignty following World War II. The completion of the Aswan High Dam in 1971 and the resultant Lake Nasser have altered the time-honored place of the Nile river in the agriculture and ecology of Egypt. A rapidly growing population (the largest in the Arab world), limited arable land, and dependence on the Nile all continue to overtax resources and stress society. The government has struggled to ready the economy for the new millennium through economic reform and massive investment in communications and physical infrastructure.
Egypt is largely desert, an extension of the great Sahara Desert that bands North Africa. But for the thin strip of watered land bordering the river Nile, very little could survive here As the ancient Greek historian stated: "Egypt is the gift of the Nile".
Generally, dry and very hot summers with moderate winters - November through to January are definitely the most comfortable months for travel in Egypt. There is almost no rain in the Nile valley, so you won't be needing wet weather gear! Do bring sunscreen, sunglasses and a sturdy hat however.
Banks, shops and businesses will close for the following Egyptian National Holidays (civil, secular). Public transport may run only limited services:
As expected, exactly at sunset minute, the entire country queits down and busy itself with the main meal of the day (iftar or breaking-fast) that are almost always done as social events in large groups of friends. Many richer people offer (Tables of the Gracious God موائد الرحمن ) in Cairo's streets that cater full-meals for free for the passers-by, the poorer ones or workers who couldn't leave their shifts at the time. Prayers become popular 'social' events that some like to enrich with special food treats before and after. An hour or two later, an astonishing springing to life of the cities takes place. Streets sometimes richly decorated for the whole month have continuous rush hours till very early in the morning. Some Shops and Cafes make the biggest chunk of their annual profit at this time of year. Costs of advertising on TV and Radio soars for this period and entertainment performances are at their peak.
Vast desert plateau interrupted by Nile valley and delta.
Visas and Documentation
There are three types of Egyptian visa:
Non-Egyptian travellers are required to be in possession of a valid passport.
Entry visas may be obtained from Egyptian Diplomatic and Consular Missions Abroad or from the Entry Visa Department at the Travel Documents, Immigration and Nationality Administration (TDINA).
Citizens of many countries may obtain a visa on arrival at major points of entry. The fees for a single-entry visa are as follows:
Please check with your nearest Egyptian Consular mission for more details concerning visa regulations applying to your citizenship.
Citizens of the following countries are currently required to be in possession of a pre-arrival visa:
Afghanistan, Algeria, Armenia, Azerbaijan, Bangladesh, Bosnia-Herzegovina, Chechnya, Croatia, Georgia, India, Indonesia, Iraq, Iran, Israel, Kazakhstan, Kirghizia, Lebanon, Macau, Macedonia, Malaysia, Moldavia, Montenegro, Morocco, Pakistan, Palestine, the Philippines, Russia, Serbia, Slovenia, Sri Lanka, Tadzhikistan, Thailand, Tunisia, Turkmenistan, Ukraine, Uzbekistan and all African countries.
Residents of the countries above may apply for a visa through their nearest Egyptian Consulate or Embassy.
Visitors entering Egypt at the overland border post of Taba or at Sharm el Sheikh airport can be exempted from a visa and granted a free fourteen day residence permit to visit the Aqaba coast of the Sinai peninsular, including Sharm el Sheikh, Dahab and St. Catherine's Monastery.
Those in possession of a residence permit in Egypt are not required to obtain an entry visa if they leave the country and return to it within the validity of their residence permit or within six months, whichever period is less.
Egypt has several international airports:
Cairo International Airport [CAI]  forms the primary entry point and the hub of the national carrier, Egyptair. An increasing number of international scheduled flights are being sent direct to Luxor, however, in addition to the large number of charter flights that already run there.
No need to worry, according the the CNN/Money Global Gas Prices in March 2005, the Price in USD Regular/Gallon is $0.65. So if you decide to rent a car, you will not be digging through your pockets looking for a lot of money to fill your cars tank!
A car runs between Aqaba in Jordan and Nuweiba in the Sinai, tickets $50. A weekly ferry also runs between Wadi Halfa in Sudan, and Aswan in Egypt. There are also ferry boats available to and from Red Sea to ports in Saudi Arabia and Jordan
The trains in Egypt are all run by Egyptian National Railways, a state-owned and -run company (no website available as yet).
Train tickets can be bought at most major railway stations' booking offices once you are in Egypt, (although, as this is Egypt, a great deal of patience is often required...)
Ramses Station in Cairo has several booking windows, for example, one for each class and group of destinations, so be sure to check with locals (usually very helpful) that you are joining the right queue. Train tickets can be paid for in Egyptian currency, except for the deluxe Abela Egypt sleeper which must be paid in foreign currency (dollars, euros or pounds sterling). An alternative to self-booking, if you don't mind paying a little commission to avoid the inevitable hassle and frustration, is to a local travel agent to buy tickets on your behalf (preferably at least the day before you intend to travel).
Busy holiday periods excepted, it's not normally difficult to get 1st class tickets on the day of travel or the day before. To avoid complications, however, book as far ahead as possible.
Always go for First Class tickets (ridiculously cheap in any case) - travellers probably won't want to experience anything below Second Class (the condition and provision of toilets, for example, drops away quickly after this level). If you must travel at a lower class than desirable, look for the first opportunity to "upgrade" yourself into an empty seat - you may pay a small supplement when your ticket is checked, but it's worth it. Seat 61
Egyptian Railways.com - Unofficial site with downloadable timetables, maps and information on the egyptian railway system.
In the cities taxis are a very safe, cheap and convenient way of getting around. It has to be noted that while they are mostly safe there are sometimes fake taxis going around so make sure they have official markings on the dashboard or elsewhere. They are also always painted in special colors, in Cairo they are black and white and in Luxor they are blue and white. In Cairo and Luxor it is often much more interesting to use the taxis and a good guidebook instead of traveling around in a tour bus.
All the taxis have meters but they are calibrated using a law from the 1970s before the oil crisis and are never used. Instead you have to tell the driver where to go and not mention a price. At the end of the journey you step out of the car and make sure you have everything with you and then hand out reasonable money. If the driver shouts, it's probably OK, but if he steps out of the car you almost certainly paid too little. The definition of reasonable seems to be variable but examples are 20 LE from central Cairo to Giza, 10 LE for a trip inside central Cairo and 5 LE for a short hop inside the city. Do not be tempted to give them too much except for exceptional service, otherwise ripping off foreigners will become more common and such practice generally tends to add to the inflation. Note that the prices listed here are already slightly inflated to the level expected from tourists, not what Egyptians would normally pay.
Taxis can also be hired for whole days for between 100-200 LE if going on longer excursions, for example to Saqqara and Dashur from Cairo. Inside the town they are also more than happy to wait for you (often for a small extra charge but normally they say it's free), even if you will be wandering around for a few hours.
English is often spoken by taxi drivers and they will double as guides, announcing important places when you drive by them. Of course they expect to be paid a little extra for that. This is not always the case and if you get your hands on a good english speaking driver it is wise to ask him for a card or a phone number, they can often be available at any time.
Very recently, a new line of taxis owned by private companies has been introduced to Cairo as a pilot project. They are all clean and air-conditioned. The drivers are formally dressed and can converse in at least one foreign language, usually English. These cabs stand out in their NYC-yellow. They can be hailed on the street if they are free or hired from one of their stops (including one in Tahrir square, downtown, across from the Museum). These new cabs use current meters which count by the kilometer. In general, they are not more expensive than the normal taxis and you can guarantee not being over-charged.
The domestic air network is fairly extensive and covers most major towns in Egypt. The national carrier, EgyptAir has the most regular services and is the easiest place to start looking before you go. From Cairo there are services to quite a few towns and places of interest around the country, the most important are the following:
There are other places but these are the most common. Due to a two-tier pricing structure fares can be more than four times more expensive for foreigners than locals but still relatively cheap, for example a return day trip to Luxor is about $150. It is wise to book early, flights fill up quickly in the peak season. Local travel agencies have internet web pages and can sometimes squeeze you in last minute but booking in advance is recommended.
Highlights of any visit to Egypt would include:
Ancient Near East .net - Ancient Egypt - provides a convenient listing of online guides to archaeological sites in Egypt
When you're done with the historical touring don't miss:
The official language of Egypt is the Egyptian dialect of Modern Arabic. Egyptian Arabic differs in that the letter jim is pronounced g instead of j. Few travellers will have difficulty finding someone with whom to communicate. English is widely spoken, especially in tourist centres, followed by such other languages as French, German, Spanish, Italian and Japanese. The pressure to cater for tourists has driven language acquisition in all the main cities and tourist areas - you will find many Egyptians keen to practice their English with you! Make an effort to share some new words or gentle corrections, and be a good ambassador for the West.
Following usual rules of politeness, instead of simply starting a conversation with someone in English, ask "Do you speak English?". All the more better if you can do it in Arabic.
See Also:Egyptian Arabic Phrasebook
The local currency is the Egyptian Pound (EGP), often written as LE. In Arabic it's called "gnieh" (جنيه).
Correct as of 16 February 2006:
Egypt is a shopper's paradise - especially if you're interested in Egyptian-themed souvenirs and kitsch, of course. That said, a number of high quality goods are to be had, often at bargain prices. Some of the most popular purchases include:
Egypt can be a fantastic place to sample a unique range of food: not too spicy and well-flavoured with herbs. For a convenient selection of Egyptian cuisine and staple foods try the Felfela chain of restaurants in Cairo. Some visitors complain, however, that these have become almost too tourist-friendly and have abandoned some elements of authenticity.
One contributor recalls: "The best meal I ever had in Egypt was in the backstreets of Hurghada, a fish shop near the port which also cooked the catch. I went with wife and kids and just said make us happy. We were, the freshest fish, old benches to sit on with a communal table and company who were more interested in us and the kids than their meals, but a meal we still remember!"
Bottled water is available everywhere, the most common brand being Baraka - drink plenty of water to avoid dehydration in Egypt's dry climate.
Egypt is a predominately Muslim nation and alcoholic drinks are, of course, forbidden (haram) for strictly observant Muslims. That said, Egyptians tend to adopt a relaxed and pragmatic view towards alcohol for non-Muslims and foreigners L it is tolerated by the vast majority of Egyptians and consumed by a sizable number of them (including less strict Muslims - you may even be asked to "procure" drink for someone!) Alcoholic beverages and bottled drinks are readily available throughout the country (especially in larger towns and cities, as well as tourist centres). Please note, however, that public drunkeness (especially the loud and obnoxious variety) is definitely not appreciated - without caution, you may end up drying out in a police cell. Try to be a good ambassador: if you must get "tipsy", confine it to the hotel or very nearby! (It's actually quite rare to see drunken tourists, even in the most intense tourist areas...)
Stella Beer, it's great! Ptolemy Wine - don't! (Seriously, Egyptian wines don't compare to vintages elsewhere - you may develop a taste for it though!)
It should be noted that many hotels and bars in Egypt will stop serving alcohol during the Muslim holy month of Ramadan - phone ahead to make sure alcohol is still being served in order to avoid disappointment.
American University in Cairo
The American University in Cairo  (AUC), one of the best universities in the Middle East, offers degree, non-degree and summer-school study options. Popular courses include Arabic Language and Literature, Islamic Art and Architecture, Arab History and Culture, and (of course) Egyptology .
There exist a number of viable options for acquiring Arabic as a language in Egypt (other than picking it up from the locals):
You can also study at ILI/International House
Egypt is generally a safe and friendly country in which to travel. Egyptians on the whole are very friendly - if you are in need of assistance they will generally try to help you as much as they are able.
As in most countries associated with large numbers of overseas travellers, recently there have been security concerns for Western and Israeli travellers. Tourists from these areas have been targeted sporadically by extremist and terrorist groups, sometimes with tragic results.
The usual warnings for prudent behaviour apply, precisely as they would in New York or London: Try to avoid travelling together with large groups of foreigners, be suspicious of and report unattended packages...
The security situation in Egypt (as in many Middle Eastern countries) is frequently exaggerated by Western media outlets, creating a negative impression that is somewhat amplified by the heavy-handed policies of Egyptian authorities in keeping tourists safe. The reality is that travelling in Egypt is probably no more hazardous, with regard to terrorism, than visiting most Western capitals (and probably a lot safer!) Egypt relies heavily on foreign tourism for its national income and both Egyptians and their government are extremely keen to prevent any occurrence that might create a bad impression and keep tourists away.
Ensure that you drink plenty of water: Egypt has an extremely dry climate most of the year - a fact aggravated by high temperatures in the summer end of the year - and countless travellers each year experience the discomforts and dangers of dehydration. A sense of thirst is not enough to indicate danger - carry a water bottle and keep drinking! Not needing to urinate for a long period or passing very small amounts of dark yellow urine are signs of incipient dehydration.
Egyptian tap water is generally safe, although it does sometimes have an odd taste due to the high chlorine content added to make it so.... It is not recommended for regular drinking, especially to very local differences in quality. Bottled mineral waters are widely available - the local brands, such as Baraka and Siwa, are just as good as expensive imported options. Beware of the old scam, however, whereby vendors re-sell bottled water bottles, having refilled with another (perhaps dubious) source.... Always check the seal is unbroken before parting with your money (or drinking from it) and inform the tourist police if you catch anyone doing this....
Be a little wary with fruit juice, as some sellers may mix it with water. Milk should also be treated carefully as it may not be pasteurised.... Try only to buy milk from reputable shops. Hot beverages like tea and coffee should generally be OK, the water having been boiled in preparation.
Wear sunscreen, wear a hat and bring good sunglasses - it's bright out there!
In order to avoid contracting the rightly dreaded schistosomiasis parasite (also known as bilharzia), DO NOT swim in the Nile or venture into any other Egyptian waterways (even if the locals are doing so.....) It is also a good idea not to walk in bare feet on freshly-watered lawns for the same reason. Seek medical attention immediately if you think you may have been exposed to the parasite - DO NOT wait until returning to your own country!
Keep in mind that most Egyptians workers expect tips after performing a service (baksheesh in Arabic).
If you're male, don't be surprised if another male holds your hand or forearm -- there's no taboo against men holding hands and unlike in the West, this behavior is NOT associated with being gay. In general, Egyptians are a lot more comfortable with less personal space than are most Westerners.
Another point is to note that, overall, Egyptians are a conservative people. Although they accomodate foreginers being dressed a lot more skimpily, it may be prudent, at least in the big cities, to not dress provocatively, if only to avoid being ogled at.
Egypt has a reasonably modern telephone service including a two GSM mobile service providers. Principal centers at Alexandria, Cairo, Al Mansurah, Ismailia, Suez, and Tanta. Roaming services are provided, although you should check with your service provider. Also, it is possible to purchase tourist mobile phone lines for the duration of your stay. The two mobile phone providers are Mobinil and Vodafone.
There are a number of internet providers. Most tourist towns, such as Cairo and Luxor, boast a plethora of small internet cafés - you won't need to look far!
In addition, an increasing number of coffee shops, restaurants, hotel lobbies and other locations now provide wireless internet access. To date, this is free so you can just walk into them with your laptop and internet away. Ay of the numerous restaurant or location guides will list venues with such services.
There are a number of options for washing clothes whilst travelling in Egypt:
By far the easiest, most practical - and not at all expensive - is to arrange for your hotel to have your washing done for you. By prior arrangement, clothes left on the bed or handed in at reception will be returned to you by evening freshly laundered and pressed.
Determined self-helpers can persist with hand-washing or finding one of the many "hole-in-the-wall" laundries where the staff will wash and press your clothes manually - a fascinating process in itself!
Cairo possesses a few basic Western-style laundromats in areas where foreigners and tourists reside - they are virtually nonexistent elsewhere in the country. Some hotels in tourist towns like Luxor and Dahab offer a washing machine service in a back room - the machines are usually primitive affairs and you'll be left with the task of wringing and ironing your clothes yourself.
The moral of the tale?: Do yourself a favour, maximise your quality time in Egypt, and get the hotel to do your laundry for you!!