There are many parts of Egypt, Upper Egypt in particular (and remember, Upper Egypt is actually southern Egypt), in which travel restrictions apply to all foreigners. After a number of terrorist incidents resulted in the deaths of tourists in the 1990s, Egypt was considered a hazardous destination and other countries advised their citizens against traveling to this country. In order to lift this label and bring back tourism revenue, Egypt had to come up with a cohesive system that would ensure the safety of foreign travelers. This is partly why visitors will see armed policemen everywhere they go. It’s a little unsettling to see uniformed men with rifles or semi-automatics, but you eventually get used to the sight.
It is also because of this security system that you can only get to certain places via police convoy. Abu Simbel, which is a site in Upper Egypt very close to the Sudanese border, is one such place. The police convoy leaves at certain times of the day and all foreigners who wish to visit the site must board tourist buses (many of which have an armed policeman on board), and travel together with a police escort. This is why we found ourselves waking up at 3:30 am this morning to catch the first convoy of the day.
Abu Simbel is an extraordinary temple built by Ramses II in approximately 1280 BC. It was nominally dedicated to the Sun god, but since the outside of the temple consists of four gigantic statues of Ramses II chiseled right into the hillside, I’d say it was really a monument to himself. The ruin was in danger of being submerged by Lake Nasser, so UNESCO helped derive a plan to salvage it by building an exact replica of the hillside in which the monument was chiseled in a safe (but nearby) location, injecting the original sandstone with synthetic resin to strengthen its fissures, and then cutting the monument into 1041 blocks, which they moved and reassembled in the new location. It was a massive effort and the results are nothing less than extraordinary.
But back to the convoy. I have mixed feelings about the prudence of this system, especially since it seems to me that traveling via a convoy at specific, published times of the day simply makes a larger target for the more ambitious terrorist. However, since many of the past terrorist incidents (including the kidnapping that occurred almost two months ago) were the result of tourists that were traveling off the beaten path and outside of the secured areas, I guess I cannot refute that some sort of system is a good idea. This does impede the whims of more adventurous travelers, however, but safety comes first.