Tourist Police

Favorite pasttime — reading the Quran

Many countries with a critical mass of tourism, especially in the developing world where the average person may not speak any English, often have separate “tourist police” forces. In every country we had been in, prior to Egypt, the essential functions of tourist police have been to act as English-speaking policemen for whatever visitors may need, to police tourist areas for additional security and peace of mind, to prevent tourists from interacting with “regular” police, who may not speak English or might be incompetent or corrupt, etc. Yes, it’s possible for tourist police to become involved if a tourist commits a crime, but really they’re there to aid tourists. To encourage tourism and tourism receipts.

Not in Egypt. Egypt has a very large “tourism and antiquities” police force, seemingly omnipresent, but they are not the helpful tourist police that travelers may have gotten used to in other countries. Nowhere have we met police, *tourist* police no less, whose job it seems to be not to aid tourists, but to harass them and otherwise get in their way, like the tourist police of Egypt. Even if the primary mission of the Egyptian tourist police is to deter terrorist acts against tourists, which have occurred with some frequency in Egypt [post to come], or there is a special concern in Egypt that tourists themselves may commit crimes (a relic of the days when tourists doubled as antiquities thieves), even then, the Egyptian tourist police should not be so useless to tourists, so negatively harassing.

1. Egyptian tourist police don’t speak English. Given that part of these people’s job description is to interact with tourists, wouldn’t it be useful if they were able to speak to tourists? Even superior officers frequently speak none or only a few words.

2. Egyptian tourist police beg for baksheesh. Now, petty bribery is common in many parts of the developing world, but nowhere have we seen police officers beg for tips. This is common behavior by tourist police at all Egyptian tourist sites. They ask for it in exchange for allowing you to enter restricted areas, for taking photos, for acting as informal guides or for doing nothing at all. Even a policeman guarding a police station asked us for a tip, with four other guards in earshot. Is this really the impression that the Egyptian government wants to give to tourists? That their police officers are beggars?

Acting as an informal guide

3. Egyptian tourist police may steal. I’m almost certain that I had my cell phone stolen during a security check at Philae Temple near Aswan. Most of the time, tourists are simply waved through security checks (perhaps too crude a profiling method), and so I didn’t pay too close attention to the guy going through my bag. Next time I looked–phone gone.

4. Egyptian tourist police are rude. Not only have tourist sites closed early because of Ramadan, but the guards close off sections of sites and try to have you out well in advance of even the early closing time. Given that admissions in Egypt are not cheap (often in excess of USD 10 per person), it is very upsetting, after you’ve paid for your ticket, to learn that much of the site is already closed or to be chased out early. After such an experience at the Egyptian Museum, I refused to leave until the proper Ramadan closing time, at which refusal all sorts of expletives and insults against my country were hurled at me and I was physically handled. Police may have threatened to detain or arrest us in other countries, but never have they stooped to this sort of base hostility, in this case for simply wanting to stay until the designated closing time.

One bizarre incident. We were visiting a small mosque in the “northern cemetery” region of Islamic Cairo. The mosque is famous–on one of the Egyptian bills–and a standard tourist attraction. When we showed up, a keeper of some sort started showing us around, as is usual, in expectation of a tip, or baksheesh. This was fine, especially since the mosque itself didn’t charge any admission. In the middle of our tour, the “guide” was called aside by a tourist policeman who had just entered, and returned to say that we had to leave because of the police. Now, there is no rule in Egypt that tourists cannot visit mosques (they actually make up a fair percentage of the sightseeing in Cairo), and this mosque was one that is quite prominently listed in guidebooks. We were mid-day, at no special time. Annoyed, we finished taking some pictures and exited, giving a few pounds to the custodian/guide at his request. The man then handed the money to the tourist police! You may think that forfeiting the baksheesh could have been some kind of punishment for showing us around, but not if you’ve been to Egypt. The most likely scenario was that the whole “chasing us out” was some sort of setup to encourage more tipping–to make us feel like we saw something that we weren’t “supposed” to see. Derek grabbed our money back.

13 thoughts on “Tourist Police

  1. We went to Egypt for 2 weeks last month. We stayed at Sharm and spent a day at Cairo at The Museum, Nile and The Pyramids.

    The Police seemed OK, we even had one permanently on guard at the hotel entrance 24/7 where we were staying, they were everywhere.

    The trip to the pyramids was a hassle though as everyone hassled us constantly while we were there and as soon as we got off the coach two tourist police came up and took our camera and took a pic of us then we had to give them money for it lol but we got a good picture.

  2. No offense, but you visited during Ramadan which is sort of a big deal in Egypt. The men are food deprived, sex deprived, controlled substance deprived, etc. and are bound to be more hassle than usual. I love Egypt but, for a non-muslim (and maybe muslims as as well), Ramadan can be [enter expletive].

  3. i am Egyptian , i am sorry for what i see here , about the bad experince people had in egypt .here some tips when you go to egypt.
    1- never give tips or (Bakshis)for services
    2- if someone try to be rude tell him shut up or you will send him to jail and he will runaway.
    3-study the area u going to visit and ask the people in the hotel about the prices ( cab, food, admisition fees , etc before u go out
    i live in USA now for 9 years , i know egypt is a good place to visit but has alot of corputions.

  4. Don't even f—ing get me started. Worst hawkers – and scariest tourist police – ever. I was amazed by the sites of Egypt but I just can't say that I "loved" them, as there were always police and hawkers loitering around.

  5. I've been to egypt many many times, it is wonderfull, in sharm el sheik, the police arnt as bad in Cairo. I had to ammit, at the airport, they all had AK-47's and pistols, thats a big shock as im from england, but i suprisingly feel safe.The problem for me was that we wernt allowed any pohotos. Yes, there are tourist police officers at your hotel near the entrance 24/7

  6. I am an Australan who came to Egypt to buy a yacht in Hurghada, on the Red sea in Egypt.
    I have travelled and lived in many parts of the world, but never in a muslim country.
    I have now been stuck in Hurghada for one year and still don't have my boat registered in my name.
    Let me be blunt an honest.
    The first week I was here I met a very nice English woman who had been swindled out of all the money she invested to buy a retirement appartment in Hurghada. (a very familiar story in Egypt.)
    She asked me what I hoped to learn in Egypt.
    I said I really didn't know.
    Then she said, "You will learn to hate."
    I didn't understand then, but I do now.
    Before I came to Egypt I never hated anybody.
    Now I hate these dirty, lying, thieving Arabs.
    I have yet to meet one honest Egyptian. Male or female.
    They are a very dirty, dumb and dishonest race of people.
    And I have lived many years in Latin America.
    I thought Mexicans were bad, but the Arabs are in a league of the own when it comes to deceit.
    My advice is; If you want to see the historical monuments, go in a group and have as little contact with the native Egyptians as possible.
    David.

  7. Just came back from Egypt. I totally agree with this post! The Egyptian tourist police are useless, money grabbing, corrupt individuals that ruin an awesome experience. I even had one try to charge me 50 pounds cause I had a 30cm tripod for my camera. He was such a bastard, he took it to the director who revoked our Egyptian tour guide's license until I paid. When I paid it was aparently only a 20 pound charge – which is corrupt in itself. Can't wait till I post up my youtube video of them in action. The evidence speaks for itself.

  8. That is in fact true. Now in Hurghada you dont see turism police as before. No police at all. Guys on streets are extra rude. Harasing tourists etc. And no tourism policemen speaks english. What is most surprising…. 126 the all Egypt hq tourism police hotline speak only Arabic! Whats the point of havving such organisation if in no way it helps or protects guests in their country….

  9. Für den Verwendung eines Lammfellsattels gibt es keine geradlinigen Beschränkungen, in Folge dessen ist er weitgehend für alle Pferderassen zweckmäßig. Da es Fellsättel in divergentsten Modifikationn gibt, mag er auch mühelos bei einem kleinen Pony eingesetzt werden. Es ist hingegen dennoch lohnenswert, die andersartigen Fabrikate der Hersteller miteinander zu kontrastieren. So bieten die Erzeuger Christ sowie Eclipse einen angenähten D-Ring für die Aufhängung der Steigbügel an, obgleich bei beispielsweise Grandeur die Steigbügel aufgeklettet werden.

  10. I completely agree with this post! I am in Egypt right now and a police officer harrassed my boyfriend yesterday in Cairo.

    Apparently there was a police officer who was not
    wearing their uniform refrained my boyfriend from walking away. He didn’t speak any English and he grabbed onto his bag, arm, and shoulders from preventing him on going anywhere.

    Because we were close to the police, we attempted to walk toward them. They did nothing when they saw what was happening.

    One police officer came by and asked what was going on. We explained to him that we didn’t know and this guy just came up to us and wouldn’t let him go. Turns out the man has an undercover police officer. Not a very good one, at least.

    I am infuriated by the situation because why would you stop someone that was trying to call an Uber. And then refrain him from walking away. He chose my boyfriend because he was carrying a camera. We were just walking!

    Luckily the other police officer apologized for his behavior and said they usually do not touch tourists or foreigners. Watching from afar, I’m disappointed to see that they were laughing about the situation when they have clearly pissed us off.

    This is one way to lower the amount of tourists in Egypt.

  11. After a string of stressful experiences with the Egyptian tourism police, I found your blog and couldn’t agree more with your points and some of the commenters here. We too have been targeted and harassed by the tourism police, both in Alexandria and in Cairo tourist sites when we were there for holidays. They forced themselves as informal guides and then demand money, they don’t speak a word of English anywhere, they pick and chose which tourists to harass, etc. In my case, I was travelling with my Egyptian husband, me being a foreigner, which made me think, stupidly, I would be more protected and relaxed. However, it seems, it sets them off even more! In most places we went, they harassed my husband for no reason! They start by asking details about me, about our life together, where do we live, etc. When my husband asks them why all these questions and why do they need all this info, they claim is to “protect tourists”. Why knowing about our personal life would help protecting me?!? In one of the tourist sites we visited they went so far as taking his ID in a threatening way and telling him to come back later to pick it up. He had to chase them and talk to a more senior officer to get his ID back. In another tourist site, the police forced himself as a guide (we had no choice in the matter, but we obviously didn’t want any guide), and then asked for money. Ironically, at no point they asked me for my passport! How is this protecting tourists if they are not even identifying me? Also, these checks were completely arbitrary as we visited two sites where the police did no checks at all and one other where they even said that if we are married, I could buy a ticket with an Egyptian price. We had no issues with the people from Egypt, but it is a challenge to deal with the tourism police. As you said, the police in Egypt is there to actually hinder tourism, not to support it or even less, to protect tourists. It seems they actually don’t want tourists in Egypt, that was my overall feeling when dealing with these people. It also felt a like they were xenophobic, like they don’t want foreigners in their country and get angry if Egyptians are with foreigners. I am surprised this was not yet reported in the international press, but I will make sure this is going to be talked so future tourists know what to expect from that country.

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