Countless foreign tourists visit Egypt each year, dodging the importuning hawkers to trudge round Cairo’s marvellous Egyptian Museum or the Pyramids of Giza, towards which the city’s housing sprawl approaches. The city of twenty million runs the whole gamut from luxury apartments to sewerless slums in which there are some one million homeless ‘street children’. Everywhere the tourist ventures there are men in dark suits from which the clips of submachine guns protrude when they sit for a break, interspersed with the more lackadaisical Antiquities Police in white uniforms with a cigarette in one hand, rifle in the other. Along the capital’s Nile embankments, practically every street corner has a metal shield with a small aperture cut into it, behind which sit more men with guns, whom you will again encounter in more discreet guise after passing through the metal detectors in the entrances of the better hotels in the city.
This highly visible security is necessary, although one wonders how many innocent people might die at the hands of jittery policemen, even though tourists are treated like fragile objects. In November 1997 fifty-nine tourists were killed by terrorists in the Temple of Hatshepsut in Luxor. Among those hacked or shot