By STUART J.D. SCHWARTZSTEIN
Published October 06. 2013 4:00AM
Is Cairo dangerous? Not that I could see when I was there. And not that other Westerners, Middle Easterners and Egyptians that I know or have met there saw. There is, of course, a big exception for those who participate or get caught up in pro-Morsi, anti-regime demonstrations and/or are members of the Muslim Brotherhood. Still, there was (and most likely still is) a strong sense of unease and fear in Cairo that violence could, again, erupt.
The Egyptian military does have firm control, but some of the opposition - some Morsi supporters and some members of the Muslim Brotherhood particularly - seem to think that continued demonstrations and even violence (some of it directed at Coptic Christians) could alter the current state of affairs. (They'd be better off putting their faith in the tooth fairy: it should be remembered that the great majority of Egyptians are very glad that Morsi's inept and Islamist government is gone.)
I went to Cairo primarily to see my son, Peter, who's now living there. He went out in April mostly to study Arabic and because it's one of the Middle Eastern countries he hadn't visited before. But when anti-Morsi government demonstrations erupted and when Morsi was ousted and more demonstrations resulted, he returned to freelance journalism and has been writing for a few different publications including The Atlantic and the National Geographic. Although I knew that violence can spillover and does not always spare those who are not involved - and that there could be some dangers to Westerners and, particularly, journalists - having a sense that Peter was fairly prudent and living in a fairly quiet and well guarded part of Cairo, I wasn't overly worried. (But if I knew then what I know now about what he was doing to report on events I'd have lost sleep!)
Cairo is now, for the most part, calm and although there are some tensions from what I saw there is little reason for anyone to worry about travel there at this time. (The Sinai is another matter.) I didn't just stay in a five-star hotel but walked around a number of districts of Cairo with Peter and we felt not a bit of hostility from Egyptians. Rather, I found what in my experience (and this was my third visit to Cairo) was the polite and warm welcome I've found before. But, given that most tourists are risk-averse, tourism in Egypt is unlikely to return until there's a long period of calm.
Evidently tourism constitutes about 7 percent of the Egyptian economy, with a particularly big impact on Cairo. The economy there has suffered terribly. In addition, the political instability has discouraged foreign investment, also important for the economy. What Egypt now needs most is a period of stability during which tourism can return and the government can address the many, many economic problems of the country. I'm somewhat optimistic that the military regime will govern Egypt far more effectively than did the Morsi government, providing that much-needed period of calm.
Back now, I can't imagine a greater contrast than between Cairo and Stonington. I'm reminded of the comment supposedly made by a theatre-goer in Victorian England after a performance of Antony and Cleopatra: "How different from the home life of our own dear queen."
Stuart J. D. Schwartzstein lives in Stonington.