Gallup’s recently published annual Global Law and Order poll places Egypt the safest country in Africa and 16th out of 135 countries in terms of personal safety on par with Denmark, Austria and the Netherlands. Down the scale comes the United Kingdom (21st) and the United States which ranked 35th. Respondents were asked how they felt walking around after dark and whether they had ever been assaulted or mugged among other pertinent questions.
The result came as no surprise to those of us who live in the most populous Arab country which admittedly has a long road ahead to catch-up to Singapore, the United Arab Emirates, Norway and Iceland security-wise. News reports posted on social media attracted thousands of responses from Egyptians and expatriates, the vast majority concurring with Gallup’s findings.
“Everything in life is about perception,” wrote Jan Davidson, a British teacher based in Alexandria, on Facebook. “I walk around Alex after midnight and never felt in danger. I stopped walking the streets of London alone at night 20 years ago. I’ve also walked downtown Cairo and taken the metro alone at night too. Again, feel very safe.” Her experience is echoed by most other foreign residents, including yours truly.
Evidently, the UK government has not got the message or, more likely, refuses to heed it. Almost three years after a Russian passenger plane en route to St Petersburg crashed in the desert 23 minutes from the Egyptian Red Sea resort town of Sharm Al Shaikh, Britain still has not lifted its flight ban, one that contributed towards crippling Egypt’s tourist industry currently enjoying a mega recovery.
The British prime minister should be more concerned about the rise in crime on her own doorstep than the security of UK citizens in Egypt. London’s murder rate has overtaken New York’s for the first time in history with more than 74 murders committed this year alone besides acid and knife attacks, many carried out by drug gangs. Sad to say my hometown is being dubbed ‘Lawless London’.
As travellers will surely attest, security at all Egyptian airports is now extremely stringent. They are arguably now among the safest on the planet. More than $80 million (Dh293.6 million) has been invested in state-of-the-art baggage scanners, closed-circuit televisions and metal detectors alone. Airport personnel are routinely vetted.
Egypt under the steady hand of President Abdul Fatah Al Sissi has come a long way since the tumultuous aftermath of the 2011 revolution hijacked by the Muslim Brotherhood which released tens of thousands of terrorists and criminals from prisons. Those were among the darkest days in the country’s history eliciting ordinary people to set-up neighbourhood watches to protect their homes armed with rudimentary weapons.
In response to the ousting of the Brotherhood’s president, Al Qaida and Daesh terrorists flocked to northern Sinai joining arms with a Brotherhood-spawned group Ansar Beit Al Maqdis that later changed its name to Sinai Province. Their goal was to launch attacks on security forces and civilians, especially Coptic Christians, in major cities to bring the economy to its knees by deterring investors and tourists.
Four months ago, the Egyptian military launched concerted operations involving the Air Force, the Navy, the Army and Special Forces, a major deployment that has been successful although not without sacrifice. Dozens of military personnel have lost their lives in the process. On Friday, the president hosted an event for the children of those whose lives were robbed and at times appeared overcome with emotion. On the same day he pardoned 3,477 prisoners.
Local residents have had their lives disrupted. Many whose homes lay within the buffer zone between Egypt and Gaza, created to stop the smuggling of weapons, have had to be re-housed. The president hopes to declare northern Sinai terrorist-free by the end of this year when plans to improve standards of living and implement development projects, including four new cities, will begin.
Economy-wise, Egypt has emerged from intensive care; its foreign reserves are at their highest ever and the World Bank forecasts growth to hit 5.3 per cent during the fiscal year 2017/2018. Challenges remain, not least the rapid population growth that negatively impacts economic reforms. Greater foreign investment is needed and certainly the fact that Egypt is perceived as safe should inspire greater confidence.
Linda S. Heard is an award-winning British political columnist and guest television commentator with a focus on the Middle East.