By Emily Abbott

Home to the only one of the seven wonders of the Ancient World still in existence, Egypt is a country endowed with a rich cultural heritage and beautiful landscape and coastline. Whether visiting Cairo –  Egypt’s bustling yet charmingly enticing capital city – or spending a week at one of Egypt’s many seaside resorts, Egypt can provide the perfect destination for a holiday. However, visitors must be aware of local laws and customs. Over 300,000 British nationals visited Egypt over the past year, and while most visits were trouble-free, exceptional cases of tourists disobeying local rules have resulted in arrest and lengthy prison sentences.

As a predominantly Islamic country, it is important to respect local customs including dressing modestly. This is especially relevant when travelling in rural areas, mosques and souqs (markets). Souqs are treasure troves of ornate jewellery, strongly-smelling perfumes and all the pyramid keyrings you can ever want. While definitely worth a trip, dressing appropriately is essential as a sign of respect to locals. The Foreign Office advises that women ensure legs and upper arms are covered and that men cover their chests. Public displays of affection are also frowned upon and while homosexuality is not illegal, charges of ‘debauchery’ were used to prosecute 66 individuals involved in the flying of a rainbow flag at a concert in September 2017. Limiting any public display of affection will therefore prevent any unwelcome attention and, in more extreme cases, arrest.

Numbers of visitors to Egypt in May and June will increase with the school half-term and warmer weather. This year this coincides with the holy month of Ramadan that will take place from the 15th May to the 14th June.  It is advisable to avoid crowded places and gatherings around religious sites and during festivals, including Ramadan. Local Egyptian authorities and travel companies should be happy to provide advice regarding which areas are best avoided by tourists, which can reduce any potential incidents if followed. Currently the Foreign Office advises against all travel to the Governorate of North Sinai and against all but essential travel to the Governorate of South Sinai with the exception of the Sharm el Sheikh area, which is built up and used to large numbers of tourists. Being aware of what substances carried when travelling around Egypt is important, given that Egyptian law differs from UK laws about what is legal. Drinking alcohol in streets or non-licensed areas, for example, can lead to arrest. Possession, use or trafficking of illegal drugs can also lead to lengthy prison sentences.

Upon arrest, the attitude of Egyptian police has been reported by various European individuals as harsh and abusive. One Irish national who was arrested at the age of 17 when on holiday in Egypt in 2013 recounted the torture he viewed and experienced during his time in various prisons. Physical punishment included being stripped naked, beaten with a bar and put in solitary confinement in tiny spaces. In general, severe overcrowding is an issue common to all Egyptian prisons, with buildings allegedly filled to over three times their capacity, resulting in prisoners sleeping with hardly enough room to lie down or move.

Egypt remains a more than worthwhile destination to visit and the number of incidents leading to imprisonment are minimal relative to the thousands of British nationals who enjoy their holidays to Egypt annually. Staying informed and being aware of local laws and customs helps ensure a more peaceful holiday to explore this wonderful country, free of any undesirable situations.