Thursday, February 6, 2014

A journey to Sinai, or: A party on a bus!

The last time I was in Egypt I left before I had the chance to come to the Sinai. This time it worked out. The last few days I spent in Dahab in South Sinai. Just like anywhere in Egypt it isn't considered the safest place right now. Getting on the bus from Cairo I therefore expected to be worried. I was prepared by many to expect a hell ride. Now I took the train across India, a bus from Nakuru to Mombasa, Kenya that was basically so broken down it could catch fire any second and many, many Ryanair flights so you could argue I have been on a fair share of hell rides in my days. To my surprise I then got on a modern and spacious bus I couldn't believe would give me a bad experience. The comfortable patted chair I sat on didn't compare to the wooden bench I had to share with two staring Kenyan men on that bus in Kenya or the crowded compartment on the train in India before. I thought this wasn't going to be that bad.

So I have to admit it wasn't a hell ride whatsoever but I still have so much to comment on. I'm going to defy all rules and won't save the best for last. My favorite occurrence must have been at close to three in the morning when, for entertainment purposes, the speakers blasted "Let's get loud" out of all songs for those of us who are bored. Because, I have come to realize, Egyptians will sleep through anything. I'm not that lucky. Thankfully I hadn't forgotten my ear plugs and of course I was shattered so I managed alright. It was more of a funny situation than a massively annoying one. Obviously J.Lo was accompanied by a lot of Egyptian artists whose singing was much more annoying however I don't know if they were also singing about having a loud party on a bus at three in the morning. I somehow doubt it.

More annoying, and also much more disturbing, were the music videos by the government shown on a TV screen on the bus; basic pop songs about the greatness of Egypt and the military, and of course the fantastically successful revolution (see earlier post), visually supported by footage of the Egyptian troops kicking butt. No matter what anyone's opinion of the current political situation is in Egypt these videos were propaganda and nothing else. Even a military supporter will spot the idolization of a governmental body that is questionable for a democratization process. I had never seen anything like it. That greatness of the military could then be self-assessed by all listeners on the bus once we got close to Suez.

Before entering Sinai every passenger had to get off the bus, claim their bags and stand in a line while half a dozen soldiers with heavy machinery inspected passports and led a dog through the line to detect what you would expect is a weapon. Naturally, children were no exemptions. However, my sister shared her sentiment that all they were really looking for were some drugs to brighten up their own day. Whether that's too cynic or not, the whole process was more than pointless, not solely to the fact that the soldiers weren't doing a very thorough job. Some people stayed on the bus, some bags were never claimed. If they were looking for bombs I'd expect a different approach. For all I know I could have easily smuggled all kinds of things to Dahab and back and I went through all their checks.

On the way back to Cairo from Dahab we exchanged the public bus for a privately hired minibus. Although this is how most people get kidnapped in the Sinai we made it to Cairo without a scratch, and in perfect mental health as we were able to listen to our own music, read a book or snooze in silence. However, we had to hit five (!!!) checkpoints in which we had to present our passports to a soldier with a machine gun. The question why this needs to happen is absolutely impossible to answer even for me who values security and shows understanding for procedures like that. Next to the streets I spotted a tank here and there with a soldier or two sitting on top, pointing their weapons to a target in the sky. Now we get nervous in Germany about a police officer to be around when we're jaywalking. In Egypt, beside the fact that traffic lights are for decoration only, you can't get nervous about the presence of the forces. Where there is no officer, there's a poster of one, and that will only get worse after the military government has cemented their power.

In the last six years since I've been to Egypt the traveling methods have definitely changed. This comes as no surprise to me since six years ago we weren't traveling in a failed revolutionary country. The lack of efficiency, however, is a shock to me, especially being German and all. The security measures all seemed very badly organized and served no purpose in my eyes. I support security measures, however, Egypt's current government must believe that prohibiting conflict is sufficient to prevent conflict. And scaring people off, of course. I doubt that they will have the long term success with that they're hoping for.

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