The University of Edinburgh has recently recalled all nine of their students studying in Egypt back to the UK, following the detainment of two Edinburgh students in Cairo.
The students have since been released but the reasons for their arrest remain unclear. The exchange students were undertaking Arabic language programmes in the American University of Cairo and the International Language Institute. A University of Edinburgh spokesperson told the BBC: “We have a responsibility to act in the best interests of our students and to take decisive action when there are concerns for their safety and wellbeing.”
Whether you are on a year abroad, a placement, or a holiday, being aware of local laws and how they can differ from your home country is crucial for your safety. The recall of students from Egypt serves as a reminder of the real consequences of not doing so. From visas and medications, to protests and street surveys, planning ahead for a trip to Egypt can help you to respect local laws and customs.
I spoke to Hanya Hassan, a postgraduate student at the University of Manchester who lived in Egypt until the age of six and visited every summer for a couple of months, who shared some handy tips on what to be aware of in Egypt.
First on the list to remember, is that some painkillers and other medicines that are legal in the UK are under the illegal drug category in Egypt, such as Co-codamol. This means that some medications will require you to bring a medical certificate in the form of an official letter from your GP. TravelHealthPro website provides more detailed advice on travelling with medicine as well as guidelines on vaccinations. Without one of these, medications can be confiscated and you may be prosecuted.
Hanya also recommends avoiding street surveys on any form of political topics. For example, answering a survey about future revolutions can incite suspicion of threatening the security of the country and could result in a transfer to a trial. Additionally, be delicate in asking detailed questions or unusual information in museums related to pharaohs or pharaonic history. This can potentially arouse suspicion surrounding the smuggling of ancient Egyptian artefacts, given their importance and value. If in doubt, the Foreign Commonwealth Office (FCO) recommends following the advice of Egyptian authorities, many of whom are stationed at important sites and tourist destinations around the country.
An estimated 415,000 British nationals visited Egypt in 2018, and restrictions on flights between the UK and Sharm el Sheikh have recently been lifted. If you are travelling from the UK, you will usually need a visa to enter Egypt, which you can get from the Visa2Egypt portal or your nearest Egyptian consulate. Don’t forget that your passport will need to be valid for a minimum of six months from the date of your entry into the country.
Wherever you travel, an awareness of how laws and cultures differ will help ensure a safe, trouble-free trip. If you’re unsure about where to find out about local laws and customs, country-specific guidelines for Egypt can be found the government’s website under foreign travel advice.