On January 26, my husband, Mike, and I set off on a Smith Travel trip to Egypt with a planned extension to Jordan. The trip’s itinerary was quite wonderful, with several days in Cairo, cruises on the Nile River and Lake Nasser, and visits to Alexandria, Aswan, Luxor, Amman, and Petra.
We left the United States knowing that demonstrations had already been planned in Egypt for National Police Day, and most experts agreed that there would be a single-day demonstration and then everyone would go back to work. The following days, of course, did not unfold as expected.
We arrived in Cairo safely on Thursday, but were told pretty quickly that our itinerary had been changed because of growing unrest in the city. We were able to have a half day of sightseeing on Friday, and were then rushed back to our hotel by 1 p.m. We were not allowed to leave again until we made the drive to the airport Sunday morning. It was a very surreal situation. We were in a lovely modern hotel right on the edge of Tahrir Square, where the major demonstrations were taking place. So we were comfortable, eating good meals, but down below the police were throwing tear gas at protesters, and over the weekend the army troops were in the area with tanks.
The most emotional moment for me occurred when demonstrators, moving to confront the police on the Kasr El Nile Bridge, dropped to their knees in prayer, in spite of air filled with tear gas. It was an incredible image, and I found myself in tears.
By Friday afternoon, shops were closed; then monuments and museums closed, and food and gas became scarce. There had been some looting, and the police had disappeared, so the local people formed their own groups to protect family, friends, and property. Others were out picking up the litter from the demonstrations, because Egypt is their country. The uprising seemed to have broad-based support from men and women of all ages and backgrounds. The marchers seemed to feel, for the first time in thirty years, that they had a voice and strength. Many held Egyptian flags aloft.
On the practical side, we were very lucky to get out. The ride to the airport was a bit like a scene out of a low-budget film—ten or so of us in a battered white minibus, with luggage tied to the top, squeezing by army tanks and inching through traffic jams. The airport was crowded and chaotic, and for a while we were afraid we would not get on the plane, even with tickets. We were hours late getting to JFK, but we were very, very lucky. The travel agency did a fabulous job, and our group of travelers was flexible and positive.
Mike and I want to go back to Egypt sometime. For now, we hope the very best for the Egyptian people. We liked those we were lucky enough to meet, and have tremendous respect for the way the protesters are conducting themselves.