Updated: May 28
On Sunday, January 23 I returned from a journey to Egypt, just days before the unrest sparked by Tunisia erupted into major protests on the streets of Cairo. I arrived in Egypt on January 9th, two days before joining a group tour run by Wilderness Travel. The day before the official tour began, my husband, Glen, and I walked to the Giza pyramids on our own. It was on that day that I learned that Egypt's "tourism" police had photography skills.
Tourism police watch the monuments of Egypt. At times, there seems to be an excess of police assigned to a particular post. I'm inclined to be on my best behavior around police, particularly foreign ones. Didn't some tourist in the USA get killed because he ran from the police instead of obeying their commands? So when two tourism police motioned for me and Glen to walk over to them, we did. It turns out that they wanted to give us some photography advice.
One of the cops pointed to a spot and motioned for me to take a photo. I had already taken dozens of photos of the Great Pyramid and really didn't want another one, but I appeased him. Then he motioned for me to give him my camera and proceeded to take several photos of me and Glen in a variety of police-directed poses. He and his buddy had us raise our hands, first separately and then together. I couldn't figure out what they were doing. Finally I said "enough!" I really didn't want any of these photos. I took my camera back and walked away.
The two police quickly pursued us and insisted we give them money for the service of taking photos. We handed them the smallest bill we had—a 10 pound note, and walked away. Take a look at the photo. Do you think it was worth it? Now I understand the strange poses!
After that, other police tried the same thing, but I refused to acknowledge them. The police annoyed me so much that I finally put on sunglasses and looked straight ahead to avoid eye contact. To be fair, the police weren't the only ones playing photography consultant. The Giza pyramids were full of horse and camel riders who were as persistent and annoying as flies at a picnic. If I had taken everyone's "advice" who approached me, I'd be out at least $50 USD.
The police trapped us once more, inside a small tomb on the back side of one of the pyramids, a little off the beaten path. While we were inside looking around, a tourism police approached us with some "helpful advice" to crouch into a small passageway that led to a sarcophagus. I sensed this would cost a "tip" so I responded that I wasn't interested. After walking around the tomb, the cop approached again, insisting that it was safe to enter the small passageway. Safety wasn't my concern; I didn't want to get shaken down for more money. He continued to insist and my curiosity got the best of me. When I crawled out of the passageway after viewing the sarcophagus (which was very cool), he asked me for money. I threw up my hands, said "I have no money", and walked quickly out of the tomb. Glen did the same.
Someone told me that the Egyptian police are not paid very much. Perhaps that's why the police give photography and sightseeing "advice" to earn more money.
Egypt is full of poverty and illiteracy. I could sense the hopeless lethargy in the air when I was there. I'm not surprised at the events unfolding this week.