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That's So Heavy - Do You Have A Gun In There?


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It's hard to know how to answer such a question when first going through the security checkpoint at the hotel in Cairo. After all it's not every day a guard appears to be so flippant.

Metal and explosive detectors may make a visitor baulk initially, but that's perhaps an indication of just how important tourism is to this country's economy.

Past experience and present threats have left the authorities in no doubt as to how carefully that precious trade must be protected. And quite quickly it becomes a simple part of the visitor's routine to pass through a control - just in case.

Off-the cuff remarks don't normally go down too well with guards. So of course even though their ribbing at the heaviness of the holdall seemed good-natured enough, common sense advised playing it straight, and owning up to lugging around an overweight laptop instead.

Strictly speaking there had already been a frisking of sorts as the taxi from the airport pulled into the hotel “compound. " It was engine off and a quick reconnoiter by a guard and his dog before being waved on to drive the remaining 600 meters.

So security, police and checkpoints seem to be a given here in Egypt.

Police are everywhere - at least in the capital. Whizzing past public buildings on the main avenues, their presence isn't too unexpected. That is after all what can be found in many major cities anywhere in the world.

But Cairo seems to post additional clusters of differently-uniformed officers on most street corners,

Then of course there are the multitude of traffic police - out in force at each and every crossing and roundabout, vigorously waving their directions while chatting with passing drivers. Once again it all comes across as too good-humored to be taken seriously.

Guaranteed full employment it would appear as the traffic lights, which should be controlling the flow seem to be set permanently flashing on amber, with motorists and pedestrians competing against each other for priority.

And of course who can forget the tourist police. They are huddled around every major monument ancient and modern, once again coming in quadruple packs with three watching and one checking as visitors file through the detector.

And there's a thing. With belts, bags, cameras, mobile phones and all manner of metal passing through, the poor machine seems to be on beeping overload as the hoards make their way ever onwards. Not an eyelid is batted by those ever-vigilant law enforcers. Clearly everyone in principal is a potential suspect, but at the same time they all make the security grade.

Similarly the smooth passage through the airport when alarms shrieked as baggage and passenger went through the detector seemed to attract only cursory attention.

All right so there was a brief frisk from one of the - yet again several does it really take so many - guards, but it seemed to be more of a bored formality than a serious search.

Perhaps it was also because it was a domestic flight terminal only, but all the same it came as quite a surprise and leaves room for thought. As does the fact that last-minute passengers managed to scoot past the final security check with full bottles of water in their carry-on.

So that was security for what it's worth in and around Cairo. Full of good intentions and certainly the sheer numbers to enforce whatever controls might be deemed necessary. But there's also a sense of awareness that the tourist doesn't want, or need, to be harassed constantly.

Johnny Summerton is a Paris-based broadcaster, writer and journalist specialising in politics, sport and travel. For more on what's making the headlines in France log on to


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