Alexandria Security FAQ
Below is a report on Safety in Alexandria, from Mike Godwin.
With the valuable assistance of Delphine and the local Wikimania team in Alexandria, I have attempted to assemble a security FAQ for Wikimania attendees at Wikimania 2008 at the Bibliotheca Alexandrina. In particular, what follows is an attempt to give general answers to most of the security questions that were asked on foundation-l regarding security issues at the site.
1. Will all Wikimania events take place inside the Library of Alexandria?
The short answer to this question is no. There will be at least two other events -- parties -- that will take place elsewhere. One party will be held for regular attendees to gather the community and that most probably will be in a private club in open air beside the Alexandria airport on the highway. The other party will be for "VIP" people and sponsors, and will be in one of two places -- one downtown and one on the seaside. Both places are known to be safe for tourists and receive such visitors all over the year. Note from Mike: The message we consistently got from the Egyptian consulate is that Alexandria is very tourist-friendly and that many local citizens will seize the opportunity to come up and speak with Wikimanians to try out their English (or other languages).
2. What percentage of events will take place elsewhere?
The local team estimates 20 to 30 percent of events will take place elsewhere.
3. Where will attendees/speakers be staying?
Either in 3 hotels (Windsor (for speakers only), Metropol, Delta) in downtown Alexandria, 15 minutes walk from the Library, or in in Saint Marc dormitories, 5 minutes walking from BA (in the other direction). (See also map to right). Attendees who do not wish to stay at one of the three conference hotels or in the dorms will be able to book alternatives online.
4. Will there be transportation between housing and events?
No, walking around this area is pretty safe (walked every day by lots of tourists) and they can shop, watch some attractions of Alexandria, like Raml station, mosques, beautiful old buildings on the way.
5. How will security needs be addressed?
Our advice from the consulate was that, so long as an event has a local sponsor (as we have with the Library), the sponsor and local police will coordinate security needs. So it remains important to work closely with the Library to inform them if special arrangements need to be made (if, for example, there's an event with a large number of VIPs attending).
6. What kind of security arrangements will be made with regard to transportation to and from Wikimania events?
In cases where transportation is required, the local partner will normally arrange with local police to have a police car accompanying moving shuttles with tourists. If told in advance, police will provide this for any buses at any time.
7. Are there kinds of public behavior, otherwise acceptable in many other cultures, that ought to be avoided in Alexandria?
The short answer from the local team is this: "Kissing in public, regardless of sex, is the only taboo around here."
8. Is there any need for attendees to travel in groups?
No, says the local team.
9. Are there religious issues or expressions that should be avoided?
One report from the local team: "wearing [a yarmulke] or a large [Star of David], considering the current circumstances, will make Jews stand out, which may not be very good. This said, Jews have been moving safely and freely around Egypt. However, considering the current escalation of the situation in Israel/Palestine, flaunting such religious symbols may result (at worst) in harassment, I don't know if this situation will continue till the conference or not."
10. Are there any issues with how members of religious minorities, sexual-orientation minorities (e.g., lesbians, gays, bisexuals), or racial minorities present themselves? Should female attendees be alert to any issues of self-presentation that might disturb Egyptians?
From the local team: "For Females, Just to not be overly liberal in dress code, shorts are ok, bikinis are not." Note from Mike: We got essentially the same advice from the consulate. Typical Western clothing is understood to be acceptable for women, just so long as it is not overly revealing or provocative. The INTERNATIONAL STUDENTS HANDBOOK has lots of photos of students, men and women, in western dress. There is also advice about what to pack (travel light or you'll be spending time in the customs office).
11. Has there been contact with the Egyptian government regarding security issues for an international conference?
(There definitely has now! ;) The folks at the consulate in SF are big Wikipedia fans, it turns out.
12. Apart from notifying one's own country's embassy about travel in the region, what notifications should be made (in advance or otherwise) to the Egyptian government regarding one's travel to the conference?
Get a tourist visa. You can get one by mail, but it takes weeks -- you should think about getting one now. If there is a Egyptian consulate where you are, however, you may be able to get a tourist visa in as little as a day.
13. What am I forgetting?
Lots of stuff, but it's mainly well-detailed in the INTERNATIONAL STUDENTS HANDBOOK (see link below). Read carefully the section on getting health insurance for your travel -- that's pretty much a standard requirement. I hope this short FAQ goes a long way in answering basic security questions about upcoming Wikimania. Please feel free to recirculate, repost, wikify, or whatever.
14. Final note from Mike
In the course of my research about Wikimania 2008 security concerns, I've found an excellent resource that I want to share with all of you. When Kul Wadhwa and I met with the Egyptian consulate in San Francisco, the consul recommended to us the American University in Cairo website as an introduction for foreign travellers, and it is in fact a great website here . But of particular interest to Wikimanians (who presumably won't be taking courses and worried about the class schedule) is a PDF publication, INTERNATIONAL STUDENT HANDBOOK, which can be found and downloaded here. Of course, Alexandria is a different city from Cairo, but the issues for a foreign national trying to get a quick understanding of urban Egyptian culture are the essentially the same. The handbook covers most issues in detail, from what kind of clothing to bring to the obtaining of health insurance and tourist visas. Even if you think you know all you need to know about travelling in Egypt, a pass through this relatively short handbook will likely answer some questions you haven't thought to ask yet. I highly recommend it.