The Sinai, and Egypt in general, used to be one of the safest places in the world, but this reputation has changed significantly since the revolution in 2011. News of riots on mainland Egypt and threats of terrorism in the Sinai are constantly in the news. While it is true there are some serious problems in the country, the situation is not as bad as the media makes it sound. As long as visitors keep to some rules, the chances of anything bad happening are very slim. Always check your government’s advice and your insurance company’s small print, but also read other sources to get a balanced view.
Violent demonstrations and riots only happen in big cities on mainland Egypt, and apart from Cairo and Alexandria none of them is a tourist destination. Demonstrations usually take place in certain parts of the cities, like Tahrir square in Cairo, and they are known in advance so locals can give advice if there is any, and how to avoid it if so. In any country it is wise to keep away from noisy crowds, and as long as you keep to this basic rule you should be fine in Egypt too. Crimes such as robbery are still rare, but do keep your wits about you. Unfortunately harassment of women has increased in cities, but it is still more verbal in nature than physical. If it’s a minor thing ignore it and walk away, but if necessary raise your voice and ask for help. Again, harassment is more likely to happen in crowds, so avoid those places.
In the Sinai there has never been a single riot, as you see in mainland Egypt. There have been some noisy but non-violent demonstrations in some cities, El Arish and El Tor mostly, but there hasn’t been any significant demonstration in tourist destinations. A form of protest that sometimes affects visitors is the blocking off main roads. It is inconvenient in the unlikely case it happens, but nothing more serious than that.
Terrorism is a threat the media keeps on repeating virtually on a daily basis. While there is certainly some truth to it, the troubles are concentrated in a very small corner of the Sinai in the north, in the area around El Arish, Raffa and the border with Gaza, hundreds of miles from the tourist destinations of South Sinai. No terrorist attack was aimed at tourists in recent times, attacks are aimed at the Egyptian government. Who these terrorists are, where they are from or how many they are is unclear, but it is probably a small group of people in the Gaza border area in the north. It is quite worrying, but at least this problem seems to be very isolated far from tourist areas.
Unfortunately there was a series of kidnappings by Bedouin tribesmen a few years ago, but it seems to have stopped. Kidnappings have never been for money or ideological reasons, but to demand the release of jailed family members. Kidnapped tourists have always been released fast and treated well, some have actually claimed to be sympathetic with the Bedouin’s cause. Still it is a serious matter, but hopefully it is over now. The army has a stronger presence and there were tribal meetings where the sheikhs of various Bedouin tribes agreed to stop the practice. Nevertheless, in the Sinai the best is to get around with transport driven by a Bedouin driver. All kidnapped tourists were taken from tour buses or cars driven by an Egyptian or foreigner, as no kidnapper wants to involve another Bedouin as it could become a serious inter-tribal matter. According to tribal law visitors are guests of their guides and the communities they visit, and the more someone is off the main tourist path the more true it is.
Crime, unfortunately, has increased in the Sinai, but by and large the Peninsula is still safer than most countries in the world. Robberies aimed at tourists are virtually unheard of; on the other hand petty theft and house break-ins are on the rise. Still, theft is not a serious problem: haggling or overcharging is, but theft is not part of Egyptian culture. Use common sense and the likelihood of becoming a victim will be minimal.
The bottom line is, nobody can guarantee anything 100% but there is no need to be paranoid. Get up-to-date information from different sources, from the internet and from locals, and make up your mind accordingly. Let’s hope in the long run the more peaceful times return – in the meanwhile enjoy that there are no crowds.