Thursday, 17 February 2011

“Pleased to meet you, hope you guess my name”

Locked up on the way to El Alamein (13th of Feb)

As the “revolution” is over everything has become better already, at least according to most locals and tourist industry. Hence, we decided to kill a few days going to El Alamein to see the war cemetery and museum and camp out in the dessert.

In the western outskirts of Alexandria there is massive traffic jam and while standing still in a junction guy in military uniform comes and try to communicate us to stop, without speaking a word English. Soon some police in civilian clothes show up, speaking English. And of course, the civilians’ mob quickly gathers.

Within ten minutes I assume there is again between 2-300 spectators, helping the police and army, by demanding a thorough examination and suggesting what kind of spies we are, some quite aggressive. A doctor is present, and tries to calm down us, the army and the crowd. “Don’t be afraid, we’re in an emergency so we need to check you but won’t hurt you. We’re generous and nice people.” I need to get to El Alamein, not getting comfort about a crowd of cowards that are more a threat of making me a racist than hurting me.

Soon the mob is so big and out of control that the army has to retreat with us. To get us and the bikes out the soldiers and officers actually load their Kalashnikovs and hand guns, waiving uncontrolled. At least they get rid of them. First they want us to leave the bikes and jump into a car with them and lose track of where we are and our equipment. No way will we leave the bikes there, so after a big argument they let us go with the bikes.

A kilometer down the street we park next to a M1 Abe tank, and the army has a office in the building. Same stupid questions all over again. They search the bikes and our pockets, even going through all the pictures on the memory cards. I lose track of how many different people look at the passport and ask our nationality at the same time, a good number of them holding the passport upside down while examining them.

Then they start the search all over again and do some frightful finds: one pocket knife, one German paratrooper knife (10 cm blade), 8 flares for animal warning while camping (each containing something like 2 gram of phosphor), to writable CDs, some memory cards and a spare battery and charger for a laptop. This takes about two hours, and probably made them happy as they called of the search half way through the boxes.

At this point there is a big mob gathered again, so they decide on going to an army camp. Each of us have to take an officer on our bikes, and mine is waiving his 9mm hand gun frantically all the time when driving. I would not mind if he could control his gun, but he can’t.

Sometimes he’s pointing at his legs, sometimes at cars and pedestrians, sometimes in the air and sometimes at my head at 6 inch distance. The gun is loaded and the safety off. I scold him several times for it, tells him to either control the gun or to put it away. Every time he says he’s sorry, but forgets himself after some seconds. The road is bumpy and we’re stopping and going all the time, I just await an accidental shot and just hope it does not comes my direction.

We visit two army camps before one will let us in; obviously they are not organized at all. When we are finally let into one they speak to the officer in charge, showing him the dangerous items they have confiscated.

The officer in charge does not even greet us, just order us locked up. The take us to a small house and shut the door with a big bolt from the outside. Inside, two kids aged about 12 years is sitting in a corner, tied with their hands on their backs. They look dirty and beat up. On the wall there’s a picture of the army’s chain of command with Mubarak on top.
The window is halfway open, I fully open it and send the soldier that just locked the door an ironic grin. He seems embarrassed and makes and angry gesture to make me shut it.

After a half hour the banana-benders have found a translator as they don’t speak English themselves. Explaining why we got knives and flares all over again. They say they have to keep the flares and knives, but we’re free to go.

It’s getting dark soon so we don’t have time to argue much more, so we say that’s ok but they have to give us a receipt so we can bring up the issue with the correct authorities. This is met with total refusal and it’s now clearly turned into a matter of corruption and collecting souvenirs from tourists. They are not so confident anymore.

The arguing about the receipt goes on and we get nowhere with it. We need to get out before it’s getting dark, and am a bit pissed after four hours with them. We just say fuck this, and tell them to give us the knives and we’ll break the blades and keep the handles our self. Obviously disappointed they can’t argue much about this, though they try.

We head back to the hotel Alexandria. To the degree I ever had any respect or faith in the Egyptian army and police the last bit of it is gone now. I just wish them all good luck and sit tight till my ferry takes me to Italy in a few days.


This is the dangerous items confiscated, beside a match to show the size. The Paratrooper was packed intto a box in the bottom of Klaus' sidecar, hence totally unavailiable. I could have slight understanding of the action if it was concealed on the body, but in this case it would take 20 minutes to dig out. Note the knife is now dismantled, and the blade of the pocket knife is broken off. At least they didn't get anything out of their actions.

This is how the army like to be seen, and is pretty much the case in Alexandria now. However, when you get a little bit away from where media and foreigners are present the story is quite different.


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