Friday, September 26, 2008

A Geography Lesson

Last weekend a group of tourists were abducted by a group of armed men in southwestern Egypt. The initial reports in the papers online were enough to make me want to tear my hair out. Headlines of "Tourists Kidnapped in Aswan" gave the world a totally incorrect view of what had happened. Amid much confusion, the story is finally coming out, even if the the tourists have not.

Apparently a group of 11 tourists from Italy, Germany and Romania hired a desert safari company to take them to Gilf el Kabir, a remote area of the Libyan desert in the southwest corner of Egypt. This is not an expedition to be taken lightly at all. The area was only first explored thoroughly by Ahmed Hassenein Bey who wrote an article for National Geographic in 1924.

Modern explorers use SUV's in convoy in order to carry the enormous amount of supplies necessary for a trip to the area. Safari leaders recommend groups of at least four to six cars with experienced drivers and plenty of gas and the Egyptian government requires a police presence on such expeditions. In fact, at least one of the hostages is an Egyptian police officer. As usual, there have been more articles in the international press about this situation than there have been locally. But to get the geography correct, the incident took place at the far southwestern corner of Egypt, nowhere near any of the cities or ordinary tourist venues...roughly on the back of the moon. As far as anyone can tell the kidnappers are desert pirates from Sudan or Chad, since the hostages have indicated that they do not speak Arabic. Such desert pirates in armed vehicles have been seen in this area for about a year. As marvelous as the area is, I think that this will likely deter some visitors for a time.

copyright 2008 Maryanne Stroud Gabbani