Playing it safe
FIFA needs to look no further than Egypt if it hopes to stage a safe World Cup. Alaa Abdel-Ghani
examines the state's security
When they leave home in the morning, most people expect to return in one piece. The assumption is that whether you are out for work, school or play, you will make it back to the house safe and sound.
Crime, though, can drastically change futures in an instant. There is always the possibility of ending up on the dangerous end of a 0.22 or a carving knife and consequently making that sudden detour to your nearest neighbourhood trauma centre, ICU or morgue.
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From the sidewalk cafes to the nightclubs and Nile-side promenades, Cairo at night is as safe as the city is by day photo: Mohamed Wassim
In countries big and small, in zones of conflict and peace, from purse snatching to extra judicial killings, crime exists. But in Egypt you would have to look long and hard to find it. And if we host the 2010 World Cup, while it will be a Third World Cup, it could be the First World Cup free of crimes of a serious nature.
It is, of course, impossible to guarantee a crime- free World Cup especially in a country of 70 million people and one that will host several million more should the spectacle come to town. But we could come as close as is humanly possible. So safe are our streets that the odds of being mugged, raped or murdered are about as high as George Bush choking on a Nacho. OOPS. Wrong analogy.
So safe that when a perfect stranger walks up to us to ask for directions, a match or the time of day, we take it for granted that he means what he says, that there is no ulterior motive behind his request. We oblige without the faintest thought that he might be after our wallet or our life.
So safe that Miss Universe could easily tour -- solo and on foot -- the darkest, farthest back alley, at two in the morning, and get away with it. Doubtful if street gangs, thugs, drunkards or general bad guys will appear. Sure, she'll be eyeballed to death, and a pass or two plus a couple of wolf whistles will surely be made, but that is as uncomfortable as she'll get.
To the uninitiated, such good manners in this region cannot be. These are supposedly the lands of blood, bombs and bullets, the ones which spawned Bin Laden and Saddam, which produced Al-Qa'eda, explosive belts and radical evil-doers. To many, this is not just the Middle East but the Wild East.
But we who live here know better. This part of the world is not ruled by Islamists hell bent on changing the rest of the New York landscape. The vast majority of Middle East countries are moderate leaning and enjoy a vast degree of peace and security. Of course, some of Egypt's neighbours are in deep political turmoil and their crises are having an impact on all of us and the rest of the world. However, while we empathise greatly with the plight of the Palestinians, and more recently the Iraqis, the fact is we are simply not in the same boat. Cairo is not the West Bank, Alexandria the Gaza Strip and Ismailia is a world away from present-day Falluja.
We are not fighting for our land; we have all of it. We are thus not at war with an occupying power. We don't send suicide bombers on suicide missions, there are no curfews or big checkpoints to report and helicopter gunships do not hover menacingly above, ready to kill us or our leaders.
American soldiers are not dying on our streets; that happens in countries vehemently anti- American. We, on the other hand, have relatively good ties with most of the folks from the USA -- even if some of us do not like to admit it. We are not on the State Department's list of nations exporting terrorism, we are not members of the axis of evil and in President Bush's division of the world, we are placed snugly in the "with us" half.
Bush had no qualms about visiting Sharm El- Sheikh resort last year to use it as a podium from which to address the world on the Middle East situation. And our President Hosni Mubarak recently met Bush at his Crawford ranch where only a few select people are invited.
Bush's best friend, British Prime Minister Tony Blair, along with Cherie and the kids, have become so enamoured with the place that they have made it a habit of spending New Year's in Egypt.
If Bush and Blair, whose policies have angered a good chunk of the world, feel safe in Egypt, then surely that must apply to people much less controversial.
The American and British leaders are not the only ones who like to drop by. This year alone we have hosted Bill Gates, Angelina Jolie, Carl Lewis and Enrique Iglesias. They and others would not have come had they for a second thought Egypt would be their final resting place.
No political violence around here and no sports violence to speak of either. Despite extra-sensitive local football derbies, crucial African championship games for both club and country, and vital World Cup qualifiers, all of which can attract up to 100,000 rabid spectators, when it's over, the winners honk horns while the losers slink home and take it out on their wives or per cat. Shops are not gutted nor are cars overturned. There are few hooligans to force families to lock up their daughters and nobody runs for the hills. On the day after, city officials are more concerned with cleaning up than what was torn down.
In 2002, World Cup joint hosts South Korea and Japan put on an extremely security conscious championship. Anti-aircraft missiles, portable land- to-air rockets and F-16 fighter jets patrolled the skies. From drunken Brits to bio-terrorism, there was an answer for everything: special forces soldiers, snipers, bomb disposal experts and anti- hooligan units. South Africa, our biggest challenger for 2010, probably must put in place similar measures, if not more. While it may not suffer from terrorism, South Africa has, by some accounts, the highest level of violent crime of any country in the world outside of a war zone. Whether because of the country's ongoing political and economic transition, its violent past, the proliferation of firearms, the growth in organised crime, changes in demographic composition or a poorly performing criminal justice system, South Africa's crime -- much of it strikingly gratuitous -- is terrifying.
The continuing inequalities between whites from the wealthy suburbs and blacks from dusty townships have had some frightening repercussions: for every 100,000 people, 61 are murdered, 119 raped and 281 robbed.
Not to mention 40 car-jackings every day. "Open your palms and hold your arms up in front of your chest. It shows submission -- and the bones in your forearms might deflect a bullet." These are anti-hijack instructions on how best to step out of your car during a robbery. They are from car-maker BMW which instead of advertising a vivacious brunette posing seductively on a hood, must instead advise potential buyers in Johannesburg to consider fitting a luminous emergency release handle in the boot "in case robbers lock you in it."
South Africa's 2010 campaign team has promised that 10 per cent of its budget would be used to tackle the crime menace. But deprived blacks who believed that in the post-apartheid years they would share in their country's wealth are posing a severe socio-economic problem that surveillance cameras, water cannons and police batons cannot by themselves adequately treat.
Serious and violent crimes are consistently rated by the South African public as one of the two or three most pressing problems facing the country. To those who will vote for the nation that will host the 2010 World Cup, they, too, will place safety at the top of their concerns. They want to know whether all the millions of visitors who will turn up at the country which is chosen to host football's showpiece event will return home upright or whether some will have to be flown back in body bags.