Political Meltdown: Is Any Country “Safe”?
February 10, 2011 – As Americans, fleeing the sudden meltdown of Egypt’s formerly stable government, finally arrive home, some are asking is any country safe from the potential for sudden violence? “We did not see the protests coming,” an official from Canadian’s International School, one of many foreigners fleeing Cairo, told the Associated Press.
The chaos started with such a small trigger. On January 3rd, the US Embassy in Cairo advised American travelers of an attack in Alexandria which killed 22 people from both the Christian and Muslim communities. Demonstrations had already begun in the wake of that January 1st event. By January 27th the embassy was warning American travelers against entering Egypt but was still only advising Americans in the country to sit tight in their homes or hotels and avoid any planned or spontaneous demonstrations.
Egypt has spent the last 30 years as a stable and relatively peaceful police state. Few knew what anger raged beneath the surface, rage no doubt exacerbated when the Egyptian government abruptly cut off their citizens’ internet and cell phone connections with the outside world. Violence escalated and by January 31st the State Department was busy arranging flights for American citizens fleeing Egypt.
“The State Department rarely makes arrangements to evacuate American citizens in cases of disaster or political unrest,” Jeff Gulleson, founder of Good Neighbor Insurance Inc, www.gninsurance.com, and an expatriate with 30 years experience in Southeast Asia, explained. “That they did so in this case only emphasizes the urgent plight of Americans in Egypt.” The Associated Press reported that even Iraq sent planes to evacuate its citizens who had fled bombings in their homeland for the relative safety of Egypt.
Lack of security and expected services are only some of the many difficulties Americans had to face in evacuating Egypt. Evacuees had to avoid looters and demonstrators, navigate spontaneous checkpoints set up by young Egyptians, and scramble to pay unexpected bribes to policemen at the airport. Egyptian airlines had trouble finding enough workers to fuel planes and do tasks essential to the evacuation of citizens from around the world, let alone actually staff flights.
American citizens not in Egypt on behalf of the US government had to promise to reimburse the State Department for flights arranged on their behalf, according to advisories. None of the flights were bound for the US, only for safe havens in neighboring countries such as Cyprus, Greece and Turkey. A few headed for Europe. Even the State Department didn’t always know where the plane was headed when they announced the flight.
As of February 6th, the State Department announced they are no longer arranging flights out of Egypt. Travelers still in Egypt or stranded in neighboring countries will have to find their own way home on commercial flights.
Meanwhile, tales of harrowing experiences emerge. One woman, who traveled to Egypt for a conference, told the Associated Press that employees of her hotel had to arm themselves to protect the guests. Apparently the police had withdrawn from the streets and allowed looters free reign.
Being prepared for the unexpected can have serious bonuses when violence strikes. Many travelers know the benefits of insuring their travel plans. But not all travel insurance plans actually cover political evacuation. Most of our short-term medical insurance plans cover political evacuation, where the person began their trip before a travel advisory was issued. However, trip cancellation plans also do not cover “civil disorder”.
Just as medical evacuation covers the enormous expenses of an emergency medical need to return home, political evacuation covers unexpected expenses due to sudden political upheaval up to $10,000, www.gninsurance.com. If an insurance plan has political evacuation coverage, the insurance company must be contacted for them to arrange the evacuation.
“Good Neighbor Insurance is committed to ensuring travelers have the right coverage for any emergency they might encounter,” Jeff said. Political upheaval can arrive with all of the forewarning of an earthquake. So be prepared.