U.S. embassy to Americans: Stay away from Giza's pyramids

The American embassy in Cairo has bad news for anyone traveling to Egypt: For now, the pyramids in Giza should be considered off limits -- at least if you're visiting without a trusted guide.

Describing a pattern of increasing lawlessness at the iconic tourist destination outside Cairo, the embassy is warning that some visitors have found their cars surrounded by angry individuals, and that in some cases those individuals have tried to open the doors. Here's the embassy's warning about the pyramids in full, according to Graham Harman, the associate provost for research administration at the American University in Cairo:

In recent weeks, the U.S. Embassy has become aware of an increasing number of incidents at or near the Giza Pyramids. The majority of these incidents are attributed to over-aggressive vendors, though the degree of aggressiveness in some cases is closer to criminal conduct. Other more serious incidents have been reported involving vehicles nearing the Pyramids, with angry groups of individuals surrounding and pounding on the vehicles - and in some cases attempting to open the vehicle's doors. While the motive is less clear (possibly related to carriage operators wanting fares), it has severely frightened several visitors. A common theme from many of these reports is the lack of visible security or police in the vicinity of the Pyramids. U.S. citizens should elevate their situational awareness when traveling to the Pyramids, avoid any late evening or night travel, utilize a recommended or trusted guide, and closely guard valuables. Though other tourist locations have not been brought to Embassy attention, these measures are also recommended at all crowded or popular tourist sites.

Writing on his blog, Harman echoes the embassy's warning. Don't "even think of going to the Pyramids unless you’re on a large organized bus tour," he says.

Turbulence at the pyramids is terrible news for Egypt, whose economy is in a tailspin at the moment. Tourism has been a source of strength for the country's economy in the past, but it has also struggled enormously in the aftermath of the revolution, whose accompanying chaos has understandably scared off many tourists from visiting.

Here's hoping for a turnaround.



Saudi Arabia bans Guy Fawkes masks for 'instilling culture of violence'

Saudi Arabia has a foolproof plan to staunch revolutionary rumblings. On Thursday, the Saudi newspaper al-Medina reported that the country's Ministry of the Interior has banned the import and sale of the Guy Fawkes masks from the graphic novel and movie V for Vendetta.

Earlier this week, al-Medina reported that the Saudi Ministry of Islamic Affairs had issued a statement calling on public figures to instruct Saudi youth not to wear the mask as it "instills a culture of violence and extremism" and "encourages young people to breach security and spread chaos in society." Oddly, the statement singled out Sunni youths as a concern, despite the fact that unrest in Saudi Arabia has been concentrated in Shiite communities in the country's east.

That measure apparently did not go far enough, and Thursday's ban will include the confiscation and destruction of masks already in Saudi Arabian markets and toy stores. "It should be noted that young people have strange traditions," mused al-Medina.

Saudi Arabia is not the first country to ban the mask -- Bahrain, where an underground protest movement has simmered for the past two years, prohibited them in February (that hasn't stopped some activists, like the one above in Manama). Drawing on the imagery of the blockbuster film -- in which the mask becomes a symbol of united opposition to a fascist government -- the masks have become a popular accessory for protesters around the world, from Occupy Wall Street to Tahrir Square to the online hacker collective Anonymous.

Of course, Saudi protesters have bigger concerns than the legality of their masks -- given that political demonstrations themselves are banned throughout the country. Protesters bold enough to take to the streets, though, may now have to be a bit more traditional in how they hide their faces. But revolutionaries, don't worry: Balaclavas and kaffiyehs are still legal.

(h/t: Riyadh Bureau)

Marya Hannun contributed to this post.