Is it Safe?
The question of how safe it is to travel in the Middle East is a common one on internet message boards and in the minds of potential tourists to the area. Americans, in particular, are especially concerned that they may be singled out for the actions of their government. After all, we are told, "they" hate us over there. This is decidedly not the case. People, especially those that live under repressive regimes, are very aware that the actions of a government and the feelings of those that are ruled by it are quite different. Quite contrary to the common "hate" idea, I found that people on the street, that I met, very much liked Americans. They liked our opportunities and the freedoms that we enjoy. What they do not like is what our government does beyond our own borders. When people would discover that I was an American (in general, I would tell them), I became something of a local celebrity. However, it is prudent to find out as much about the area as you can before you travel there, to stay away from the subject of politics (especially Syrian politics) as much as possible, to avoid any semblance of a public demonstration, to scrupulously obey the law of the land, to follow customs, to smile a lot, and to have an open mind. The following links might help you decide how safe it is to travel in the area, although you must judge for yourself how reliable each source is.
Physical safety is not much of an issue, at least for men. Violent theft does not seem to be part of the culture in Syrian and Lebanon, although I would be more careful in Beirut than anywhere else. I had no problems or worries wandering around dark alleyways in the evening or going far from the main tourist areas. I met plenty of women, some traveling on their own, and they all commented about how safe and friendly the area was. This, it seems, is contrary to the reception women tourists are given in, say, Egypt or Morocco or even Turkey.
- Lonely Planet. Go to the ThornTree bulletin board and look in the Middle East subforum. You'll find many questions that start off with, "Is it safe." Read the answers and other threads to get an idea from people that have actually been on the ground. Again, I'd warn you to gather as much information as you can from different sources and to use your own judgment as to how valid each information source is.
- US State Department Travel Site. The US government is fairly conservative with its travel warnings, but this is still a good place to check out before any trip. You can find specialized information on Syria and Lebanon and current travel warnings. Due to the recent unpleasantness in Lebanon (as of March 1, 2005), there is a travel warning for Lebanon.
- British Foreign Travel Office. The Brits are, in general, less conservative with their warnings about foreign travel and, given their more extensive experience in the region, are probably more reliable than the US State Department.