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August 1997 Vol. 12, No. 8   RSS Feed for Undercurrent Issues
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Is Underwater Photography a Crime?

Going to Egypt? Carry water and lots of cash

from the August, 1997 issue of Undercurrent   Subscribe Now

Returning from a 10-day liveaboard trip in the Red Sea, filled with happy thoughts of my underwater photos and perhaps an afternoon tour in Cairo before departing for the U.S. the next day, I hurried to catch my flight at Sharm el Sheikh. The airport was busy, full of tourists and divers. As I passed through security to enter the airport building, the Tourist Police met me and my film at the end of the X-ray belt and escorted me to their airport office.

The police were quite upset that I had exposed 26 rolls of film. I was a little upset myself -- 26 rolls was not enough for a good 10-day trip. The police, however, thought 4 to 5 rolls was an appropriate amount.

They questioned me for three hours about the film, who was traveling with me, what agency was handling my travel, my trip, my occupation, the boat. Then they loaded all my luggage onto a cart and wheeled it out the door. They motioned for me to follow and asked if I had money for a taxi. We drove to a small Tourist Police office in Naama Bay. I began to worry.

They questioned me for two more hours. They wrote a report -- page after page, all hand written, corrected, rewritten. They questioned me again. I tried to explain that most people who take photos under water shoot an entire roll on one dive, and I had been diving four times a day for 10 days. They weren't buying it.

After signing a report written in Arabic, not knowing whether it was what I had told the police or a murder confession, I was loaded into the taxi (again, my treat) and taken to a larger, stifling-hot police complex near the marina, where I was questioned some more. I was told that my film would be sent to Cairo, where one roll would be processed, and if it was okay (whatever that meant!) I could take it all home. For five hours I was intermittently questioned. We took a taxi to another office, and we came back again.

Late in the evening I began to contemplate jumping out the open window to call for help. Before I could act on this impulse, I was taken to another office, where I was asked again to explain about underwater photography.

Durning that day's entire 12 hours of questioning, I was offered only one cup of tea, nothing to eat, and no restroom facilities. Finally I was handed my passport and told I could leave. My film had been sent to Cairo. I was to go to the Tourist Office at 5 Adly Street to collect it. The film would all be processed (which thrilled me, as a great deal of it would require PUSH processing). It was now almost 11 p.m., and I had missed all the flights to Cairo. Take the overnight bus, they suggested.

Finally I arrived in Cairo, desperate to take the next flight home. But they were not done with me yet. Over the next several days, a pattern developed: show up at the police station at the designated time, be told to come back later, then be told to come back the following day.

On the fourth day of this ordeal, a report -- all in Arabic, of course -- was finished, and I was loaded into a taxi with my film (guess who paid) and taken to the Ministry of Tourism. An assistant to the minister met me and asked me to write two notes, one to say where the film was shot and the content of the photos, the other stating that I had received the film taken from me by the police. The assistant suggested I return for a Red Sea photo competition. For a final insult, the deputy assigned to escort me for the final two hours demanded money for his help. He was not at all happy when I refused to pay him.

I was leaving Egypt five days behind schedule and about $600 poorer than I expected. But first I had to pass through the Cairo airport.

Going through airport security, I carried my film in a clear bag so that it could plainly been seen and recognized. I held my breath.

No problem.

Deborah Fugitt

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