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Where (Not) to Go in the Middle East

mosque muscat omanThough the events of Arab Spring are several years behind us, the recent attack on the Bardo Museum in Tunisia has once again brought up the question of how safe it is to travel to the Middle East and North Africa. Several countries, such as Syria, have plunged into daily violence or carry precautionary warnings, while others in the region remain healthy tourist destinations.

With safety concerns in mind, we've checked the status of tourism in countries throughout the Middle East and North Africa and issued some recommendations. Keep in mind that this list was last updated in March 2015, and political events can change the situation rapidly. Register with the U.S. State Department (or your own country's equivalent) if you're going on an extended trip to the area.


What's Happening: Algeria largely escaped the upheaval that affected other countries during Arab Spring, but it remains at risk for violence; foreign citizens were killed in separate terrorist attacks in January 2013 and September 2014.

Tourist Fallout: Companies such as Intrepid Travel and Peregrine Adventures offer tours to Algeria, but many governments (including the U.S. and Australia) urge their citizens to avoid traveling here.

Should You Go? We'd advise against it.


What's Happening: Ever since the events of Arab Spring four years ago, Egypt has been subject to numerous political demonstrations, which sometimes turn violent. Terrorist attacks are also a threat.

Tourist Fallout: Tourism plummeted in Egypt in 2011, with visitation dropping more than 33 percent. Tourism has rebounded over the past few years, though, with several river cruise companies putting Nile River itineraries back on their schedules.

Should You Go? Yes, but only if you're a traveler who can handle uncertainty. Otherwise, wait (the Pyramids will still be there).

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What's Happening: Westerners have long been discouraged from traveling to Iran, due to political tensions, civil unrest and the possibility of terrorist attacks.

Tourist Fallout: The U.S., Australia, Canada and other governments advise against any travel to Iran. However, tours are available from companies such as Intrepid Travel and G Adventures.

Should You Go? We'd advise against it.


What's Happening: Although many people travel safely each year to Jerusalem and other parts of Israel, the situation here remains volatile. The Gaza Strip and the borders with Syria and Lebanon are particularly dangerous and best avoided, while the rest of the country is at risk for terrorism and civil unrest.

Tourist Fallout: Despite the security concerns, Israel has long been a popular tourist destination, and numerous tours are available. The U.S. State Department notes that there is increased security presence in places tourists are most likely to visit.

Should You Go? Yes, but keep abreast of news reports before and during your trip.


petra jordanWhat's Happening: Although Jordan did see some Arab Spring-related protests in 2011, it's generally considered one of the more stable countries in the region. Visitors may still encounter demonstrations or other civil unrest.

Tourist Fallout: Tourism to Jordan's most famous monument, Petra, has dropped by half since 2010, due mostly to concerns about violence in neighboring countries. However, numerous tours are available, and most travelers visit without incident.

Should You Go? Yes.


What's Happening: Until Arab Spring, Lebanon had experienced a resurgence in tourism, with record visitor numbers in 2009 and 2010. Beirut in particular became a trendy travel destination, with new hotels, clubs and restaurants rising along its beaches. In recent years, however, the country has fallen victim to terrorist bombing attacks, and the violence in neighboring Syria is also cause for concern.

Tourist Fallout: Lebanon's tourism has plunged, with multiple governments (including the U.S., Canada and Australia) urging against any non-essential travel to the country. Most tour operators and cruise lines have pulled out of Lebanon.

Should You Go? No.

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What's Happening: Anti-government protests that began in February 2011 mushroomed into an all-out civil war, and the security situation has been unstable ever since.

Tourist Fallout: The violence and fighting in Libya essentially ended most tours and cruise stops in the country during 2011, and most governments now advise against any travel to Libya. The U.S. Embassy in Libya suspended its operations in 2014.

Should You Go? No.


olives morocco marketWhat's Happening: Some Arab Spring protests were held in Morocco in 2011, the same year as an unrelated terrorist attack on a restaurant in Marrakesh, but the country is relatively stable.

Tourist Fallout: Tourism in Morocco has remained fairly steady in recent years, and tour offerings are plentiful.

Should You Go? Yes.


What's Happening: Oman experienced several demonstrations, some violent, in early 2011, when protesters called for government reforms and a better standard of living. Sultan Qaboos bin Said responded with a hike in the minimum wage, some reshuffling of cabinet members and other reforms. The furor died down quickly, compared to other Arab countries, and the country has remained safe for for tourism since then.

Tourist Fallout: With a less developed tourism trade than many Middle Eastern countries, Oman has grown in popularity over the past few years, with numerous tour options available.

Should You Go? Yes.


What's Happening: As in many Arab countries, demonstrations against the Syrian government started in January 2011. Now the country is engulfed in a civil war that shows no signs of receding.

Tourist Fallout: Before the violence, tourism to Syria had been on the upswing. That's done now. Most Western countries have issued travel warnings against all travel to Syria, and the U.S. Embassy in Damascus closed in February 2012.

Should You Go? No.

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What's Happening: Although Arab Spring actually began here in December 2010, Tunisia had been relatively stable until the terrorist attack on the Bardo Museum in March 2015, which killed a number of foreign tourists.

Tourist Fallout: MSC and Costa Cruises, the two cruise lines whose passengers were directly affected by the Bardo Museum attack, canceled all Tunisia calls for the rest of 2015. Other major cruise lines also canceled calls. However, Intrepid Travel continues to offer Tunisia tours. The U.S. State Department does not currently warn against travel to Tunisia, but other governments, including Australia and Canada, advise visitors to use a high degree of caution due to the possibility of future terrorism.

Should You Go? Yes, as long as you are a traveler who can handle uncertainty. Otherwise, wait.

United Arab Emirates

What's Happening: The U.A.E., which includes Dubai and Abu Dhabi, avoided most of the upheaval that categorized Arab Spring. While some of the emirates have had some economic dips, the country's income per capita remains among the highest in the world.

Tourist Fallout: All tours and cruises have continued as usual.

Should You Go? Yes.

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--written by Chris Gray Faust; updated by Sarah Schlichter


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