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Topless at the Pyramids: Can't a tourist just be a tourist?

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It wasn't meant to be a day of activism. Honest. Exhausted by a week of intense protesting and meetings, I slept until almost noon and missed a plan for additional actions this morning. Some Canadians at our hotel wanted to  at least catch a glimpse of the Pyramids during their time in Egypt, so we decided to do what the Egyptian government has been asking us to do all along and just be tourists. Thought it was already mid-afternoon, we decided that a little bit of Pyramids was better than none, so five of us jumped in a cab and after what seemed like an eternity in noisy traffic we were there.

No time to see the insides of any of the monuments, so we just got the basic Area tickets. As we went through the security at the entrance, our T-shirts caught the attention of the guards. Now, we've been traveling light (most of our luggage space was dedicated to donations that went to Gaza), most of our clothes are unlaundered and we happen to have a lot of activist T-shirts. So as luck (no planning) would have it, two of us were wearing the catchy black I am Gaza T-shirt which the Canadian delegation had made. Which apparently caught someone`s attention...

We were only a few steps into the Pyramids compound when the tourist police were running after us calling "Stop!" They wanted us to go back and talk to their officer inside, but that wasn't going to happen, so the officer came to us. He read the message on the T-shirts and insisted the T-shirts were "Forbidden!" inside the Pyramids compound. We pointed out that they were the only clothes we'd brought, and that we only wanted to be tourists and visit the Pyramids. More guards kept arriving and insisting that we leave, now, with them. We refused and a small crowd of onlookers began to form.

Finally, to break the impasse, we decided that since the offending image was on the outside of our t-shirts, all we had to do was take the tops off and turn around. Which we did, right there. The sight of a topless woman was of course very shocking -- the guards immediately turned around to avert their eyes (though one seemed to change his mind and turned back catch a glimpse of what he was missing). The three other women there (wearing more inoccuous tops) all cheered for Wendy. Some of the onlookers were traditional Bedouin types who began reprimanding the guards (according to one of our Arabic-speaking friends) for their lack of respect towards a woman. We asked the guards pointedly if this was the image of Egypt's welcome for tourists that they wanted the world to have, and we made it clear that we were going to continue on our way and see what we could of the sites.

They reluctantly let us go, but we were treated to a police escort for the rest of our visit, and the five of us were not permitted to split up or try to leave separately. It seemed like being escorted by the police actually helped reduce the amount of hustling we were subjected to from the assorted souvenir-vendors, camel-jockeys, tour-guides and horse-buggy-drivers who swarm around most tourists. And while we had only a short time to take in the sites, we made a point of looking inside our T-shirts (see photo) each time we took a picture, to have a look at that dangerous image that was too dangerous to be seen inside the Pyramids compound. I was reminded of the great Canadian precedent of Dukhobors who demostrated in the nude (as God made them) for religious freedom.

As we gawked at the enormity of the stone edifices, we couldn't help be struck by the contrast between the clear blue sky over the desert on the outskirst the city, and the thick haze of smog that hung over Cairo -- what we'd been breathing all week.

We left, happy we had managed to at least have a look at one of the Wonders of the World.

Wendy says she just wishes she had worn a bettter bra.

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