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US lifts Egypt travel warning for Christmas, designates Europe potential risk zone
Guardian map of travel warnings

The US State Department removed Egypt from its travel warning list for the upcoming holiday season on Monday, but designated Europe as a potential risk zone, along with most of the Middle East, categorizing Saudi Arabia and Turkey as high risk countries.

According to an interactive map designed by the Guardian, the only countries that are safe destinations in the region are Egypt, Jordan and Morocco (colored in green). The rest of North Africa: Saudi Arabia, Iraq, Palestine, Syria, Lebanon, Turkey, Iran and Pakistan are marked in red, an indication of high risk. Europe was marked entirely in yellow, an indication of potential risk.

According to the State Department’s travel warning list, there is the potential for terrorist attacks by the Islamic State in Europe, particularly during the upcoming holiday season.

“US citizens should also be alert to the possibility that extremist sympathizers or self-radicalized extremists may conduct attacks during this period with little or no warning. Terrorists may employ a wide variety of tactics, using both conventional and non-conventional weapons and targeting both official and private interests,” the statement read.

Social media user Peter Milad was the first to break the news to an Egyptian audience, attaching the US State Department’s warning list and the Guardian’s map, adding that the news made him “happy beyond description.”

The post went viral, as thousands of social media users deemed the move an encouraging step to boosting Egypt’s already troubled tourism industry.

“The US is finally satisfied with us, and has categorized Egypt as one of the safe countries. Welcome the return of tourism very soon,” one user wrote.

Tourism Minister Yehia Rashid told the privately owned Youm7 newspaper that the decision to remove Egypt from the US travel warning list is a “good sign” for the return of American tourists to Egypt.

The minister added that the move would benefit tourist resorts over the holiday season and would improve stereotypes of Egypt abroad.

Parliamentarian Mostafa al-Guindy, head of the African relations committee in parliament, said in a statement that the decision is a strategic change in US foreign policy concerning Egypt.

“The decision not only improves Egypt’s image abroad, but also reflects the reality of safety and stability in the country. It confirms to the entire world the lies of the evil powers of terrorism and darkness,” he said.

The downing of a Russian aircraft carrying more than 200 passengers in October 2015, allegedly by Islamic State affiliates in Sinai, signifcantly affected Egyptian tourism, with the UK and Russia, along with other countries, banning travel to the tourist resort of Sharm el-Sheikh.

A number of embassies in Cairo, including the US, UK, Germany and Canada, issued security warnings in October, advising citizens to avoid large gatherings and public spaces in Egypt. The embassies didn’t clarify their reasons for the alert, and a media official at the US Embassy told Mada Masr that it was routine practice in times when large crowds of people are expected to gather.

The Egyptian Ministry of Foreign Affairs released a statement at the time, criticizing the alerts and stating that they have a negative impact on Egypt’s economic status. The ministry urged embassies “to exercise caution when issuing unnecessary or incomprehensible statements.”