Illustration of a woman’s hand offering an ID card and a man’s hand holding some keys.
Illustration: Sasha Haddad
Life

An Unofficial Rule Forbids Egyptian Women from Booking Hotel Rooms

Women's groups say the rule is putting them at risk.
February 17, 2021, 2:42pm

This article originally appeared on VICE Arabia.

In my time, I’ve come across a few stories of women who weren’t allowed to stay in a hotel room without a male family member present. Despite never having experienced this myself, when I asked my group of friends about it, a few knew exactly what I was talking about.

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According to the Egyptian Centre for Women's Rights `(ECWR), the problem is particularly common for women under 40. Dubbing it a form of "guardianship over women”, the ECWR said this is a discriminatory practice in violation of the Egyptian constitution. “From a career perspective, women might not be promoted because they can’t stay in hotels on business trips,” argue the ECWR. “On a personal level, they might not be able to seek shelter after being exposed to domestic violence.”

Egypt was ranked 134 out of 153 nations in the 2020 Global Gender Gap Index, published by the World Economic Forum. The report said that women in Egypt have significantly lower literacy and employment rates than their male counterparts, and their right to own property, capital and financial products is limited by law. They are also exposed to high rates of gender-based violence.

Through women’s groups on Facebook, I got in touch with women who said they had been denied a hotel room. Many of them were told that hotel staff were just complying with orders from the Egyptian tourism police, who allegedly forbid hotel rooms being rented to people who reside in the same city.

“There is no legal basis for these orders,” lawyer Heba Adel, head of the Egyptian Lawyers Initiative for Women's Rights, told Miraa, VICE Arabia’s partner. She argued that the rule does not officially exist, and that many hotels are simply refusing female guests because of their own private policies. “We demand the tourism police show us this order, if it really exists, so we can appeal against it.”

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Here are some of the stories I collected.

Rania Hilal, 36, journalist and writer

Last March, I was on a business trip to Alexandria [a port city on the Mediterranean] and I needed to stay in a hotel. I spent a long time trying to convince hotels to let me book a room. I gave them my press card to prove I’m not from Alexandria, and even said they could call the journalist association to confirm my identity. Nothing worked. Their replies were ridiculous and offensive – some said they had no rooms, others that they couldn’t book one for me because I was alone. I felt they were hostile towards me because I was a working woman with freedom of movement. 

In the end, I found a place to stay. But they were quite suspicious when they saw a male friend of mine helping me with my luggage. Later that night, one of the hotel employees came knocking on my door, saying it was forbidden to have guests in the rooms. I was furious and I replied he could come and search the room for himself. He eventually apologised. 

As women, we don’t have the luxury of travelling whenever we want. We always have to verify all the details of our trip. Otherwise, we might find ourselves on the street with our luggage and no place to go.

Nora, 42, executive assistant

My sister and I were in a restaurant on the rooftop of a hotel in Cairo. She was too tired to make it home, so we made a reservation online for a room at that same hotel. We went to check-in, but the receptionist refused to let us stay. We threatened to call the police, but they said this was actually an order issued by the Tourism Police. The hotel manager tried to calm us down and asked to see our identity cards. When he saw we were from the capital, he said it was forbidden to book a hotel room if you live in the same city.

Nora Raouf, 33, bank employee

My friend and I booked a room in one of Alexandria's hotels overlooking the sea, and the hotel confirmed the reservation. When we checked in and they saw we were two girls on our own, they apologised and told us only families were allowed to stay. I checked their website and, much to my surprise, that policy was stated on it. I left in astonishment. 

Maryam Yousef, 34, bank employee

Two years ago, we were renovating our house. I was having a hard time staying there with all the noise – I could barely sleep – so I booked a room in a small hotel in downtown Cairo to have a break for just one night. I called them and they confirmed my reservation, but when I arrived the receptionist refused to let me check-in. He said my ID card showed I was from Cairo, so I couldn’t book a hotel in the same city. I tried another hotel and explained why I needed a room, but they still refused.

Salma, 30, translator

I travel alone very often. I’ve stayed in hotels in Hurghada, Alexandria and most tourist cities around Egypt, and I’ve never had any issues there. But once, a small hotel in Cairo refused to let me stay, despite having available rooms. I tried another hotel in the same area and they refused, too. I had to sleep at a friend’s place.