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Egyptians take new U.S. security in stride

Although some nations have objected to the new U.S. security measures, Egyptians -- accustomed to high security -- don't object to the rules. NBC's Charlene Gubash reports from Cairo.
/ Source: NBC News

Standing in line on a gray day outside the U.S. Embassy here, Egyptians were mostly unperturbed about the new security measures imposed by the United States -- accepting the added inconvenience as part of price of entry.

The program, which involves fingerprinting and photographing foreigners traveling into the country, is the latest step by the  Department for Homeland Security to prevent terror attacks on U.S. soil and it went into effect on Monday.

The U.S. Visit program, aims to keep track of the more than 24 million foreigners who enter the country each year from Africa, Asia, and Central and South America. The new policy does not apply to 28 countries, including most of Western Europe, Australia, Japan, and Singapore.

The Egyptian government has been combating terrorism in the country for decades, so people are accustomed to the rigors of tight security and recognize the need for it.

Those who are seeking visas to the United States at the U.S. Embassy already must have their fingerprints taken electronically.

Now, upon arrival in the United States, they will be photographed and fingerprinted again. But few visa applicants here seem to mind.

Khlood Nadim Streeter, a Sudanese woman, said upon leaving the Embassy Wednesday that it took only a few seconds to take prints of her index fingers and the process was ink-free.

"It's a good thing.  It's a way to keep security for all the world, not just the USA. We really try to be against all terrorists."

Egyptian accountant Haitham agreed, "It is a good security measure." Like many of those interviewed, he declined to give his full name.

Ibrahim, an Egyptian office worker, complained that even though the new measures made him feel a bit like a criminal, he acknowledged the security benefits.

"This way, they will know whether someone committed a crime or a murder. It is something good." But he thinks that taking fingerprints and photographs upon entry in the United States is too much. "It is not good. We have already done it here."

But others have no objection to submitting another set of fingerprints upon entry. "I have no problem with it as long as I know it keeps security and helps get the terrorists. It will be safer for us," Streeter said.

As Sayed, a retired businessman, waited outside the U.S. Embassy he said, "It's the law and it is for everyone's good. It's to improve security."

Not all countries happy with new policy
The response hasn't been as sympathetic elsewhere. On Wednesday, Brazil asked the United States to exempt Brazilians from anti-terrorism checks.

In the meantime, in retaliation for the new policy, a Brazilian federal judge ordered the fingerprinting and photographing of all U.S. citizens entering the country.

Brazil’s Foreign Minister Celso Amorim suggested to U.S. Secretary of State Colin Powell that if the United States could exempt “distant” nations from the new security controls, it could exempt a neighbor in the Americas like Brazil.

However, Powell declined to offer Brazil an exemption. At a news conference on Wednesday Powell said, “We have to protect ourselves. American people expect that. International travelers expect that.”

On the domestic front, civil libertarians have cried foul over the new rules that went into effect at all 115 airports handling international flights and 14 major seaports in the United States.

The American Civil Liberties Union has launched a major campaign to advertise their concerns about the privacy issues related to the programs.

The U.S. government "is applying a broad, dragnet approach to security that views everyone as a potential terrorist," said Timothy Edgar,  legislative counsel for the ACLU. Instead, Edgar said, officials would be better off improving their intelligence and communication networks to focus on the "small number of terrorists who are likely to do us harm."

Still as visa applicants left the US Embassy in Cairo, their biggest worry wasn't about the new security procedures required to get visas or enter the U.S., but whether they would be granted a visa in the first place. 

Since the attacks of Sept. 11, 2001, sweeping new restrictions have left most visa seekers out in the cold.