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That is ultimately bad for tourists and for Egyptians. The Mediterranean location overflowing with all that history should be more of a magnet for travelers. The glory of Egypt’s distant past gives way to the gruesomeness of its recent past. The 1997 Luxor Massacre, in which terrorists murdered sixty-two mostly foreign visitors to the famous site, combined with 9/11 and a sputtering global economy to reorient tourists to more welcoming destinations. The place at the center of so much history is not so central to tourist itineraries—at least not anymore.
The aborted advertising campaign is an exercise in projection. Al Qaeda’s leader Ayman al-Zawahiri and 1998 African embassy bombings suspect-at-large Abdullah Ahmed Abdullah are among the Egyptians abroad to be avoided wherever encountered. Bad guests often assume that everyone shares their manners.
Nearly a year-and-a-half after comparing the Arab Spring to the fall of the Iron Curtain, Western observers see in Egypt’s new government something more closely resembling the totalitarian regimes of Eastern Europe than the free governments that replaced them. Among the kitsch items tourists liberate from shops in liberated Eastern Europe are a replica set of Soviet-era posters calling on citizens to keep quiet. The Cyrillic script, like the Arabic dialogue on the Egyptian adverts, is unnecessary to convey the point. The images depict a man whispering in a two-faced foreigner’s ear, an overeager worker babbling on a pay phone as a man in dark glasses eavesdrops, a mother reading her soldier-son’s letter aloud, and a uniformed man telling a story as a spy lurks in the bushes. One poster simply features a stern woman with lips pursed behind and index finger. The images seem more befitting of a library than a country.
Egypt’s state propagandists may want to heed their own advice. Don’t broadcast your national insecurity complex to the world.
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