‘This is NOT Egypt:’ Pop song and tourism advert angers many

Reactions to the song are similar to those that followed the launching by the Egyptian Tourism Authority of acampaign entitled “This Is Egypt”

Sonia Farid
Sonia Farid - Special to Al Arabiya English
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Two of Egypt’s top singers, Mohamed Munir and Amr Diab, sang a duet called Al-Qahira. The song, which compares Cairo to a beautiful girl one falls madly in love with, praises the charm of the Egyptian capital. While the song scored thousands of views immediately after its release, and was the most shared and trending on the day it was posted online, it did not receive a warm welcome from a sizable segment of Egyptians, who wondered whose Cairo the song featured.

The fact that the song is filmed on the rooftop of a five-star hotel did not help. Reactions to the song are similar to those that followed the launching by the Egyptian Tourism Authority of the campaign entitled “This Is Egypt,” which featured a video that depicts a paradise with idyllic shots of beaches, sand dunes and historical landmarks. Between the song and the campaign, questions keep being raised about what kind of image the state is trying to project of a country that is far from being that peaceful or care-free.

Professor of political science Rabab al-Mahdi sees the Cairo song as representative of the current tension between two poles of Egyptian society: “The song represents a continued war of narrative between those who think everything is OK, and those who think there are grievances and matters that are deeply wrong.” For Mahdi, it is what the song represents that is a problem, since it sides with one camp against the other.

Professor of mass communication Mohamed Shuman sees the song as “classist” since it features a part of Cairo very few Egyptians have access to: “Why wasn’t the song filmed by the Nile in one of the middle-class or working-class neighborhoods, instead of the dazzling Downtown Nile where the lights of luxurious hotels are reflected?”

Journalist and blogger Wael Abbas also commented on the view of Cairo featured in the video: “This is definitely not the view of Cairo from one of its prisons.”

Political commentator Wael Iskander had a similar view of the campaign. “While I admit that the video is beautifully shot, it does not reflect Egypt’s reality,” he wrote, adding that the campaign is trying to cover up the problems Egypt is suffering from. “I would rather the government spent money to make Egypt like the video,” he said in reference to the $22 million the campaign cost. “This and not the video is what would attract tourists.”

The contradiction between the Egypt featured in the video and the real one is demonstrated in “disgruntled residents using the hashtag to moan about state failings,” wrote blogger Katie Gascoyne, who compared “This Is Egypt” to the “Summer In Syria” campaign that attempted to promote tourism in the war-torn country. “While embroiled in civil war, the campaign showed people out enjoying night life and having fun.” Gascoyne said while Syrians used #SummerInSyria to post photos of leveled neighborhoods, Egyptians used #ThisIsEgypt to post photos of human rights violations and sanitation problems.

Blogger Laurie Treffers notes the way “This Is Egypt” overlooks serious problems that face tourists in the country, especially women: “Maybe the government should make sure their employees don’t sexually harass female tourists while swinging their guns. That would be a nice step to promote tourism.”

Journalist Tarek Azzam similarly notes how the song Al-Qahira presents a version of Cairo that ignores all the challenges its residents face in their daily lives. “This is Cairo from above. This is not the congested, polluted and impoverished Cairo that Egyptians know,” he wrote, establishing a comparison with other older songs about Cairo that explored its contradictions.

“There are songs that really summed up the complexities of Cairo and the way you can love it and hate it at the same time, the way you love the Nile, the people and the history, yet hate poverty, corruption and hypocrisy.”

Journalist Liza Dunham said: “The shots were all obviously carefully selected to only show positive things: the smiles, the scenery, the trash-free shots of Cairo. How long did it take them to filter the pollution out of the colors?” Dunham, however, wonders if people who criticized the video wanted a campaign aimed at promoting tourism to highlight the problems of Egypt.

“Negativity does not need to be broadcast to the world that is already skeptical that there is anything good in Egypt,” she added. “If you really are that blind to the moments of kindness and beauty that can be found all throughout the country, then at least get behind the beautiful scenery it has been blessed with.”

TV anchor Rami Radwan also slammed critics of the song. “You are upset that the video shows beautiful shots of Cairo? Did you want garbage, pollution and slum areas instead?” he wrote, adding that any country would have done exactly the same to highlight its most attractive parts, even if they are limited. “I guess people have just become too addicted to ugliness that they are no longer able to appreciate beauty.”

Songwriter Tamer Hussein has a similar take on the song, whose lyrics he wrote. “The video presents an impressive image of Cairo that aims at promoting tourism,” he said, adding that Cairo cannot be seen from one angle. “The fact that the video was praised by some and criticized by others proves how rich and diverse Cairo is, for it can be seen in a thousand different ways.”

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