Passport

Egypt state TV drums up fear of spies

A foreigner walks into an Egyptian café, and surveys the crowd. His eyes scan the crowd, and focus in on three Egyptians sitting at a table. The unsuspecting Egyptians greet the guest warmly, and he is only too keen to butter them up: "I really like you," he says. The conversation turns political: One of ...

A foreigner walks into an Egyptian café, and surveys the crowd. His eyes scan the crowd, and focus in on three Egyptians sitting at a table. The unsuspecting Egyptians greet the guest warmly, and he is only too keen to butter them up: "I really like you," he says.

The conversation turns political: One of the women at the table says she overheard talk of a conspiracy against the army on the metro. "Really?" the guest intones in English, and the word echoes ominously. He then begins writing a message on his smartphone – presumably, the commercial implies, to his foreign paymasters.

This ad, which appeared on Egypt’s state-owned Nile TV, has resurrected fears among journalists of a repeat of the spasm of xenophobia that accompanied last year’s revolution. Mr. "Really?" is only doing what reporters everywhere do when news breaks — asking locals their opinions of the state of their country. If that’s a crime, journalism has become illegal.

(Thanks to Menna Alaa for confirming the ad’s appearance on Egyptian television)

David Kenner is the Middle East editor at Foreign Policy. He is based in Beirut, Lebanon, and has been with FP since 2009 (a long time, he knows). He worked for FP previously in Cairo, where he covered the early days of the Arab Spring, and before that in Washington. He has attended Georgetown University and the American University of Beirut and has reported from Libya, Egypt, Gaza, Turkey, Lebanon, and Iraq. @davidkenner

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