The spy who said ‘really’
Oh. Dear. God. That was my first reaction when I saw this new ad broadcast on a government satellite channel: A young fellow walks into a cafe plastered with revolutionary slogans (including the epic rallying cry of the revolution "bread, freedom, and social justice") and zeroes in on three young people at a table. "I ...
Oh. Dear. God.
Oh. Dear. God.
That was my first reaction when I saw this new ad broadcast on a government satellite channel:
A young fellow walks into a cafe plastered with revolutionary slogans (including the epic rallying cry of the revolution "bread, freedom, and social justice") and zeroes in on three young people at a table. "I like you all very much," he says with a hint of an accent (think of an Arab Borat). They all chat, discussing inflation, transportation problems, and so on — everything that you might see on the front page of every newspaper, basically.
"Really?" he says, in English. Then he proceeds to send a text message, supposedly with all the "intel" he has just gathered. The whole thing is accompanied by haunting music and a voiceover that warns against trusting people and endangering the country. (The voice seems to come from the same guy who tries to sell us yoghurt in the next commercial.) The camera fades out, and then we see the following slogan: "Every word has a price; a word can save a nation."
I replayed it, and quickly went from amusement to horror. This wouldn’t be the first time the Egyptian government has resorted to stoking xenophobia for its own purposes.
During the revolution, foreign reporters — in fact, all reporters — were accused in no few words of being spies. A few months ago, the government attempted to prosecute a number of local and foreign democracy NGOs on unproved accusations of "serving foreign interests." (The foreign activists were allowed to fly home after hefty bail was paid by the U.S. government.)
This, however, was a new low. The ad is dumb and heavy-handed. The subliminal accusations it makes against the local activist community — the revolutionary slogans on the wall, the Palestinian keffiyeh worn by one of the men — are horrendous. And the ad is being aired just as the ruling military junta’s preferred candidate, Ahmed Shafiq, is running on a platform of "restoring security."
Ihab Moussa, the president of the Coalition to Support Tourism, lambasted the commercial, describing it to the press as "scandal and a massive joke," adding that this "won’t protect the country because it’s a retarded ad."
Luckily, nearly all comments online are lambasting or making fun of the spot. The spy’s only word in English — "really?" — is already becoming an online meme. And it’s unlikely that Egyptians will be swayed by such cheap propaganda, given that they realize just how dependent on tourism their economy is.
But there’s always the danger that some people might buy into it. And it’s a pity some are willing to shoot the country in the foot just to gain a short-term electoral advantage for the establishment’s candidate.
M ohamed El Dahshan is the founder of OXCON, a consulting firm focusing on fragile and post-conflict countries; he is also a non-resident Fellow with the Tahrir Institute for Middle East Policy in DC, and cofounder of Afrilanthropy, a philanthropic advisory firm. Twitter: @eldahshan
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