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Protest Tourism Comes to Cairo

In the long litany of complaints against the Muslim Brotherhood’s ill-fated time in power, the group’s inability to revive Egypt’s once-prospering tourism industry ranks high. Now, a group of Egyptian youths are trying to succeed where the Brotherhood failed. A group calling itself Rabaa Tour is trying to attract tourists to the most unlikely of ...

Photo by Ed Giles/Getty Images
Photo by Ed Giles/Getty Images

In the long litany of complaints against the Muslim Brotherhood’s ill-fated time in power, the group’s inability to revive Egypt’s once-prospering tourism industry ranks high. Now, a group of Egyptian youths are trying to succeed where the Brotherhood failed.

A group calling itself Rabaa Tour is trying to attract tourists to the most unlikely of places in Cairo: the central battleground between security forces and Muslim Brotherhood members. For weeks, Brothers and their supporters have been occupying the area around Rabaa al-Adaweya mosque, and Egyptian officials have repeatedly threatened to clear the sit-in. With tens of thousands of people camped out there, any effort to sweep away the protesters, who are clamoring for the re-instatement of ousted President Mohamed Morsy, will surely result in bloodshed. But this is where Rabaa Tour would like you — yes you — to come visit in order to learn the truth about the protesters. They even have a slogan: "Heard enough? Time to see!"

Here’s their promotional video:

This, of course, is not your typical tourism effort, and the campaign is notable in its effort to upset the stereotypes at play in the current Egyptian conflict. Though they don’t come out and say it, the young people in the video are Morsy supporters or, at the very least, opponents of Egypt’s military coup. That puts them on the Islamist side of the faultline that matters most in Egyptian politics today. But with lack of beards and flawless English, they don’t fit the stereotype of the Islamist in the Western imagination — if such a person even exists at all.

These kids are also doing outreach in a way the Brotherhood never quite understood. Having operated underground during the Mubarak regime, the Brotherhood came to power with a rigid hierarchy and an abiding respect for its leaders. That made the organization remarkably bad at democratic politics. So it should come as no surprise that the Brotherhood never even attempted to pitch itself to Western audiences as something other than a scary Islamist body.

The Rabaa Tour seems to understand that. "Our goal is not to convince people to join us or to adopt our objectives," the group writes on their Facebook page. "It’s just for people to know the truth and to respect our right of having a peaceful sit-in without being attacked!" With the military regime branding them terrorists and with the likelihood of further violence in Cairo all but certain, the plea by these young people to be considered on their own terms is a powerful one.

Whether it will attract tourists — foreign or domestic, virtual or real — is another question.

Elias Groll is a staff writer at Foreign Policy@EliasGroll

Tag: Egypt
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