Middle-east Arab News Opinion | Asharq Al-awsat

Spies in Egypt | ASHARQ AL-AWSAT English Archive 2005 -2017
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“I’m never going to a café again”

“I met a spy today, dressed like a taxi driver. He kept asking me where he should take me, and I never told him, of course! But I was late for work”.

Many Egyptian activists on social networking sites such as Twitter and Facebook mocked, laughed, and were enraged by the “spy commercial” that was broadcasted on Egyptian television, with channels quickly pulling the advertisement shortly afterwards. Even after the commercial was withdrawn, the activists created a “hashtag” on Twitter and the word “really” began trending, because this was the sole English word used by the spy in the advert. It seems that the witty criticisms and jokes directed at the commercial have succeeded in preventing Egypt from descending into a senseless campaign of incitement against foreigners.

“Every word comes with a price. A word can save a nation”. The commercial seemed both naïve and flagrantly racist through its suggestion that foreigners visiting Egypt, and mingling with its residents in coffee shops and public places, are spies. Egyptian television channel officials justified the production of the commercial under the pretext that Egypt today is being infiltrated by a large number of foreigners under the banners of civil society and the media, and that Egyptians are “generous” in their speech; they will provide free information about their country.

Consequently, we are led to believe that there are those who visit Egypt and rush to mingle with its residents and hear about their conditions, which they can already find out about through the media and the internet, but then they quickly rein in their inquiries so as not to aggravate the Egyptians, on the grounds that curiosity is the hallmark of the spy.

Sources in Egyptian television told news agencies that “state entities” were behind the commercial, which casts a worrying light over one of the most important properties of the Egyptian revolution; the expression of opinion.

The fact that “state entities” are behind the propaganda video, with its inflammatory discourse that is unacceptable on a professional, moral or humanitarian level, prompts us towards further questioning and uncertainty about whether the system of government that the Egyptians rebelled against actually still remains. During the commercial, a young woman can be seen wearing a scarf around her neck with a poster in the background stating “bread, freedom and social justice”, one of the most prominent slogans of Egypt’s revolution.

The implication therefore is that among the revolutionary youth there are those leaking the nation’s secrets to spies.

It is true that the commercial has been withdrawn, but we must think carefully about the meanings that stood behind the original broadcast. The idea that every tourist or visitor who feels curious about the country and its people is somehow strange and a spy who you must be wary of shows a large decay in the “state bodies” that produced this work. In Egypt there seem to be those who still believe that the official media is the source of truth and that the Egyptians must accept what it says. In other words, Egypt’s famous cafes are not for talking about politics, they are for light-hearted chats about plays and films. Beware of telling it how it really is, for “the walls have ears”.

Fortunately, the “state entities” in Egypt have lost a battle that could have been catastrophic for the Egyptians.