The country continues to push through as a fresh batch of news hits the airwaves, both good and bad. Egypt’s reputation and image remains constantly changing, falling on both sides of the spectrum, with local and international views largely on different sides.
But local and international perceptions haven’t always been so divided. Unfortunately, international media strives on sensationalism which has created a completely different national story, a different national narrative.
To see just how divided these views are, we asked some international representatives and executives how they personally see Egypt, and how they see it is perceived internationally.
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Sam Werberg – Press Attaché/Embassy Spokesperson, US Embassy Cairo
“From a personal perspective, I see Egypt as a wonderful place to live with tremendous potential in terms of its economy, its tourism sector, and so much more.
As someone who has lived here for a couple of years now, and as someone who has lived in other parts of this region, it’s easy to forget sometimes how Egypt is seen by others around the world.
I’m reminded of that when I read news articles about Egypt, but am reminded even more so when we get visitors from America. I love seeing the wonder on the faces of visitors when they experience the pyramids for the first time, or smile as they bite into a falafel sandwich, or relax as they settle into a felucca ride on the Nile.
…But I also think that we need to do more to help both visitors and others looking at Egypt from outside understand the dynamic, positive changes that are happening here, especially in the economy.
There are remarkable things happening here in the technology and communications sector and the petroleum and energy sector, especially renewable energy.
So, the question for all of us is, are these changes being perceived accurately by the rest of the world and is the perception of what is happening in those sectors positive and widespread enough to continue to attract new investment in Egypt from around the world?”
So, in a sense, we have two images of Egypt – the traditional image of Egypt as a beautiful tourist destination with ancient antiquities and pristine beaches, and another image of Egypt as a dynamic, growing economy with an increasingly skilled labor force…
Farzana Baduel – Founder and CEO of Curzon PR
“Egypt has a glorious past, and its powerful history is the source of compelling stories taught in classrooms around the world. The tales of Ancient Egypt are etched in the minds of every schoolchild, through epic myths, and the evocative imagery of amazing relics. But these bold and colourful strokes of national history are now marred by the dark modern-day depictions of Egypt through the mainstream media.
The Arab Spring stands at the forefront of our minds. The resultant political instability and the related sexual harassment encountered and endured by women during protests now sits in our minds alongside the Pyramids and the Sphinx. This recent chapter in Egypt’s history is now intertwined with perceptions of your great nation – and ongoing reports of food poisoning (and worse) in tourist locations adds a further dose of bitterness to the well of ‘brand Egypt’.
How can this reputational malaise be broken? By pivoting to your authentic strengths. Egypt is one of the youngest countries in the region – 55% of your population is under 25. Before the Arab Spring, you enjoyed the astonishing annual growth of around 7.5% – and there are early indications that it a return to that is achievable.
Egypt is one of the worlds great countries in terms of tourism, boasting beautiful landscapes, thriving culture, and bustling cities. Moreover, according to the Nation Brand Index, Egypt has been one of the ten fastest growing nation brands this year.
This is the story that Egypt must tell to attract much-needed investment and tourism. It needs to take control of its destiny and harness this narrative, show that there is more to the nation than ancient artifacts and instability.
To seize the moment, and crucially, your future, Egypt should invest in a root-and-branches nation branding exercise, consistently telling its story in the right way, to the right people. This will serve as a catalyst to boost your economy, your image and your rightful sense of pride.”
Dr. Aleksandar Sasha Bodiroza – UNFPA (United Nations Population Fund in the Arab Republic of Egypt) Representative
“…Discussions at the NARRATIVE [summit] creates an opportunity to make something iconic, as the Egyptian culture is almost endless in its heritage.
These days when you think of Egypt, it will be this heritage that will resonate the best with outside world; for some it will be beautiful beaches of the Red Sea and the North Coast; some will focus on warm hearted people, hospitality and generosity towards the visitors; avid sports fans will think of Mo Salah; many will remember how Arabic modern literature got its recognition when Mahfouz was awarded the Nobel Prize in 1988.
All of the above resonate really well with me a well, but I think Egypt can be also proud and brand itself not only hosting landmark conference on Population and Development in 1994 (ICPD) but following the conference leading the region and the rest of the world in realizing that that fulfilling the rights of women and girls is central to development.
Right here, in Cairo, diverse views on human rights, population, sexual and reproductive health, gender equality and sustainable development merged into a remarkable global consensus that placed individual dignity the right to plan one’s family, at the very heart of development.
Today in 2018, almost 25 years after ICPD Conference we all have a chance to do it once again and put Egypt on a map as a leader. The way this government as approaching the issue of population growth and their efforts to scale up rights-based family planning programmes are right step in that direction.”
Haynes Mahoney – AUC Cultural Outreach Advisor
“Like many countries in the Middle East and South Asia, Egypt suffers from a mixed image as a tourist or working destination. Right after the Luxor massacres –a truly awful event in 1997– I can remember my friends and relatives telling me to abort my assignment as an American foreign service office to Egypt. Luckily, I had lived in Egypt in 1990, had traveled down the Nile and seen Luxor. I knew even then that terrorism can happen anywhere, and that actually when they happen the authorities send in thousands of personnel and make the tourist destinations safer than they were before. I also knew that it only takes a small cell to carry out these awful acts and that the Egyptian people are more outraged by these crimes than anyone.
I was in Cairo on September 11, 2001 when terrorists flew planes into the World Trade Center. We held a kind of “Azza” or memorial service in the US Embassy a few days later. All of the Egyptian invitees came: Sheikhs, priests, politicians, journalists, social activists –they all rallied around us. Yet, while tourism to New York quickly recovered after Nine Eleven, it did not do so after much smaller, though horrible, terrorist incidents in Egypt. One example was the crippling effect of the Russian airplane that was downed in the Sinai, allegedly by a bomb, in 2014. This reaction by foreigners is based on bias, not judgment. And the bias comes from ignorance, not, in my opinion from any intentional media campaign. The media live off of sensation. They report whatever will draw the viewers and boost their advertising revenues.
From my own perspective, having lived in Egypt for 12 years with a wife and three daughters, I am pretty immune to these reports. I recall the decision to evacuate dependents during the January 25 revolution. My 21-year-old daughter threw herself on the bed in a flood of tears when I gave her the news. Her whole life, all her friends, was here. “Those security guys in the Embassy don’t know what they’re talking about,” she cried. Actually, she was right. I stayed on in the Embassy next to Tahrir Square and though –as with any cataclysmic upheaval– there was violence between the demonstrators and the police, attacks against foreigners were very rare. I stayed on here and resumed normal life after a few weeks. Eventually my wife and all three daughters returned to Egypt, where they had grown up and though they work in Lebanon and Dubai they travel here for weddings and engagements practically every time I turn around.
So, it’s pretty obvious, but what counts in “marketing” Egypt is the same as with any country. It’s the ordinary people, who infallibly come to your help if you’re a foreigner and your lost or confused. It’s the everyday kindness of strangers and the legendary Egyptian sense of humor that dissolves these stereotypes and irrational fears. Any foreigner in Egypt can tell you about this.
Also, Artists, film makers, musicians are great ambassadors. They or their works travel abroad and engage people who may otherwise only know Egypt through CNN flash reports, usually though not always about violence or catastrophes. So Naguib Mahfouz or Omar Sherif became household names and through them people have a completely different perspective –a human one, that makes them curious, not apprehensive.”
Jason Mackenzie – Vice President of Chartered Institute of Public Relations (CIPR)
“Any outsider sees a country through a distinctive, often warped prism. If I were to ask you what you think of the United Kingdom, you might reference one of our iconic landmarks, perhaps Buckingham Palace or Big Ben. If you’re a soccer fan, maybe your first response would be ‘Liverpool FC’ (I’m told Mohamed Salah is also popular in Egypt). But neither of those replies gives a well-rounded or true picture of the UK.
Therefore, I hope you’ll forgive me when I tell you that when I think of Egypt, the first images which spring to mind are the magnificent Pyramids of Giza and the Sphinx. I think of the River Nile, of Tutankhamun, of the Pharaohs, and the Biblical tales about Moses. These icons are synonymous with Egypt. They are etched into my memory from reading books in my childhood which were printed on paper, but which conjured dreams of hieroglyphics on ancient papyri. I’m an avid holidaymaker, so I’m aware of your amazing Alexandria, the lure of Luxor, and the sunshine and sea of Sharm El Sheikh – but I haven’t made it to any of them, yet. I’m open to offers.
In January 2011, your country was brought before the eyes of the world – and the impact was devastating. Riots, violence and epic scenes in Tahrir Square changed the way I, and millions of others, looked at Egypt. Day after day of turmoil ensued, rolling into weeks and months. First Hosni Mubarak resigned and was imprisoned, then Mohamed Morsi was elected, sworn in and, ultimately removed from power. It felt like Egypt was synonymous with turmoil. As you well know, your economy suffered terribly, and tourism dried up. Those were dark days.
I knew very little else about Egypt until I was invited to give a keynote speech at the inaugural Narrative Summit in 2016.
I love vast cities and, if like me you’re energized by a bustling megalopolis, it doesn’t get much better than Cairo. Some people run from the noise, heat and chaos. I love it. And when I arrived for the first time, just two years ago, I was not disappointed.
Your hospitality is amazingly warm. The embrace of the Egyptian people is something I take with me wherever I travel. I have become an ambassador for your great nation. I also know that your economy is on the rise, the deficit is narrowing and, according to the World Bank, extreme poverty “is practically eradicated”. These are vast steps, but you now have a fresh challenge.
You must tell the world that the great nation of Egypt is once again rising. That is why I am a passionate advocate of nation branding, of strategic communication, and of public diplomacy. These are the tools which will drive your economy, stimulate national price, and generate inward investment. To quote John D. Rockefeller, “Next to doing the right thing, the most important thing is to let people know you are doing the right thing.”
A Constant Journey
Political happenings, bad press and more have caused Egypt’s previous clean image to be darkened, but we can still see that there is hope at the end of the tunnel.
There may never be a “happy ending” where Egypt will get the exact same reputation and strength as it used to have, but that doesn’t mean that after a long journey we will prevail in building a new reputation. One that could be stronger than the last.
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At least, that’s what tomorrow’s Narrative Summit is aiming to do.
Narrative continues on with its 3rd edition of the PR summit, where they tackle topics of national prominence, brand story narration, social solidarity and how technology, sports and etc. can help build a nation’s branding.
Will there be a happy ending? Let us know in the comments.