Egypt’s government has pulled TV public service announcements that warned against talking to foreigners because they might be spies after critics charged the spots fueled xenophobia and aimed to tarnish those behind last year’s uprising.
The two spots ran on state and private television stations for a few days before Egyptian Minister of Information Ahmed Anis ordered them off the air, a media official said on Sunday.
One opens with a blond-haired young man scanning a cafe while a narrator says: “From the beginning, he knows why he is here and sets up his goal. He won’t have to spend much time getting to know the people in the place.”
The foreigner then spots three young Egyptians and heads over to them, saying in broken Arabic: “I love you so much.”
The narrator says: “Our generosity has no limits,” as one of the Egyptians stands up, shakes hands and invites the foreigner to sit with them.
It goes on to show the visitor smiling slyly and narrowing his eyes while listening intently to the Egyptians complaining about the economy and talking about overhearing a plot against the ruling military council in the subway. The narrator warns Egyptians not to share with outsiders their woes about the economy or political situation.
Both spots close with: “Every word comes with a price. A word can save a nation.”
Claims of a “meddling foreign hand” found resonance among Egyptians during and after the uprising. The revolt was driven by youthful activists who relied heavily on social networking sites.
However, some among the wider public have mixed feelings about foreigners and suspect the US, Israel and others are scheming against their nation and Islam, the faith of most Egyptians. At the same time, they worry about losing the country’s main source of income, tourism.
It is not clear which state agency ordered production of the TV announcements. However, some pointed the finger at Egypt’s security agencies, including intelligence and military intelligence, which have a long-standing xenophobic culture. The agencies have remained largely intact after Hosni Mubarak’s ouster as Egyptian president in the uprising, which left power in the hands of a military council led by Mubarak’s defense minister of 20 years.
Ahmed Maher, cofounder of April 6, one of the youth groups that steered the uprising, described the spots as “deceptive to spread fear of conspiracies and tarnish the image of the revolutionaries by indicating that dealing with foreign journalists leads to leaking dangerous information about Egypt.”