An attempt by Egyptian authorities to improve the country's image and lure visitors has backfired after its social media hashtag was hijacked by internet users highlighting alleged human rights abuses.
As part of a $66m tourism campaign, individuals have been encouraged to share images of the country on sites such as Twitter and Facebook using the hashtag #ThisIsEgypt.
But the idea was quickly hijacked by people tweeting less enticing images, such as piles of rubbish, and commenting on Egypt’s human rights record, which has reportedly deteriorated since a military coup saw Abdel Fattah al-Sisi take power in 2014.
— Sherif Mansour (@sherifmnsour)
10 Décembre 2015
— Michael Maurice (@MichaelMauriceA)
11 Décembre 2015
Users pointed out the various “crimes” for which Egyptians have been arrested, such as writing novels and posting images online that the increasingly authoritarian government deems offensive.
— Shereen (@forsoothsayer)
11 Décembre 2015
Amr Nohan, three year sentence for photo of Sisi with mickey mouse ears. #thisisegypt
The social media campaign is accompanied by a slick new video shot by global advertising agency JWT, showing images of Cairo’s Old City souks, the Red Sea, the Pyramids and ancient temples. Visitors are shown taking photos and videos on smartphones throughout the video.
— Wael Eskandar (@weskandar)
12 Décembre 2015
Wael Eskandar, a political commentator and writer based in Cairo, said that while the video was beautifully shot, it seemed designed “to paint over injustices and incompetence.”
“I would rather the government spent money making the country beautiful”, he said. “What I see in Egypt is really dark – people I know forcibly disappeared, sexually assaulted, unjustly thrown in prison.”
Human Rights Watch says that President al-Sisi has overseen a reversal of recent human rights gains in Egypt, with hundreds of political opponents sentenced to death or life imprisonment. Crackdowns on journalism and freedom of speech have marred a country once famous for its creativity and cultural heritage.
It is not the first time a tourist board's attempts to harness social media have gone awry. In 2012, the Maldives launched a strikingly similar campaign asking tourists to share their experience of the island nation using the hashtag #sunnysideoflife. Instead they used it to highlight the government’s alleged human rights abuses.
"I would rather the government spent money making the country beautiful…It's as if the campaign wants to paint over injustices and incompetence."
Wael Eskandar, Egyptian commentator and writer