Accepted Paper:

When tourism aesthetic rules - Tourism promotion as a mode of stagecraft and as an aesthetic force in Mubarak's Egypt  

Author:

Karin Ahlberg (Stockholm University)

Paper short abstract:

This paper explores how tourism turned into a mode of stagecraft and an aesthetic force in the late Mubarak era. Based on fieldwork with tourism actors in Cairo in 2011-2013, it interrogates the intricate politics of image curation, tourism capitalism and rule by tourism aesthetics.

Paper long abstract:

In the Mubarak era, Egypt's tourism industry expanded significantly and state financed tourism marketing underwent professionalization. Outdoing official goals throughout the 2000s, tourism became promoted as the "sector that leads the way" to national prosperity. Based on fieldwork with tourism actors in Cairo in 2011-2013, this paper interrogates the intricate politics of image curation, rule by appeal and tourism capitalism. In particular, it highlights how tourism turned into a mode of stagecraft and an aesthetic force in the late Mubarak era.

First, I show how the regime used romantic and stylized touristy images in its international statecraft, projecting an image of Egypt as open and reforming. Second, I explore how recycled advertising material circulated in domestic popular culture, making tourism aesthetics a prolific ingredient of national imaginaries. Albeit presenting an Egypt attainable only for tourists and the rich, the dominant "touristy Egypt" resonated among the population, because it concretized the country's "real potential," beyond present misrule. Concluding that Mubarak's Egypt was marked by the rule of tourism aesthetics as tourism images and imagery were not only a means of advertisement but a predominant mode of imagining and ruling the nation, I suggest that the art of governance became an art in curating the façade of the nation. The force of this aesthetical paradigm can be understood through the ways that artful interventions, challenging and destabilizing this façade, were, alongside oppositional activities, not only condemned, but presented as acts of betrayal and defacement of Egypt's holy image.

Panel P065
The state of the art: the anthropology of art and the anthropology of the state