In 2006 a man called Sherif Sabri, a well-known and successful Arab music video producer, created a nation branding campaign for a country of nearly 80 million people.
The campaign involved a television spot, featuring images of desert oases combined with mobile phones and mosques flashing across the screen. The central idea was interesting in terms of nation branding, because it took a ‘grassroots’ approach aimed not only at attracting more tourists and investors, but first and foremost at channeling national pride among the citizens themselves.
The country was Egypt; the campaign was ‘Egypt: Keep Your Eye on It’.
Sabri said, “This is showing what Egyptians have and making them appreciate what they have,” And when I say keep your eye on it, it’s something valuable you have. You should keep your eye on it, and don’t spoil it.”
But that was over seven years ago. With the advent of the Arab Spring, the situation in Egypt has changed beyond recognition. Even when a new president was finally elected, the calm didn’t last and he was soon removed forcibly from power. Today, Egypt is in turmoil and chaos reigns on the streets of Cairo. The country of Sabri’s 2006 branding campaign is no longer what it was.
This is not a comment on the more controversial angles of the Arab Spring, or the various political actors vying for superiority in Egypt’s current situation. The goal here is only to discuss the effects of political events on the country’s brand identity, not analyse the driving forces behind them.
The current upheaval in Egypt is undoubtedly tragic news for the country as a whole. The contrast between Egypt’s pre-2011 reputation as a welcoming tourist magnet, land of Pharaohs, pyramids and camels, has now been overshadowed completely by the constant media barrage showing us ongoing scenes of violence, destruction, riots and military repression.
Maintaining an attractive nation brand is important for the success of any country, but vital for one such as Egypt, where tourism forms such a substantial part of the economy. Egypt’s tourism industry is experiencing a massive crisis at present, with hotel occupancy rates in Luxor plummeting from 80% down to 5%. Foreign tourists are cancelling trips to Egypt, airlines are suspending flights, and the country’s stock market is crashing.
From a nation branding point of view, we can only hope that the warring sides in Egypt will one day remember what they have, and, as Sabri warned seven years earlier, they ‘don’t spoil it.’