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Last Out, First In

28 February 2011

Five weeks since I blogged. It’s a new world.

Tunisia was amazing. Egypt is astounding. Bahrain boggles the imagination. Libya is off the scale. At the time of writing, none of those 4 revolutions is resolved. And there is also Yemen, Algeria, Morocco, even – staggeringly – Syria. Of a different character, but no less significant in their own way, are protests in Jordan and Oman, government handouts in Kuwait and Saudi Arabia, and even baby-steps towards parliamentary elections in the UAE. Lebanon, Iraq, Palestine and Israel may be fairly said to have their own concerns right now. That only leaves Qatar. Nuff said.

Anyone who’s been following me on Twitter will know that I’ve been trying to keep on top of the changing situations across the region day by day, which is a full-time job in itself. But this is a tourism blog, not a news digest – and I’ve held off from blogging travel titbits, since just about the only noteworthy tourism issues arising so far from these multiple revolutions have focused on less-than-gripping tales of Western governments’ efforts to repatriate their stranded citizens.

But the role of tourism in all this has increasingly felt rather seedy to me. Throughout the Egyptian revolution, governments and the travel industry kept on maintaining that Sharm and the Red Sea resorts were completely safe and unaffected by the upheavals in Cairo and around the rest of the country. Two British travel writers – who I won’t name, for their sakes – were flown into Sharm during the protests to ‘experience’ a luxury hotel. They did a bit of desert touring, tweeted about how peaceful it all was, and took some vox pops (which, unsurprisingly, were all about wanting to encourage tourists back – and this was before Mubarak had resigned).

That shocked me. It highlighted just how detached Egyptian tourism had become from Egyptian life. While people from all sectors of society, in all parts of the country, were engaging in serious political action – perhaps for the first time in their lives – all some Westerners seemed to care about was their ‘right’ to relax on the beach. The industrialised mass tourism which Sharm (and other places) specialise in filters virtually no money back to the communities which host it: a huge proportion of the cash spent on a typical Sharm holiday remains either outside Egypt altogether, or in the hands of inbound tourism conglomerates controlled by the kind of tycoons Mubarak’s regime favoured. People don’t go to Sharm, or Taba, or Hurghada, or El Gouna, or Marsa Alam, or any of Egypt’s other chiefly purpose-built seaside resorts in order to engage with Egyptian culture, or to enjoy a characteristically Egyptian beachfront scene. Most of these places didn’t even exist before mass tourism anyway; there often *is* no local “scene” other than tourism. People go because it’s sunny, cheap and you can fly there directly.

Is that bad? Well, since you’re asking me, yes it is bad – but some people like that sort of disconnect. What got my goat was that such disconnects enable Mr & Mrs Westerner to lie on sunloungers being served cocktails by Mr Egyptian, even while Mr Egyptian’s country is in flames as society is being completely reshaped by events a few hours’ drive away – and that Mr & Mrs Westerner are able to feel good about it because they are ‘supporting’ a vital plank of Egypt’s economy by not cancelling their holiday. Airlines and holiday firms kept on flying tourists into Egypt throughout the revolution.

That’s wrong. That’s a moral problem. If your tourism doesn’t allow your hosts to retain their dignity, you need to change your tourism. Dignity comes through income, sure. But nobody – in the UK anyway – seemed to relate industry calls for continued tourism to noses in troughs. At no point did the UK government advise its citizens not to go on holiday to Egypt (if it had done, then the rules on insurance reimbursement would have changed, whereupon the travel industry could have pulled out without losing money). I might be naive, but that is a failing of British foreign policy. Equally, the travel industry’s current reliance on Foreign Office travel advice benefits insurers (and reinsurers), not the industry – and certainly not holidaymakers.

Looking ahead, Bahrain and Libya don’t have anything like the same level of tourism – but the last couple of days have seen violent protests in Oman, which has a flourishing and important tourism sector. If the violence there escalates, will we see the same thing – Westerners holed up in luxury hotels, pretending all is normal, while Omanis try to reshape their society around them? It’s hard to tell. One complicating factor is that, unlike in Egypt, in Oman tourism is concentrated in the capital.

Globally, tourism is dangerously close to getting too big for its boots. It seems to enjoy being last out – only halting altogether under extreme duress – and, above all, being first back in, even while the last stones are being placed on fresh graves. That’s topsy-turvy. When people are trying to grasp political power previously denied to them, holidays become unimportant. They should stop. We should stop them.

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23 Comments leave one →
  1. 28 February 2011 9.32pm

    *STANDING OVATION*

    I’d say more, but I really can’t improve on this.

    .g

  2. 28 February 2011 9.36pm

    Thank you, Greg, much appreciated.

  3. 28 February 2011 10.46pm

    Thank you Matthew for having the courage to speak out.

    I agree with the sentiments expressed in the whole article but especially with the third paragraph. The reality is that industrialised mass tourism rarely benefits the locals and brings in visitors who view their destination as a product and not as a special, (dare I say it), sacred place where people of a very different culture live and maintain their identity.

    I’ve spent 35+ years in tourism, originally inspired by an overland trip from Australia to Dehli on a $1 a day when there were no guides or mobile phones but exciting, distinct, vibrant, mysterious cultures around every turn. Most of what I experienced in 1973 has disappeared and my child’s generation is completely unaware of the loss.

    Thank you again – I hope you stimulate lots of debate and reflection.

  4. kerryn permalink
    28 February 2011 11.47pm

    I know you are outraged and as someone who has not visited other parts of the world I am sorry for myself and children that many places now I just wouldn’t want to go. My Father is a merchant seaman and has travelled the globe also did a world tour a few years ago with mum. They were in New orleans the week before Katrina struck (this is also the name of their first granddaughter) Mum works with terminally ill cancer patients and has done so for over 30 years. Why if someone has worked hard to be able to afford to see the world ( which I think we should all be able to take at least 1 holiday to an o/s destination in our lifetime) should they lose out, why if an area is operating can they not visit that for which they have worked hard and paid. They are really getting reduced value as they can’t go far and explore now can they. That the funds are still going to the crooks is not their fault. Where is the new constitution and new government in egypt for which those people gave their lives. How is that the resposibility of tourists like my parents and believe me they give a shit about world affairs. I wouldn’t know about nth Korea’s jail buses if it weren’t for my father nor would I probably care to the point where I’d let it encroach on my life experience. we do only have one after all.

  5. 1 March 2011 8.57am

    I have read two really first class critical perspectives on recent Middle Eastern events in English this past week. One was John Pilger’s superb New Statesman article last Thursday (“Behind the Arab revolt lurks a word we dare not speak”), and this hard-hitting piece from you Matthew. A wonderful piece of writing. Well said!

    I hope that British travel writers who write so uncritically about Egypt (and for that matter Oman and other developing tourism hotspots in the Middle East) will just take time to reflect. And indeed British travellers who are minded to head for such places. Mass tourism often props up reactionary elements of such societies.

  6. 1 March 2011 10.22am

    A passionate, eloquent post Matthew, and in some ways I agree with you, but you’re mixing different issues – the ones to do with dignity, fairness and human rights, that Tourism Concern laudably battles to make heard all the time, and the ones to do with running a business and ensuring your clients are safe. (As an aside, I haven’t yet heard of a single tourist casualty – injury or death – in any of the ME/NA revolutions.)

    What I don’t get here is why you think revolution automatically moves the goalposts. The Sinai tourism industry has been like this for decades. Resort-based, all-inclusive tourism is generally bad wherever it takes place and there’s no evidence – is there? – that it has much to do with the democratic standing of the country where it’s happening. Your issue, if I’m not putting words in your mouth, is with tourists enjoying themselves unreflectively while massive social change is taking place in the same country. I don’t know why that makes you feel more squeamish than tourists lying on a beach in an all-inclusive in the Dominican Republic or Goa.

    When the dramatic social place is happening in the same place as the tourist industry (throughout Tunisia, throughout Libya, across Cairo) then the travel advisories come out with a blanket “advise against all travel” and everyone cancels. When it’s having little or no direct impact on the tourists (Sinai), then they don’t and companies continue to operate.

    There’s no question that travel advisories should be more nuanced and in this case – presumably good intelligence on the ground – the FCO decided that Sinai was safe. When parts of Kenya were in flames three years ago, the FCO with one unthinking statement closed down British tourism to Kenya for months even though the parks and the coast were unaffected. Mali, which was beginning to have a significant tourist industry based around trekking and music festivals, has been dealt a blow recently by travel advisories wiping half the country off the map on what seems to be an over-reaction (I’ve just written about safety and travel advisories in the Sahel at http://www.theroughguidetowestafrica.blogspot.com).

    The tourist industry does not have the greatest record on sensitivity and being well informed. In fact it’s notoriously ignorant about its own “product”. But if the FCO had behaved over Egypt as they did over Kenya, I believe that would have made matters worse as far as most Sinai tourism workers are concerned. And sadly we don’t often hear their voices – or those of tourism workers in most developing countries come to that.

  7. 1 March 2011 12.04pm

    I have to admit that the latest decision of the Russian Government (the Ministry of Foreign Affairs jointly with the Russian State Tourism Authority) not to allow resumption of package tours to Egypt is strikingly sensible. One of Russian tour operators has sold hundreds of tours and planned to resume charter flights on March 1st but was stopped literally hours before departure. Money is being now returned to travellers.

    This is quite rare in my country that its government shows so much caring about people, not about enrichment.

  8. Nick permalink
    1 March 2011 2.42pm

    This is a thought-provoking piece and although I can see what you’re trying to say about the seediness I’m not sure I agree with you Matthew.

    Tourism represents 11 percent of Egypt’s GDP. As you rightly point out, not all of that money goes to the right places (does it ever?), but tourism revenue is and will remain a vital source of income for the country, perhaps even more so as it forges a new post-Mubarak identity for itself. And that’s at a macro level – the hotels and resorts on the Red Sea provide employment for thousands of individuals, some of whom could have seen their livelihoods at risk had the tourists stopped visiting. You say that it’s a moral problem — and perhaps it is a moral problem that we keep going without thinking about these issues — but I don’t believe the restaurant worker in a Hurghada hotel is likely to have moral qualms about serving customers while his country is “in flames” (just as I don’t believe that any dignity was lost by the millions of individuals who weren’t involved in the main flashpoints in Cairo, Alexandria etc and chose to keep working through the protests).

    Secondly, the Foreign Office was right not to change its advice for travelers. These sorts of warnings exist for a reason — to ensure the safety of British nationals overseas. The government judged correctly that there was no danger posed to tourists in these resorts and issued advice accordingly. What you’re suggesting — that travel advice should be amended to discourage travel because of a moral viewpoint on a situation in a different area — seems to me to be a far more dangerous idea.

    What is happening at the moment is hugely significant for the people in these countries and of course there is no denying that. But someone has to think about what happens next — when the dust settles, these countries will still need the revenue tourism brings just as other economies do. I would argue that it would be far more damaging for Egypt’s long-term prospects for the tourism industry to ring alarm bells across the entire country, just for the sake of making a point.

  9. 1 March 2011 3.22pm

    Great post. Such a difficult topic that warrants a more thought out response than I have time for. Still a couple of thoughts:
    1. I feel there is intrinsically too much individual reliance on governments and companies to make tourist’s moral and safety judgements for them. If you travel abroad you should accept some of the risks of making your own decisions on when to bail out and I just don’t see why there should be an assumption that the cost should fall on the tour operator, the insurers or the government. The press controversy around the British government’s slow attempts to bring Brits back from Libya was ridiculous and diverted attention from the real issue.
    2. I agree that the kind of tourism that Sharm embodies is far from perfect and mostly benefits big companies, so the argument of continuing to visit for local economic benefit is somewhat weakened for this type of tourism.

  10. Hal Peat permalink
    1 March 2011 6.51pm

    @Richard Trillo – I have to disagree with your assertion that Matthew is somehow “mixing different issues” when he connects the presence of indifferent European/foreign tourism companies and tourists in the Middle East with wider events within those destinations and concludes that there’s a disconnect. He’s absolutely right – there’s a huge, huge disconnect, and if anything Matthew is being much more diplomatic and kind about that disconnect than I could ever manage to be when he also underscores his point with the mention of the two journos flown in to experience the charms of Sharm while camel jockeys trampled demonstrators in Tahrir Square. Speaking as a travel writer myself who’s observed the dynamics of how press travel unfolds for over a decade, I very well know there are only two basic reasons why a press trip happens, Richard: negative events, and positive events. Now, you can clearly conclude that for the travel companies’ fear of a negative bottom line in Sharm, they reacted by staging that press travel to counterract the fallout from that 18 days of wider change in Egypt. Would you say they’re “mixing different issues”? Of course they’re not – they’re connecting the impact of the wider issue with their industry bottom line in that region – the problem is, they’re also doing so in a way intended to deny the reality of the change on the ground. A much wiser strategy IMO would be for anyone involved in travel in Egype to regroup and remodel their travel appeal to “the new Egypt” and present a destination that lets visitors see those aspects of the country that Matthew points out have been largely absent during the Mubarak era. That can make it a win-win dynamic for the traveler, the operator, and the smaller Egyptian artisan, innkeeper, restaurateur, etc. who were all kept apart until now.

  11. 1 March 2011 9.28pm

    Hm…. I certainly agree that all inclusive mass tourism is never that desirable. But isn’t there a danger of jumping to conventional conclusions about what the local people think and want?

    In certain Middle Eastern countries there are countless middle aged and elderly people, people who are not well and people who have young, vulnerable children, who hate the government and hate living beneath a yoke of oppression. But they also hate the idea that their country is being blown apart, that law and order is breaking down, that they might suffer terrible injury or loss. Perhaps it will add to their problems and anxieties if they also now have no work to do, if their local industry (tourism) has closed down and there is no money coming in. Don’t you think this will make them feel even more vulnerable and anxious? It would certainly make ME feel that way.

    So I’d say that tourism should be kept going as long as possible, as long as people are willing to come. And I am inclined to think that this is morally the right thing, too.

  12. 1 March 2011 10.00pm

    Thank you, everyone – some great comments here. I’m grateful to everyone for taking the time to respond. I don’t want to blather too much, and I also don’t want to go through nitpicking every single point raised, but here are a few thoughts.

    @Anna – many thanks. A poignant comment. “Visitors who view their destination as a product” – that says it all.

    @kerryn – you’re absolutely right. The fact that money goes to crooks isn’t the responsibility of your parents, or any traveller. But I think we, as consumers, do have responsibilities to spend our money as wisely as possible. That should mean choosing “responsible” tourism over “irresponsible” tourism. You said “We should all be able to take at least one holiday to an overseas destination” – sorry, but I don’t agree. Travel is a privilege that comes with an accident of birth – conferred by a passport which gives easy or visa-free travel, residence in a developed economy, access to disposable income. It’s not a “should”.

    @Richard – thanks for weighing in; delighted you took the time to present such a clear, eloquent rebuttal. All great points; I could debate several with you, but will let what you say stand – too good to nitpick!

    @George – thank you; interesting perspective from Russia. Why did they forbid resumption, do you know?

    @Nick – many thanks, too, for an interesting response. You’re right about the importance of tourism income; I understood tourism to be a much lower proportion of Egypt’s GDP – around 5-6% – but the point remains valid. And tourism will remain key – but I’d suggest the new govt (once it gains democratic legitimacy) has a huge opportunity to boost Egypt’s grassroots economy and, perhaps more important, leverage Egypt’s global soft power – which has already jumped hugely post-revolution – by reshaping the tourism industry, away from the Mubarak-era tycoon-friendly model and towards more responsible, smaller-scale enterprises. It *is* a moral issue, as you say – but of course the Hurghada worker has no qualms: my point was that the Westerners he is serving are the ones who should be thinking twice. It is charming to imagine that the Foreign Office acts dispassionately, weighing up the risk to British nationals and objectively issuing advisories – but, of course, it doesn’t happen like that. The advisories are shaped to match foreign policy objectives, and to placate domestic interests. During the revolution, governments from Iraq to Canada announced that their own nationals should evacuate Egypt, yet the British, French and German governments did not. Might that be related to the fact that Britain, France and Germany supply the vast majority of tourists to Egypt’s Red Sea resorts? Is it simply about good intelligence?

    @Ben – thank you too. A great point. We should all take more responsibility for our holiday purchases. Why *should* the individual always expect to be bailed out in a crisis – anyone want to respond?

    @Hal – many thanks, but just to address something in what you said. I doubt that Sharm press trip was organized at the last second to showcase calm amid the storm. It was almost certainly arranged weeks in advance – and, for what it’s worth, not through the state tourist authority but via a local Sharm hotel, I believe. Significantly, though, it wasn’t cancelled when the revolution began.

  13. 1 March 2011 10.07pm

    Hal, I don’t think we’re going to agree on this. On the press trip question, I thought it came across (to us) as pretty crass, but I can understand why they did it and presumably the stories will only have been published after Mubarak was gone. I assume you’re not still making a case for tourists to stay away from Egypt?

    In my experience, most tour operators only care about some degree of predictability (what is always referred to as “stability” whether that’s good, open, democratic “stability” or repressive, pinned-down, undemocratic “stability”) and being able to repatriate as much of their earnings as possible. I don’t see any evidence of TOs working in Egypt being unhappy about a more democratic future (denying the reality of the change on the ground as you put it), just temporarily unhappy about an uncertain present. I just don’t think many of them care that much either way, though I’m certain they’d all claim publically to be great supporters of human rights and democratic freedoms. But without a serious reappraisal of their priorities – the regrouping and remodelling that you’re talking about – which comes down to a serious attempt to trade ethically, and without the same reappraisal on the part of their Egyptian partners, I don’t see much real change likely in the future. It would be good for the smaller businesses to have more opportunities – and freedom of expression should help in that – but it’s still going to be a very long road to fairly traded tourism in Egypt, as everywhere.

    I still think this is a separate issue from the question of tourism during times of social upheaval. And I find it slightly disquieting that commentators are so ready to pour scorn on tourists en masse as if every one of them was a witless consumer of tourism product. For every ignorant sunseeker in Sharm I think you’d find another tourist in Dahab who cared about the Bedouins’ culture and economy and felt that going on holiday there, despite the circumstances, was on balance the best thing to do.

  14. 1 March 2011 10.31pm

    @Richard – just a note. This was one of the stories from that press trip:

    http://www.telegraph.co.uk/travel/travelnews/8317053/Egypt-crisis-the-charms-of-an-empty-Sharm.html

    It was researched, written & published during the revolution, while Mubarak remained as president and his party regime remained in power.

    On your other point, I don’t quite see the clear division between these issues that you do. Mubarak was bad for years; the revolution has highlighted just how bad he really was. Mass tourism (as you say) is bad; social upheaval merely highlights just how bad it really is. Consistency is always going to be elusive – but let’s try.

    I hope you don’t think I’m pouring scorn on anyone. Far from it. We all only ever try to do our best. Rather, I’m trying to identify the irresponsibility of an industry which chooses to rate “stability” over morality, and which is happiest seeing countries as “product” for packaging.

    Morality in the travel industry? I know, I know. Let me dream.

  15. 2 March 2011 5.31am

    @Matthew -

    The official explanation is that the Russian Federation and Egypt, acting through their respective ministries of foreign affairs, have not yet agreed on mechanisms protecting Russian citizens in Egypt. It may imply insurance and other protection measures including consular services, etc. There was an interesting detail how the travel ban was implemented – by law, the state cannot interfere with business operations, so there has been no ban per se, only a ‘recommendation’ by the Federal Tourism Agency (Rostourism, a department of the Russia Sports and Tourism Ministry) not to visit Egypt. When a tour operator announced resumption of travel Rostourism threatened to initiate a comprehensive audit of the company and it complied with the recommendations. The original document in Russian dated 29 January 2011 can be found at http://www.russiatourism.ru/news/-33557065/

    To tighten the lid, the Federal Aviation Agency banned all charter flights to Egypt on safety grounds. The Ministry of FA has issued several travel warnings, one of them, dated February 8, can be found here – http://www.mid.ru/brp_4.nsf/0/9C8F0485CE1E2098C3257831004AB7B1

  16. 2 March 2011 7.26am

    Matthew, thanks for pointing that out – I hadn’t realised that piece had appeared then, one of the last to be published before Mubarak’s departure.

    I’m sticking to my division I’m afraid! Reform in tourism fairness and social reform (or revolution) just don’t seem to be that connected, though one might think they would be. At a deep level the new Egypt should make responsible tourism easier to develop, but from Kenya (flawed democracy, terrible human rights record, excellent responsible tourism initiatives in the private sector) to The Gambia (no democracy, barking mad president who could give Gaddafi a run for his money, but banned AI resorts because they’re bad for the people) and around the world, the link just isn’t there as far as I can see.

    I was a bit harsh about tourist comments, sorry. I fully agree with you about the elevation of “stability” over morality, and yes we all have to dream – I’m sure that’s why we’re all posting.

  17. Jon permalink
    2 March 2011 10.23am

    “I think we, as consumers, do have responsibilities to spend our money as wisely as possible.” Well said Matthew.

    Part of the difficulty is in using the word “holiday” or “vacation.” We’re trying to escape our daily lives and stresses and want to pretend there is an idealistic place where we can do that. Instead of experiencing a new aspect of this world and it’s people, we’re still focused on us. I do think there is some value to that, and it’s necessary to have an escape now and again. However, I agree with you in that it seems irresponsible to “escape” to a place that’s in the throws of a revolution.

  18. Hal Peat permalink
    2 March 2011 5.45pm

    @Richard Trillo – “I assume you’re not still making a case for tourists to stay away from Egypt?” I don’t think I was making a case for that in the first place and maybe I didn’t express myself clearly about how I view the relationships between country, travel industry, public relations and media. I was speaking just from the standpoint of the latter category of travel media and how we may either unintentionally or intentionally become complicit in a promotional effort to present life and business as being perfectly normal in an environment which is actually in some state of turmoil – natural, man-made, political. That’s what I was referring to previously as the negative dynamic that sometimes propels a press trip. But you’re correct insofar as we differ because I don’t compartmentalize the political/economic dimension from the travel dimension. To me, they’re invariably interlinked in any number of ways.

    @Matthew – thanks for clarifying about the Sharm press trip, and yes, wasn’t it convenient of the DT to run their story anyway. BTW, just last night there was a BBC World News segment here that focused on the role of western PR firms and their ME governmental clients. Their first example was one Nick Allan who has offices in Soho and made some comments about “changing the narrative” when asked about his objective for his ME client. The other PR example was Greg Vistica of Washington Media Group here in the U.S., who was much more emphatic in making the point that when your client (in his case, Tunisia) starts shooting its own unarmed citizens then you’ll definitely consider ending the relationship. Additionally, the Beeb reporter pointed out that the U.K. has no laws requiring companies to register as representatives of foreign governments, as the U.S. does in fact require. Don’t know if you also saw this Beeb news segment, but thought it was candid and points out some of the usually unseen connection between country-travel-PR-media and that certainly seem to apply in the middle east.

  19. 7 March 2011 9.05am

    Thanks again, everyone. Apologies for my poor curation & patchy responses here… Events overtaken me somewhat…

    @George – thank you for the clarification. I wonder what’s playing beneath the surface of Russia-Egypt relations here…

    @Richard – fair enough! I think our disagreement rests on suitable responses to the kind of ‘stability’ the West has encouraged in the Middle East for decades – that is, Mubarak/Assad/Saud-style stability, which comes at the expense of popular aspirations. Mass tourism cannot operate without stability, so while these (and similar) regimes are stable, tourism makes hay, regardless of what the regime is doing to its people. When the regimes totter, tourism is often – to refer back to my title – ‘last out, first in’. When they fall, tourism promotes itself as the quickest, best road back to economic recovery in the new environment. But in all these situations, the moral basis on which the travel industry engages with the destination seems to me to be dodgy, to say the least. You’re right that the tourism industry in Sinai has been the same for years – what I’m saying is that social unrest has highlighted just how bad it is, both there and elsewhere. This seems to me a good opportunity to look again at how travel engages with unrepresentative regimes (and to whose benefit). I wonder whether it might not be time to encourage some kind of self-imposed industry regulation requiring “responsible” quality standards for certain forms of tourism. At the moment, the industry condones – and encourages – “irresponsible” tourism. Should it continue to do so?

    @Jon – you said it. “It seems irresponsible to ‘escape’ to a place that’s in the throes of a revolution.” Spot on.

    @Hal – thank you; yes I saw reports about that PR story. How travel PR is able to spin regime “stability” is a *whole* other blog post…!

  20. Pat Gordon permalink
    8 March 2011 1.52am

    Bravo for a very truthful article. Where is “our” dignity in that we think that we can just “walk over graves” in order to enjoy a little R&R?

  21. 8 March 2011 4.32am

    @Matthew

    Fear is at play. There may be ulterior motives behind the seemingly humane decision not to resume travel to Egypt. President Medvedev, speaking at a meeting of the National Anti-Terrorism Committee in Vladikavkaz on Feb. 22, just ten days after Mubarak’s ouster, ominously warned his audience, the high-ranking police and state security generals, that, quote, such a scenario was harboured for us, and now attempts to implement it are even more likely. In any case, this plot will not work. But everything that happens there will have a direct impact on our domestic situation in the long term, as long as decades, unquote. (Source: http://eng.kremlin.ru/transcripts/1804)

    The original Russian transcript of his speech is even more sinister than its official translation above. In it, Medvedev speaks about “them” and he never clarifies who “they” are but in the Soviet and Russian parlance this pronoun usually stands for the American imperialists. (I know, I know, I also laughed.)

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