CAIRO – Twitter users on Friday hijacked a government hashtag called #ThisIsEgypt — part of an online campaign aimed at drawing tourists — posting stories and pictures of state abuses and shortcomings instead.
The hashtag was launched Thursday to revitalize the tourism industry, badly hit by political turmoil and more recently by the crash of a Russian airliner into the Sinai desert that killed all 224 people onboard. Russia said it was downed by a bomb and halted all flights to Egypt, dealing a heavy blow to the sector which was largely dependent on Russian tourists.
The campaign includes a video that has gone viral in Egypt, showing young people enjoying the country’s picturesque nature sites, mountainous Red Sea coast, the Great Pyramids of Giza and other tourist attractions. Near the end, the narrator asks viewers to use the hashtag to “let the world know (Egypt) the way you see it.”
It has attracted hundreds of posts, with many showing badly maintained streets, beggars and piles of trash, and links to articles about detainees, police abuses and the government’s bloody dispersal of peaceful protesters outside Cairo’s Rabaa al-Adawiyah mosque in 2013.
“I’m not trying to hijack the #thisisegypt hashtag, just doing what they said,” journalist Wael Eskandar tweeted. Eskandar posted links to articles about jailed journalists, students and activists, including some who have been secretly detained by security agencies in recent months, according to lawyers and other activists.
Egypt launched a crackdown on Islamists following the 2013 military overthrow of Islamist President Mohammed Morsi, which has swept up many journalists and the young pro-democracy activists who spearheaded the 2011 uprising that toppled longtime autocrat Hosni Mubarak.
Many Twitter users, however, used the hashtag for its intended purpose, sharing their pictures of the rugged terrain of the Sinai Peninsula, fishermen on the Nile River and ancient artifacts.
The failed social media campaign was reminiscent of a Syrian government effort earlier this year, when the country’s state news agency started a hashtag called #SummerInSyria and posted photos showing people enjoying night life, as if the country was not embroiled in civil war.
The hashtag was taken over by opposition supporters who posted photos showing the suffering of residents in areas that were being bombarded by government troops. Some showed children wounded in government bombing raids. One user posted a photo of a destroyed neighbourhood, saying “Come and enjoy your #SummerInSyria. You will see many historic cities. In fact, most of Syria’s cities are history.”
Associated Press writer Bassem Mroue in Beirut contributed to this report.