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A postcard from the desert

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Last year I wrote a piece and published it from Egypt while the population was engaged in an, ultimately successful, push to overthrow its president. Now I am back and writing this from Dahab, a town on the eastern coast of the Sinai peninsula where the desert meets the Red Sea.

When you're just a few miles from the spot where mankind received the ten commandments from God via Moses, (if you buy into that sort of thing), it is ironic there is a notable lack of advertising messaging here. True, even the most ramshackle, windowless, breezeblock shed has a satellite dish pinned to its outer wall, but in terms of localised ad sites - 96 sheet posters, Adshels and the like - there is not even a glimpse. Admittedly, the population here is sparse and disposable incomes even more modest, but I have seen banners and branding in poorer areas that this. And, as the scuba diving here is some of the best in the world, there is a significant and fluid presence of wealthy Germans and Russians with lots of Egyptian pounds to spend. MediaVest et al may wish to take note; virgin territory right here, guys!

It's hard to pinpoint where the 'third world' begins (and even whether this rather patronising term has any real meaning when India's economy out-performs most of Europe) but Egypt certainly resembles the images the Western mind produces when we hear the phrase. And, much like sub Saharan Africa the most prevalent medium is the mobile phone. From hotel receptionist to the driver of the collapsing Land Rover which took us up the coast, a handset is ever present. We're not talking smart phones though. I haven't seen an iPhone or Android device, other than my own, since I arrived. This is the home of the cheap and cheerful Nokia and its 'calls and texts' simplicity. As far as I can tell the local network has no 3G capability so the need for the sort of machines addicting us in the UK just isn't there.

The internet hasn't revolutionised life in the Sinai. We now know that the citizens of Cairo relied heavily on facebook, You Tube and twitter as they overthrew their government in 2011, but on the edge of the sands which run all the way to the borders of Israel and Jordan, the connection is so slow and access so restricted, that the web's usefulness is more apparent to tourists than locals. As I mentioned, satellite television is as ubiquitous as the camels and mosquitos in this arid place, therefore TV advertising reaches into the most impoverished homes. So it must be rather bemusing returning to a one room home, having made considerably less from your fruit stall than you did twelve months ago (a 20% drop in local trade since the revolution), and finding the telly imploring you to change your brand of curtains to ensure a better life. But the Egyptians are very good humoured, thoughtful people and I am quite sure they find the juxtaposition as funny as it is ludicrous.

It might just explain however, why they are content to live in a landscape free from massive, printed displays of ostentatious consumer luxeries. With the military still holding the balance of power in Cairo, the people of Sinai have more important things to consider.

Magnus Shaw - blogger and copywriter

www.magnusshaw.co.uk
www.creativepool.co.uk/magnusshaw


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