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4.0 out of 5 stars Intellectually stimulating but a bit too scholastic, 16 Sep 2008
By 
Graham Hunt - See all my reviews
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This review is from: Pyramids and Nightclubs: A Travel Ethnography of Arab and Western Imaginations of Egypt, from King Tut and a Colony of Atlantis to Rumors of Sex ... a Marauding Prince, and Blonde Belly Dancers (Paperback)
Pyramids and Nightclubs offers a new and provocative perspective on Egypt by analyzing what brings tourists there and how that defines the tourists and the Egyptians themselves.
Fundamentally the author investigates Western and "Arab" tourism in Egypt. The Western tourism centred around Egypt's pharaonic past in both orthodox and wierd and wonderful alternative New Age versions, and "Arab" tourism from the rich oil countries which is not interested in the Egypt of the past, but rather in present day Egypt, obviously more accessible to them than to westerners, which is still a centre of Arabic pop culture, theatres, soap operas, movies and music and which provides the youth of the restrictive cultures of the Gulf States the opportuntiy to socialize in a less restrictive environment. She talks of how the Egyptians see the "Arabs" as they call them, those of the Arabian peninsula, and how the "Arabs" see the Egyptians, whom they frequently know either only as lower class, impoverished migrant workers or through the distorted lense of decades of films. Egyptians on the other hand, have the image of the fabulously rich yet uncouth Arab fresh from the desert, living in a repressive society who comes to a fellow Arab country to finally relax and enjoy all those "licentious freedoms" that are tolerated in today's Egypt.
She investigates these deep-rooted but apparently superficial stereotypes each has of the other. Wynn bases her thesis on years spent in both Saudi Arabia and Egypt, on her fluent Arabic and, not least, on her time working in the offices of Dr. Zahi Hawass at the Giza pyramids.

Unfortunately Wynn's frequently entertaining text makes for frequent heavy reading because although it is presented as a 'book', in reality it is rather obviously still only a slightly retouched innocent and endearing university doctoral thesis by a serious young Texan (?) lady.
The book has its limitations. As she is the first to admit, she is obviously in no position to discuss the extent of the phenomeon she tries so hard to debunk, that of men coming from the Gulf to Egypt on a sex and alcohol spree, and so one of the legs of her thesis is decidedly wobbly. And perhsps the respect for her hosting country and for the work ethic she mentions, prevents her, when she discusses the different Western and Arab approaches to pharaonic history, from making any reference to the possible influence of the Islamic faith (the extreme example comes to mind - the Bamiyan Buddhas in Afghanistan). And although she tells us that one third of her field notes deal with the belly dancers who became her friends, she dismisses this intriguing subject with a couple of superficial pages at the very end of the book, which is a pity. Understandable perhaps from the academic point of view but not from the reader's point of view. In fact the book sometimes suffers from a rather academically constipated style, formally repeating the same things ad nauseam, acceptable perhaps in a doctoral thesis but not in a book with the catchy title and the "bestseller" subtitle she or her editor has chosen. Nevertheless, the central theme remains provocative. A new way of looking at Egypt. A worthwhile read.
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