Mrs Mubarak’s Anti-Trafficking Project Endangered: Imelda Marcos, anyone?

Although the media gushed predictably over Suzanne Mubarak’s EndHumanTrafficking shebang in Luxor last December, they will probably now choose to forget their enthusiasm. I have not even begun to relate the many disturbing elements of those few days I spent at a trafficking believers’ meeting, and one of the worst concerned Mrs Mubarak.

The revival tent was set up in the gardens of the Winter Palace Hotel, the sort of place known as a colonial gem, with interiors popular for shooting Miss Marple episodes. The enormous white tent held hundreds of people, sophisticated media equipment and a dozen air-conditioners.

Access to the tent was guarded clumsily by a battalion of thugs wearing ill-fitting civilian suits with guns poking out. They lined the paths, hovered round the metal detector and blocked access to anyplace they pleased, including the Temple of Karnak, next to which a reception was held (one thought so that guests could take a peek at it). They closed down restaurants and shoved spectators to the side whenever Mrs M was scheduled to pass by, making goons the memorable symbol of a dictator’s wife’s symbolic benevolence. She read fulsome speeches that praised her own good works and nearly gave herself one of the awards at the final dinner.

All this will be familiar to those attending the prestigious variety of international ‘development’ events where poverty and misery are commented onstage, followed rapidly by excesses of food and drink. You need a strong stomach for hypocrisy to attend many such affairs – that and an absence of conscience. When I left the lavish final dinner, the movie stars were dancing with the fake-folkloric musicians that banged in, hopping up and down having the time of their lives. No problems of conscience there.

It is not surprising that the rescue of enslaved women and children should be the subject of such indulgences. More disturbing was the seeming unawareness that the security was considered necessary to protect the president’s wife, that the event was being held in the kind of dictatorship where it is better to leave your laptop at home, in case they don’t like the pictures in it. A businessman referred onstage to disreputable women, and none of the so-called gender-equality experts said a thing.

When I was sitting on that stage freezing, facing a wall of repudiation from the audience, I thought of all those guards, dotted between the temple columns, lingering in the shadows, each and every one holding a gun.

That was the first time I had been in Egypt since 1973. The first time was October 1970, shortly after President Gamal Abdel Nasser had died, when huge numbers of people were also in the streets. The most shocking thing I can say about what I felt after 40 years away is this: In its essence, it didn’t feel different. I am not talking about modern buildings but about how men acted. Suzanne was a wife, that’s about the extent of it.

In Luxor, I thought about Imelda Marcos. In the following short piece on Swiss radio, someone else has the same idea. I suggest the word NGO is not appropriate for a Mubarak project: this is a neocolonialist charitable enterprise, though I do not know exactly what they do:

Events in Egypt cast shadow over Suzanne Mubarak’s NGO

Ripples from unrest in Egypt may be felt among the international NGOs in Geneva. One of them is chaired by Suzanne Mubarak, wife of beleaguered Egyptian president, Hosni Mubarak. She opened the Suzanne Mubarak Women’s International Peace Movement office in Geneva to much fanfare seven years ago. Now, events in Egypt are casting a cloud over the organization’s campaign on human trafficking.

LISTEN HERE at World Radio Switzerland

–Laura Agustín, the Naked Anthropologist

8 thoughts on “Mrs Mubarak’s Anti-Trafficking Project Endangered: Imelda Marcos, anyone?

  1. Iamcuriousblue

    Pics here:

    In particular, I remember Ashton Kutcher’s newly sported beard and flowing scarf while he spouted off canned and inaccurate statistics. Basically looking like a cross between a western pro-Palestinian wannabe and the Matthew McConaughey character in Contact. Lots of similar showy “ethnic” styles among this “NGO” crowd. The distance between the lifestyles of these people and their “get to the root causes” rhetoric is enough to make any halfway aware person positively ill.

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  3. Maggie McNeill

    You know, when I read about your treatment at that event I was too busy being righteously indignant on your behalf to think about the incongruity of a dictatorship hosting an event condemning slavery!

  4. swoplv

    Great observations, Laura.

    Kutcher looked like a deer in the headlights, and sounded as simple as he looked, parroting some silly statistics he read somewhere on a “factsheet”.

    The other thing I noticed about the Luxor event was that they kept referring to the slaves that built the pyramids. But this is by no means proven fact- it is merely conjecture. There is even still disagreement between the geologists and the Egyptologists as to when they were built (by some thousands of decades). Nobody can say for sure who built the pyramids, and I have even read where many experts believe the work to be far too precise and fine to have been carried out by slaves- who would not have had the interest in being that precise for an oppressor.

  5. laura agustin Post author

    maggie, thanks. i am not sure how it happens, that people miss such huge obvious incongruities. i don’t mean your not thinking about it but all the attendees at the event, up on that platform righteously calling for freedom in the middle of local non-freedom. i knew it would feel like that to me when i accepted, and left my computer behind and thought through a few other basic travel issues one does when going to such places. but i get the impression not so many people did or do this in general, the tourism and conference industries being so successful at selling everyone a superficial image of fun and glamour. i wondered about some of the real charity ladies there from the US, though, for example – they had to have known.

  6. Susan

    The Manpower Corporation trying to end slavery? The corporation that guarantees you work for a day?

    Man, talk about lavendar-washing.

  7. Pingback: Global Egypt anti-sex-trafficking Scam

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