One tourism strategy in the Middle East is the cordon sanitaire or containment model. Tourist activities are limited to specific areas — what Algeria and Tunisia call “zones touristiques.” Club Med in Egypt is outside Hurghada, on the Red Sea coast. In Algeria, every worker at the hotel complex at Sidi Ferruj, west of Algiers, happily informed me that the site was chosen by the government to mark the place where the French first landed in 1830. Algeria also promotes “nature” tourism to the Sahara, making it possible to fly directly from Europe to Tamanrasset in the Algerian interior and completely bypass the populated coastal region.

Other countries promote their pre-Islamic pasts understood as non-Islamic and therefore non-threatening. The obvious example is Egypt, where successful marketing of ancient archaeology and artifacts has allowed “Pharaonic Egypt” to stand for contemporary Egyptian customs and manners.

The most extreme example of cordon sanitaire is the total prohibition of tourist “contamination.” Saudi authorities sent an exhibition to US cities in 1991 as if to say: “You can’t come to Saudi Arabia, so we will come to you.” To represent Saudi women, they had mannequins next to the (live) Saudi men, or they hired American women to dress as Saudi women.

At the opposite end of the spectrum is the Israeli model, which markets the option of full participation in “everyday life” — come and work on a moshav or a kibbutz, join an archaeology dig, attend Israeli university classes, and even participate in military training.

How to cite this article:

Susan Slyomovics "Tourist Containment," Middle East Report 196 (September/October 1995).

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