EGYPT 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 Orgies, Urban Legends about a Marauding Prince, and Blonde Belly Dancers, by L.L. Wynn. Austin, TX: University of Texas Press, 2007. xv + 225 pages. Notes to p. 246. Bibl. to p. 265. Index to p. 279. $24.95 paper.
Reviewed by James Jankowski
The sprawling title of this work is appropriate; it is a sprawling book. Yet it is not unstructured. Its main focus, a comparison of the differing nature of Western and Arab tourism in Egypt and how contact with each group contributes to the Egyptian sense of national identity ("through encounters with Others, the Self is defined"; p. 21), is original in conception and by and large well executed in practice. It is also an enjoyable book: the work's personal tone, its reliance on the vivid narration of Egyptian experiences and of popular opinion as gathered in interviews, and its lavish use of photographs, all contribute to making the work an evocative portrait of contemporary Egypt.
Substantively, three themes are interwoven in its Introduction and six chapters. The first, developed most fully in Chapter One ("Ethics and Methodology of a Transnational Anthropology") but discussed intermittently thereafter, is a candid account of the practical as well as the ethical difficulties of a Westerner doing anthropological fieldwork in Egypt. The author is admirably transparent in analyzing the limitations imposed on her research by both bonds of friendship and official barriers, and how such restraints determined the nature of the study (qualitative rather than quantitative; relying on "thick description" through the extended narration of key anecdotes and case studies). The candor with which the author discusses methodological issues makes it a useful primer for anyone intending to do research in Egypt, as well as a nostalgic read for anyone who has experienced the joys of dealing with the Egyptian bureaucracy.
Chapters Two and Three, ostensibly devoted to examining the nature of Western tourism in Egypt, in reality devote most of their attention to the history of the Western fascination with ancient Egypt and to the impact of different Western interpretations of ancient Egypt on Egyptian perceptions of their history. The discussion of the historical development of the discipline of Egyptology in Chapter Two is conventional and somewhat sensationalist, stressing the swashbuckling origins of the discipline and the resulting plunder of Egypt's antique heritage by Western archeologists and institutions. …