SOAS University of London

Department of Anthropology and Sociology

Ms Karin Ahlberg

BA (Uppsala University), MSc (Uppsala University), MA (SOAS).
  • Overview


Karin Ahlberg
Ms Karin Ahlberg
Email address:
Thesis title:
"They are destroying the image of Egypt": Tourism, Egyptian nationhood and infrastructures of image making.
Year of Study:
Internal Supervisors

PhD Research

My PhD thesis explores how tourism, national identity, Egyptian nationhood and what I call ‘infrastructures for image making’ are entangled in the authoritarian, tourism-dependent and post-colonial context of Egypt. I conceive of the global tourism and news media industries in the Egyptian context as infrastructures that produce and circulate different images and narratives about Egypt. I show how different mediations of Egypt really matter as they are understood to have effects on e.g. tourism flows, foreign investments and the general image of Egypt, by exploring how these infrastructures and images have been and are being used, emphasised or silenced by the regime and other state actors for different purposes; internationally – as part of soft diplomacy, foreign policy and tourism activities; and nationally, as building blocks in national identity projects in line with the visions of the regime and as ways to carve out the ‘fault lines’ of the nation. I detail how a range of Egyptians relate to this complex of ‘image control’, as these discourses and practices are not only related to public actors or those in power.

I collected material for the thesis in Egypt between August 2011 and March 2013. The research builds on participant observation and interviews with a range of actors, who either engage in practices of producing and circulating images and narratives of Egypt, or who work as mediators and interlocutors between foreigners and fellow Egyptians. The most important protagonists and voice in the thesis are a number of shopkeepers in  the tourist market Khan El-Khalili, Egyptian fixers who assist foreign journalists in their making of news about Egypt, and what I refer to as ‘tourism actors’ or ‘tourism marketing actors’. These are professionals working for the Egyptian state in the tourism sector or employees at marketing or creative bureaus, contracted by the Ministry of Tourism.

Based on the conversations I had with various actors and the theoretical and analytical underpinnings and tools mentioned above, throughout my thesis I focus on relaying voices and ethnographic scenes illustrating how various people feel, think and act in their work when they mediate ‘Egypt’ to outsiders. I show the nuances and complexities with regards to the ‘image awareness’ of what to display, protect and expose of Egypt to outsiders, and how this is related to the history of colonialism, authoritarianism and ideas of Egyptian and Arab ‘culture’.


  • Ahlberg, Karin (2014) 'On secrets of the state and politics of paranoia'. Conference paper. Panel P003. In search of concealed truth: revealing, unraveling and debunking. EASA2014: Collaboration, Intimacy & Revolution, Tallinn
  • Ahlberg, Karin (2013) ‘Branding Egypt Islamic; the (non-)latitude for new directions within tourism in post-revolutionary Egypt’ Conference: 'Tourism and the Shifting Values of Cultural Heritage: Visiting Pasts, Developing Futures' 5-9 April, 2012 Taipei
  • Ahlberg, Karin. ‘On the present tense, when the present is tense’, presentation at Cairo Based Research Consortium ‘Egypt Research Exchange: Asking Questions in Revolutionary Times’, Cairo October 2012.
  • Ahlberg, Karin, Rabo, Annika, and Rommel, Carl (convenors of panel) (2012) W015. Living uncertainty: navigating gray-zones of unreliable realities in the Middle East. Panel, EASA 2012: Uncertainty and disquiet. Nanterre, France.
  • Ahlberg, Karin & Rommel, Carl (2012) ‘Uncertainties, subjectivities and the (non-)production of truth’, presented at EASA 2012: Uncertainty and disquiet. Nanterre, France.


  • SOAS Research Scholarship 2010-2013
  • Visiting Fellow without Stipend, American University in Cairo 2011-2012