Fonda brings a smile to the face of Egypt's tourism

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The Independent Online
LUXOR - Jane Fonda was greeted as the UN's 'goodwill ambassador' when she arrived in the dusk of upper Egypt, writes Robert Fisk. The old men outside their hovels, the women carrying sacks on their heads, the white- robed figures in the brick mosques paid no attention when the heroine of Hanoi, hair dolled like Barbie, breezed past in an air-conditioned coach full of Egypt's fat cats.

Her child's smile remained frozen until she reached the Winter Palace Hotel. 'Where is the rest-room?' she asked. 'The restaurant - this way madam,' a sleek maitre replied. 'No, the rest-room,' snapped the goodwill ambassador. Television cameras had to be restrained from following her into the ladies.

Ms Fonda is in Egypt for the population conference, though you would never have guessed it when she arrived in Luxor with an escort of Egyptian actors and actresses, the minister of tourism, his assistants, tourist contractors, two bus-loads of journalists and three car-loads of security police toting Kalashnikovs. Greeted by a military brass band at the Karnak Temples, she bestowed the same fixed smile upon the mortuary temple of Remeses II - inspiration of Shelley's Ozymandias - as she did on the flashing Nikons.

She was participating - even if she may not have realised it - in a war waged by the Egyptian government against its violent Islamic opponents. 'If Jane Fonda can come to Luxor, then the tourists will no longer be worried about the threats of el-Gamaat el- Islamiya, confided a top tourist manager - the man who organised the first passenger flights between Cairo and Tel Aviv - as he sipped his glass of Ruby d'Egypte rose wine. 'We've got to fight these so-called fundamentalists. We can't let them destroy our economy.'

But just as the Egyptian tenor Hassan Kamy was about to sing the final duet from Aida, the call for prayers drifted from a mosque across the sacred lake of Luxor. The Koran, mixed with a distant drumbeat of wedding celebrations beyond the railway tracks, sounded natural behind the palm trees, the music of Verdi - and earlier of Beethoven's Eroica - so alien.

(Photograph omitted)