Two Danes climbed a pyramid. Why is Egypt mad?

Last week, a sexually-charged video and photos emerged on social media of two Danes climbing the Great Pyramid at Giza. Egyptian journalist Farah Bahgat explains the reaction in Cairo.

Two Danes climbed a pyramid. Why is Egypt mad?
Two Danes caused outrage in Egypt by climbing the Pyramid of Khufu and making a sexual video. File photo: AP Photo/Amr Nabil/Ritzau Scanpix

In 2003, an Egyptian film titled The Danish Experience premiered and instantly became a Middle Eastern blockbuster about the extreme cultural differences between Egypt and Denmark, particularly when it comes to sex. 

The Danish Experience was a comedy about a Danish woman, Anita, who visits Egypt and stays with a government minister and his four 20-something sons and teaches them her perspective on sexual freedom.

In one scene, as Anita talks about how nudity is socially acceptable in Denmark, her Egyptian host family are constantly astonished by how confidently she is tackling a topic they consider a taboo.

Fifteen years later, when 23-year-old Dane Andreas Hvid posted a video of him and a friend climbing a pyramid, along with a sexually charged photo, these cultural differences became relevant again as Egyptian anger was sparked.

Although a similar incident occurred in 2016, when a German tourist was banned from re-entering Egypt after he climbed a pyramid, it did not spark the same outrage, perhaps because the only difference was that no sex was involved.

In one of the most memorable scenes in the 2003 film, Anita takes off a blanket and appears to be naked. “Sex is not a bad thing, Mr. Qadri,” she says, while Qadri feels uncomfortable and puts the blanket back on her.

For Danes, it is socially acceptable to swim naked, and there are no laws prohibiting such nudity. There are also spaces where it is allowed to publicly have sex, such as Ørstedsparken in Copenhagen.

A study by YouGov in 2013 found that 41 percent of Danes who participated in the survey have previously engaged in sexual activity in a public space, giving Denmark the highest score for public sex among Europeans.

The total opposite is true in Egypt. “Inciting debauchery” and “harming public morality” are criminal charges that could lead to imprisonment or a fine.

Last year, an Egyptian singer, Shyma, was jailed for both charges after she appeared in a music video that was perceived as “sexually charged”.

And just a few days before Hvid’s video went viral, two conservative lawyers announced they were suing actress Rania Youssef over a “revealing dress” she wore to a film festival, accusing her of “incitement to debauchery”.

The same charges are often used in the crackdown on the LGBTQ community.

Denmark was the first country in the world to recognize same-sex marriage. In Egypt, the police arrested about 100 concert attendees last year for waving the rainbow flag.

The incident also tells us something about corruption in Egypt. In an opinion piece in Egypt’s state-owned newspaper Al Ahram, Ahmed Abdel Hakam wrote that in exchange of money everything is possible in Egypt.

Two suspects were arrested on charges of helping Hvid and his friend climb the pyramid.

One of the two, a woman, established contact between the Danish couple and the camel owner, who illegally transported them to the pyramid on the evening of November 29th for the price of 4,000 Egyptian pounds, around 1,500 kroner (200 euros), according to the Egyptian interior ministry.

“The moral that appears out of this story, even if it’s wrong, is that it is possible to commit any [act of] indecency or corruption as long as you find someone who helps you for [an amount] of money,” Hakam wrote.

Corruption is also another major difference between Egyptian and Danish societies, one that makes disrespect and vandalism of one of the world’s archaeological wonders possible – by foreigners and with Egyptian complicity.

Egypt ranks as number 117 on the Corruption Perceptions Index 2017, while Denmark ranks as number 2. The index reflects levels of trust in the government.

Social media users in Egypt have responded to the incident by in criticizing the government and its administration of the area where the pyramids and the Great Sphinx of Giza are located.

A few days after the video of the Danes climbing the Great Pyramid emerged on social media, the government announced that Orascom, a company owned by Egypt’s wealthiest man, will take over the administration of tourist facilities at the area.

The Danish Experience concludes with Anita deciding to leave Egypt after the culture clash causes conflict within her host family. Hvid has said that he is not planning to return to Egypt, fearing legal trouble over his sexually-charged, unlawful visit to the pyramids.

READ ALSO: Egyptians arrested for helping Danish couple who climbed pyramid and posed naked 


Egyptians arrested for helping Danish couple who climbed pyramid and posed naked

Authorities in Egypt on Thursday arrested a camel owner and a second person for helping two Danish tourists to climb the Great Pyramid at Giza.

Egyptians arrested for helping Danish couple who climbed pyramid and posed naked
The Pyramid of Khufu, also known as the Great Pyramid of Giza. File photo: AP Photo/Nariman El-Mofty/Ritzau Scanpix

After climbing the pyramid, the pair took sexually-charged photos and a video of themselves and then shared the images online, causing outrage in the Middle Eastern country.

According to the Egyptian interior ministry, the second of the two arrested people, a woman, established contact between the Danish couple and the camel owner, who illegally transported them to the pyramid on the evening of November 29th for the price of 4,000 Egyptian pounds, around 1,500 kroner (200 euros).

The camel owner and woman have confessed to their involvement and await trial, news agency AFP reports. Egyptian law forbids climbing on the ancient monuments at Giza.

23-year-old Dane Andreas Hvid posted on YouTube a video of the couple climbing the pyramid. The video ends with the young woman, whose face is blurred out, removing her top as she stands atop the 146.7 metre-tall archaeological wonder. It has been viewed over 4.8 million times at the time of writing.

“Climbing an ancient monument like the pyramids is not allowed. If you are told not to touch or take pictures in a museum in Europe you will respect the law,” one commenter on the social media site wrote in response to the video.

“Just imagine if an immigrant or a refugee had sex in the Amalienborg yard or Copenhagen Opera House, filmed it and post it! What would the reaction be?”, another comment reads.

Several newspapers in Egypt have reported on the video. According to Danish media TV2, Egyptian antiquities minister Khaled al-Anany has placed the case in the hands of the country’s prosecution authority.

Hvid told Danish tabloid Ekstra Bladet that he had long held an ambition to climb to the top of the pyramid.

Potential charges by Egypt against the two Danes, who are no longer in the country, are not currently clear.

“I will stay out of Egypt from now on, as I probably risk being sentenced if I go back,” Hvid told Ekstra Bladet.

READ ALSO: Danish archaeologists find 14,000 year-old bread in Jordan