Camel 4 of 17

Egyptians should have been insulted, I thought, at an American tobacco company’s use of their national imagery of a camel, two pyramids and three palm trees, immediately associating the land of Pharaohs. Below the circle, which contained this scene of the brown and gold with white background, which evoked the Sahara’s glare of sun, sand and arid air was a sepia band that ironically said, “SINCE 1913 Turkish Domestic Blend.” Since 1913? Turkish? Hmmm. It seemed like an American company was confusing very different places in the Middle East. I had to investigate.

The Egyptians should have been insulted, I thought, at an American tobacco company’s use of their national imagery of a camel, two pyramids and three palm trees, immediately associating the land of Pharaohs. Below the circle, which contained this scene of the brown and gold with white background, which evoked the Sahara’s glare of sun, sand and arid air was a sepia band that ironically said, “SINCE 1913 Turkish Domestic Blend.” Since 1913? Turkish? Hmmm. It seemed like an American company was confusing very different places in the Middle East. I had to investigate.

Mohamed Ali of Turkey controlled Egypt early to mid-19th century until he died. Under the control of his heirs, Egypt experienced a boom of growth leading to near industrial conditions and began rising out of a feudalistic society. This boom got a boost with the decline in cotton production during the American Civil War. About 1869, Thomas Cook, now famous for his Thomas Cook tours and travel agencies, began his tours up the Nile. This helped to draw hordes of European businessmen down to Egypt to cash in on this boom —the largest contingent was the Greeks, who were familiar with Middle Eastern diplomacy and business. Many Greeks had even settled in Egypt before then. Richer European governments lent Egypt great sums of money for development. In fact, these “benefactors” sent so much money and charged so much interest, that Egypt lacked the ability to repay those funds. During the last quarter of the nineteenth century, the British, seeing this situation, declared themselves protectorate of Egypt until she could pay up. While the British were there, they also decided to build the Suez Canal. This British control of Egypt eventually crowded out the Turkish, who finally lost any control over Egypt by 1914.

So, should the Egyptians have taken offense toward the Turkish/Egyptian imagery on the label of a Camel cigarette pack in 1913? It would seem that perhaps they felt more of a Middle East brotherhood with the Anatolians as the Turks lost their administrative influence to British imperialism. They might have preferred or insisted on such a label reflecting their cultural and religious alliances.

Now why is 1913 significant on the Cigarette package? Most obviously, it is the date that the Richard J. Reynalds Company began the Camel cigarette brand. The date, however, seems to have more significance than that. It is also the year before the Turks were no longer of influence in Egypt, since the English took over the country.

(NEXT: My Grandfather on a di Dion Bouton)

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