This ad promoting Coca-Cola in bottles with a twist-off cap is one of a series produced for the Egyptian market by theFortunePromoseven agency and it's causing a stir on the internet, if not in Egypt itself. One (western) blog sees it as "groundbreaking" in a country where same-sex relations are largely taboo.
Groundbreaking may be an overstatement. There have been plenty of Egyptian films with touches of homoeroticism (e.g. those of Youssef Chahine) and some with full-blown homosexuality (Yacoubian Building, Mercedes, etc). But is this the first attempt to sell a product in Egypt with a gay-themed ad?
Zeinobia, on the Egyptian Chronicles blog, thinks not. "I saw this ad and I did not see it slightly homoerotic from near or far," she writes, describing the ad campaign as simply "funny and catchy".
It's true, of course, that physical contact between Arab men – even men holding hands in public – does not have the same connotations that it has in the west. But let's look at the ad a bit more closely.
First, it's set in a cinema and cinemas in the Middle East do have a certain reputation as gay meeting places. Then there's the slightly-sensual hand-touching (the older man with a very obvious wedding ring on his finger) and the slightly-suggestive positioning of the bottle. It ends with a glance from the older man towards the younger man, and the younger man shakes his head.
Each ad in the series has the Coke drinker using someone else's hand to open the bottle, and in each one the person whose hand is used ends up disappointed. A girl in a beach bar finds that the object of her affection is more interested in football (and Coca-Cola) than in her. In another (rather cruel) one, a man has sunk into the desert sands with only his hand above the surface. Instead of rescuing him, the Coke drinker uses his hand to open the bottle – then abandons him.
So what is the older man's "disappointment" in the cinema? When the younger man shakes his head, does he mean "No, you can't share my Coca-Cola" or "No, you can't have sex with me?" The answer is left to the viewer's imagination.
This ambiguity is what makes the ad intriguing. The homoeroticism is there for anyone who wants to see it but it's deniable (well, almost) if anyone complains.
Posted by Brian Whitaker, 28 August 2010.