No Utopia in Dystopia: The Crazy Story Behind Egypt Canceling the Travis Scott Concert

How conspiracy theories about satanism, Afrocentricism and Freemasonry galvanized public opinion and upended a sold-out performance

No Utopia in Dystopia: The Crazy Story Behind Egypt Canceling the Travis Scott Concert
Rapper Travis Scott poses at the F1 Grand Prix in Jeddah, Saudi Arabia, in March 2023. (Mark Thompson/Getty Images)

The buzz surrounding it was undeniable. Organized by Live Nation, with the Pyramids of Giza as its backdrop, the launch concert for Travis Scott’s new “Utopia” album was set to be an epic musical event, with the concert livestreamed on his Instagram to 51 million followers worldwide on July 28.

Live Nation Middle East had managed to secure all the required permits and approvals, including the sponsorship of the Egyptian Ministry of Tourism and the Egyptian Music Syndicate. The tickets for the concert were sold out within the first 20 minutes of the online opening of sales on July 2, with fans flying in from 54 countries to watch this monumental event, which Egyptian tourism desperately needed.

However, when the time came for the production team to gain access to the site to set up, 10 days before the concert, they were not allowed in. This continued over the following days, fueling endless speculation as to the concert’s fate. Receiving neither any official response from any state body explaining their lack of access nor word of a flat-out cancellation of the concert, the organizers were forced to announce the event’s cancellation two days before the show.

The reasons behind this bizarre about-face from the Egyptian state are equally bizarre: a mix of Afrocentrism, Masonic conspiracy theories and concerns over satanic ritual sacrifice.

If you are unfamiliar with Scott, then you may have been living under a rock. He has been a hip-hop superstar for the past decade, boasting eight Grammy nominations, and has two children with Kylie Jenner of the Kardashians. No stranger to controversy throughout his career, he gained a different level of notoriety for a mass-casualty crowd crush that took place during his performance in the Astroworld Festival in November 2021 in Houston, Texas. While he has performed in multiple events and concerts since, the festival disaster continues to haunt him, both socially and legally.

Hoping to put that calamity behind him, Scott needed an epic comeback. He filled his new album “Utopia” with star-studded collaborations (the first single includes both the Weeknd and Bad Bunny) and wanted his album launch event to be equally grand in scale. And what is bigger than a concert at the Pyramids of Giza? Having successfully hosted huge recent concerts by the Black Eyed Peas, Maroon 5 and the Backstreet Boys without incident, the venue seemed a home run. The decision was made, the tour was announced, the tickets were sold out and the hype was on. All the stars were aligned to make this the musical event of this summer.

And then all hell broke loose.

Before getting into the details of the insane drama that took place, a quick explainer on the current state of Egyptian society is probably needed for context.

Surviving 10 years of what can only be described as catastrophic military rule, the country has been undergoing a never-ending economic apocalypse since March of last year. Suffering three devaluations since then, the Egyptian pound has lost more than half of its official value, with black-market rates showing that the current official rate is overvalued by at least 33%. Continued hyperinflation has become the new normal, and about a third of the population found itself under the poverty line overnight, with little hope of recovery. If that weren’t bad enough, during the hottest summer the country has ever faced on record, the Ministry of Electricity announced that it would enact random electricity cuts of at least an hour each, possibly more, at any hour of the day. Those state-enacted blackouts have disrupted businesses, destroyed electric home appliances, trapped residents in the smoldering heat of their houses and disabled apartment building elevators for hours on end. The Egyptian people’s frustration is only compounded by the fact that the state has given no credible explanation of the cause of these blackouts or an official end-date for them.

Facing years of failure, the military state became obsessed with controlling the media, which they did by buying all major media channels in Egypt. The military managed to turn them all effectively into state-run outlets that parrot the state narrative and misinform audiences by peddling a host of conspiracy theories. Over the past two months alone, for example, viewers could find themselves watching supposed experts explaining David Icke’s reptilian elite conspiracy theory to the “uninformed” Egyptian audience on a major channel and switch to find another talk show hosting an Islamist flat-earther. Both would be on mainstream shows and face no pushback or debunking from the hosts. After years of pushing xenophobia, colorism, homophobia and global conspiracies to entangle the population in outrages of the week, they are now adding every tinfoil hat conspiracy theory to their programming menu.

Knowing that controlling conventional media outlets isn’t enough, the state’s efforts to maintain a good image on social media networks have created an unofficial policy of “trend policing.” If you are a citizen who suffered a crime or an illegal injustice and need the police’s assistance, you are unlikely to get the state to show up if you call the emergency hotline number or even file a police report. What you should do instead is go on social media, post a video hysterically ranting about the crime you suffered and ask people to help you make that video go viral and trending. Once that happens, the police and the prosecutor’s office will move quickly and decisively to aid you and investigate and resolve said injustice, as a form of state virtue signaling or online PR.

This is naturally not ideal for victims who wish to uphold their privacy and dignity and not scandalize their victimization to seek justice, but its effect on the population is even more sinister. This barrage of horrifying stories creates a belief that society is full of literal monsters and re-enforces that belief daily. A few years of that modus operandi have turned Egyptian social media feeds into daily traumatic amplifiers of an endless stream of the ugliest stories and incidents of human misery and cruelty in Egyptian society that require the average social media users’ attention, emotional investment and outrage to be rectified by the state, through “the power of social media.” It is a world perpetually on fire. What living under such a dystopia can do to anyone’s mental health is a question for professionals, but it’s safe to say that it doesn’t have a positive effect, especially when coupled with all the other aforementioned factors. Now imagine this happening to a population of over 100 million over the course of years, and you can perhaps begin to understand the absurdity of the controversy over Scott’s concert.

The level of positive buzz generated by the event and its immediate sold-out status should have generated a level of hype in the weeks leading up to the concert, and they did, for diehard Scott fans. However, outside that fandom, a perfect storm started brewing among three main groups that ended up fueling the online cancellation campaign.

The first group consisted of individuals who were incensed by the unaffordability of the ticket prices, with some arguing that it should’ve been cheaper after the Astroworld concert tragedy, and others fearing a repeat of that tragedy in Egypt, bringing it to the attention of the Egyptian public. The second group comprised those who believe in Masonic satanist conspiracies.

The second group immediately started spreading the Western-originated narrative since the Astroworld tragedy that the death of those audience members was not an accident but rather a demonic ritual sacrifice as part of Scott’s worship of Satan. Then, they started proliferating images from his shows and videos, claiming they showed subliminal demonic and Masonic symbols as evidence of his continued “Masonic satanism.”

The third group, the anti-Afrocentric Egyptian nationalists, then entered the fray, claiming that Scott should not be allowed to stage the concert at the pyramids anyway because they decided that he has “Afrocentric beliefs” and that if it took place it would be used to promote what in their view has come to be the biggest threat to modern Egyptian national identity. (“Afrocentrism,” as seen in the universally panned Netflix docuseries on Queen Cleopatra, includes the belief that the ancient Egyptians were sub-Saharan, Black Africans.) Naturally, no actual proof that Scott harbored such beliefs existed, but he was American, Black and wished to have a concert next to the pyramids, which was all the evidence the “nationalists” needed to implicate him in the Afrocentric conspiracy. These three groups of overexcited fearmongers somehow managed to converge on a hashtag demanding the cancellation of Scott’s concert, which trended across Egyptian social media.

The trending of the hashtag prompted two men to act quickly: Mostafa Kamel, the head of the music syndicate, and Amr Abdel-Salam, a conservative clout-chasing lawyer. Kamel suddenly found himself accused of providing a permit to a Masonic, Satan-worshiping, Afrocentric concert on social media and panicked, immediately issuing a statement rescinding the syndicate permit for the concert until “state security approvals” were provided to him. The statement included this paragraph: “As the Musicians Syndicate is part of the fabric of our beloved country, it works towards its stability and security and rejects any tampering with the societal values, customs, and traditions of Egypt and the Arab world. After examining social media opinions and feedback, as well as the news circulating on search engines and social media platforms, which included authenticated images and information about peculiar rituals performed by the star during his performance, contradicting our authentic societal values and traditions, the Syndicate’s president and board of directors have decided to cancel the license issued for hosting this type of concert, which goes against the cultural identity of the Egyptian people.”

Kamel defended his decision on television by admitting to not knowing anything about Travis Scott or “rap music” or whether any of these allegations were true. However, the possibility of their being true and him being held solely responsible for them concerned him, prompting him to issue a statement rescinding the permit for the sake of his own personal safety, even though that said permit was a formality and did not even apply to Scott, since he is a foreign artist. In parallel, Abdel-Salam immediately filed a lawsuit demanding that the state officially ban the concert in order to protect Egyptian youth, society and culture from the foreign demonic influence of the “Utopia” concert, adding legal fuel to this cultural dumpster fire.

The concert organizers chose to ignore these controversies as nothing but media being media, since they had every legal permit and approval they needed. They had paid the pyramids concert venue rent in advance, and no one from the government or the security apparatus had actually contacted them to stop the concert. Additionally, they believed that accusations of Satanism should be dispelled by the fact that Saudi Arabia, the origin and heart of Islam, hosted and approved a Travis Scott concert with 70,000 attendants earlier this year.

However, when the time came for the set-up and production crew to access the pyramids venue they paid for, they were denied entry by the police guarding it.

A round of intensive lobbying and media frenzy by Live Nation over the fate of the concert followed, with Scott even issuing a statement to the Egyptian government denying the allegations, asserting his Christian faith, promising to address any concerns and adhere to any and every condition the state demanded of him, begging them to ensure the concert took place. Neither Scott nor Live Nation received an answer or response from anyone either approving or canceling the concert. No one wanted to take responsibility, either way. So, on July 26, the organizers canceled the concert themselves, vowing to refund all affected fans.

The reaction to the concert cancellation in Egypt was a mixed bag. Many saw it as a golden opportunity that turned into a tragic international scandal and lamented the lost revenue and PR that it would have brought the country. Those pushing for its cancellation, on the other hand, went into a state of jubilation, with many online commentators showing screenshots from Instagram comments left by conspiracy-minded Westerners supporting the decision and congratulating Egypt for “standing up to its values” from those “insidious corrupting influences” behind the concert. Pointing out how each such comment had thousands of likes, it was proof that they were right and righteous, and that the world was actually on their side.

The government maintained its silence, leaving everyone uncertain about what all of this actually means regarding future musical events and concerts and what lessons they could derive from it. Mostafa Kamel, to his credit, managed to find a lesson: He instituted a foreign artist investigation department in the Musicians Syndicate that would employ young college graduates to research every foreign act from now on, to make sure they were aligned with Egyptian culture, morals and values, before they can receive a permit — to save Egypt any more such embarrassment in future, of course. A few days later, it was announced that the U.S. rapper Russ will be performing in Egypt at the end of August, prompting speculation as to what made him aligned with Egyptian culture, morals and values. While no actual explanation was given, it is noteworthy that Russ, while an American rapper, is not Black.

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