07/01/2022, 19.47
IRAQ
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Pope Francis opened Iraq to international tourism

Scores of YouTubers, influencers, artists and prominent figures from the Arab world and beyond have visited the country and praised its features. For experts, the pope’s apostolic journey also had a great impact. To boost the industry, the government has taken steps to ease entry, lifting visa requirements for travellers from 36 nations.

Baghdad (AsiaNews) – Scores of YouTube celebrities, influencers, content producers, artists and media experts have recently visited Iraq, a country long battered by war and sectarian violence, highlighting its beauty and promoting it as a travel destination.

This is partly the result of the apostolic journey Pope Francis undertook in the Arab country in March 2021, which had great impact on the outside world, stimulating interest among foreign visitors, both in the region and further afield.

Currently, visiting Iraq has become the in-thing to do, with online pictures and videos of Abraham’s home to prove it, the same place where the pontiff gathered in prayer and called for peace.

Last year and in the first half of 2022, scores of YouTubers, famous Arab singers, influencers from Europe, the United States, Egypt and Lebanon, Kuwait and Australia, just to name a few places, travelled to Iraq and praised its features in videos and articles.

They have contributed to changing the stereotypical view about the country, hitherto seen as unstable and a fertile ground for terrorists.

Travel and lifestyle vlogger Dear Alyne, who publishes on the Nas Daily YouTube channel posted a comprehensive report about her visit to Iraq last March titled “Is Iraq Dangerous?” for her 8.53 million subscribers.

The video debunks some of the stereotypes associated with the Arab country and highlights its historical, artistic, cultural and geographical features.

Gustav Rosted, a Danish YouTuber with over 252,000 subscribers, was among the first to visit Iraq at the end of the war against the Islamic State (IS). He told Al-Monitor that he was very happy to meet Iraqis who welcomed him with open arms.

During his stay he carried out a social experiment, randomly asking people for help and no one hesitated to offer him food, money or a place to sleep, a generosity that he rarely sees in other countries.

In 1973, more than 500,000 foreigners visited in Iraq, representing a quarter of all tourists that year. Since then, wars and sanctions, not to mention extremism, have wiped out the industry.

Recently the Iraqi government has taken a few steps to ease entry regulations, using social media and the Internet to promote foreign arrivals, this includes lifting visa requirements for citizens of 36, mostly Western countries, such as the United States, the United Kingdom, some EU member states, and Australia.

Eman Sobhy, an Egyptian activist famous on YouTube, posted a video, expressing her admiration for intra-confessional harmony in Iraq, a country hitherto known for its sectarian divisions and violence.

A Sunni Muslim, she visited the Shia holy city of Najaf and prayed, Sunni style, in most Shia mosques and shrines without any problems.

Iraq’s historic and archaeological sites proved especially popular among social media influencers and glitterati. Two locations were especially prised: the Ziggurat of Ur, home of the Prophet Abraham, and the historic marshes found in Nasiriyah Governorate.

Still, despite the growing number of foreign tourists and the efforts by the government to restore the country's name and reputation, much still needs to be done for it to become a destination for mass tourism.

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