Music provided the German Democratic Republic (GDR) with a crucial international platform during the Cold War. Denied diplomatic recognition by most Western nations until the early 1970s, the state depended on artists to negotiate its image abroad and channeled considerable resources to this end. This article explores how the GDR tried to expedite diplomatic relations with Egypt, Syria, and Lebanon in the late 1960s through an intensive program of musical activity, which included attempts to send East German musical “experts” to Cairo and Damascus, and the organization of state-funded tours to the region by high-profile ensembles such as the Dresdner Philharmonie, the Rundfunk-Sinfonieorchester Leipzig, the Gewandhausorchester Leipzig, and the Deutsche Staatsoper. Examining variously the politics of cultural transfer that these activities entailed, the economics involved, and the power dynamics that played out in the relations between the GDR and Egypt, in particular, the article illuminates the way music diplomacy functioned between Cold War periphery states. Notably, cultural exchange between the GDR and the Arab nations was shaped as much by discourses of postcolonialism, anti-imperialism, and anti-Zionism as it was by any binary opposition of Marxist-Leninism and capitalist democracy.

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