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Islamist vision of ‘sin-free’ tourism raises alarm in Egypt

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REPORTING FROM CAIRO -- The Egyptian tourism minister has expressed concern about recent comments by members of the country’s leading Islamist parties, who have outlined their vision for ‘sin-free’ tourism.

‘There are international concerns about some irresponsible comments made by some Islamists about beach tourism in Egypt,’ Tourism Minister Mounir Fakhri Abdel Nour told the independent satellite channel Mehwar on Monday evening. ‘Many countries have sent inquiries and asked for explanations, and Egyptian tourism already lost a lot because of these comments.’

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Abdel Nour was referring to statements by members of the Muslim Brotherhood’s Freedom and Justice Party and the ultraconservative Salafi party Al Nour. The two parties are leading in parliamentary polls after the first stage of voting last month, raising fears that the country’s lucrative tourism industry could be at risk.

About 15 million holiday-makers visited the country last year, contributing $12.5 billion to the economy, Abdel Nour said.

A senior assistant at the ministry said Tuesday that Egypt is expected to earn no more than $9 billion from tourism this year because of a reduced number of visitors, which at one point during the uprising that toppled President Hosni Mubarak was 80% lower than the previous year.

Abdel Nour said Egyptian tourism ‘is currently facing a double challenge: security and the [religious] fatwas.’

On Sunday, the Muslim Brotherhood held an event aimed at allaying fears about tourism should Freedom and Justice win a parliamentary majority. Party candidate Azza Jarf told a crowd gathered across the street from the Giza pyramids that ‘tourists don’t need to drink alcohol when they come to Egypt.’

Jarf’s comments echoed those of party Secretary-General Saad Katatni, who told tourism officials in August that Egypt is a pious country and that bikinis should not be allowed on public beaches.

Although the more politically pragmatic Brotherhood has often remained subtle about its plans regarding beach tourism in Egypt, Salafis have been more clear that alcohol and mixed beaches should be banned.

Salafi cleric Youssef Bourhami recently described to independent television channel Dream TV his version of halal tourism, the same term used to describe food allowed according to Islamic law.

“A five-star hotel with no alcohol, a beach for women separated from men in a bay where the two sides can enjoy a vacation for a week without sins,’ he said. ‘The tourist doesn’t have to swim in a bikini and harm our youth.’

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-- Amro Hassan


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