First Published: 2012-01-04

 

Fears for tourism grow as Egypt Islamists ponder fate of bikini

 

Islamists' thoughts on what tourists may wear or drink are being scrutinised amid fears they will harm Egypt’s vital tourism industry.

 

Middle East Online

By Samer al-Atrush - SHARM EL-SHEIKH (Egypt)

Egypt has seen near 30% drop in tourist revenues

On a barren hill in Sharm el-Sheikh, not far from the famous beach resorts with their bikini-clad patrons, Islamist activist Ahmed Saber ponders the fate of revealing swimwear if his party comes to power.

The swimsuit has been at the centre of a growing debate over the Islamists' plans for tourism, one of Egypt's key currency earners.

Speaking at a voting station, Saber seeks to present a liberal outline of his party's position on the bikini. "You're free to do as you please as long as you don't harm me," he says.

The Sharm el-Sheikh tour guide then goes on to explain that: "Some sights might harm me. For example, women wearing bikinis on the street. There are special places for bikinis".

After decades of repression by a secular police state, the Muslim Brotherhood grouping finds itself fending off questions about its plans for beach resort mainstays like bikinis and alcohol -- considered un-Islamic by some.

With ultra-conservatives poised to play a big role in parliament during an economic crisis, the Islamists' thoughts on what tourists may wear or drink are being scrutinised amid fears they will harm the country's vital tourism industry.

The Brotherhood's Freedom and Justice Party, poised to win the most votes in the country's first election since president Hosni Mubarak's February overthrow, has promised it would not hurt tourism.

But some of its candidates have exacerbated the fears with pledges to ban alcohol or bikinis on beaches, forcing their leaders to backtrack.

Essam al-Erian, the party's vice president, said the FJP would no longer comment on bikinis. "It's a ridiculous question. Tourism can't be considered in terms of bikinis or such matters," he said.

The party's candidate in Sharm el-Sheikh, Ahmed Qassim, also appeared wearied by the topic. He said he has repeatedly assured voters the Islamists would encourage tourism.

"We are with tourism, and we are not against personal freedoms," he said.

But along the beaches, hotel workers said they were worried, particularly about ultra-conservative Salafis who won more than 20 percent of the votes in the election's first two rounds.

"People are very worried," said Ahmed, while approaching sun bathing guests to offer them massages at the hotel.

"Especially by Al-Nour (the main Salafi party). With the Brotherhood, at least we can have a discussion," he said.

"But the Salafis are different. They are used to sitting in mosques saying: "God commanded this, and the Prophet commanded that. And now suddenly they are involved in politics. It won't work."

The country has seen a near 30 percent drop in tourist revenues in 2011, the government says, as sporadic and sometimes deadly political unrest dominated the news.

Roughly 10 million tourists visited the country in 2011, according to government statistics. The decline has been felt more in Cairo and Luxor, which house ancient Egyptian artefacts.

Much of Sharm el-Sheikh's hotel workers vote back home, in provinces like Cairo or Beheira, and some said they voted for the Brotherhood.

"I voted for the Muslim Brotherhood. I don't think they will ruin tourism," said Yassir, standing at a beach kiosk handing towels to guests. "They are flexible. They have been in politics for a long time."

Tourist minister Munir Fakhry Abdel Nur, who has been drawing up plans to revitalise the industry, brushed aside an Islamist threat to tourism.

"Those people are backtracking. They are changing their discourse. And even if they are not, it's easy to speak when you are out of power. But when in power, there is responsibility and accountability," he said.

"I don't think you can do without tourism in Egypt, that can easily reach 25 million tourists in 5 years," he said.

 

US warplanes carry out first strikes on IS near Baghdad

Erdogan: Turkey would welcome exiled Brotherhood leaders

UN brokers Israeli-Palestinian deal on Gaza reconstruction

Qaeda branches urge jihadists to unite against US

Scottish independence campaigners find support in Palestinian bagpipers

Iraq parliament votes down PM's security nominees

Despite war, South Sudan replaces foreign workers with locals

IS jihadists shoot down Syria warplane

Renegade former general claims air raid on Libya militia position

Six Egypt policemen in Sinai bomb attack

UEFA urged not to award 2020 European Championship to Israel

Israel sees future war with Hezbollah

Germany tries first 'Islamic State jihadist'

Egypt court bails top 2011 revolt activist

Iran rejected US request to cooperate against IS

Iran ridicules anti-jihadist international conference

Egypt textile factory collapse kills six

Mali separatists agree to speak with one voice

Qatar starts to curb Brotherhood’s activities

Coalition meets in Paris to plan fight against IS

Around 930 French citizens or residents involved 'in jihad' in Iraq, Syria

Yemen rebels, officials to meet with UN to end standoff

Qatar-based Egypt's Brotherhood leaders to relocate

Cameron chairs emergency meeting over British hostage beheading

Hollande defends arming Kurds against IS

43 Israeli soldiers condemn 'abuses' of Palestinians

Egypt urged to free more than 20 demonstrators

Turkey’s internet censored further

Tunisia Islamists clash with police in protest

10 Arab states agree to 'share' US-led fight against IS

Obama awaits Congress approval of Syria rebel aid

Hollande in Iraq to back new government

Lebanon to set up refugee camps along border with Syria

Russia slams unilateral US airstrikes on jihadists in Syria

Four Qaeda suspects in Yemen drone attack

Meshaal: Hamas may hold direct talk with Israel

UN Syria envoy says world must confront terrorist groups

Turkey refuses to allow US-led coalition to hit IS from its air bases

Yemen president, Shiite rebels reach deal

EU warns Gaza violence could re-ignite within 'months'

Thani denies UAE, Egypt conducted air strikes in Libya

Obama: We will destroy ISIL in Syria and Iraq

Beirut urges 'common front' against IS 'monsters'

Obama to steel Americans for long battle against IS

Turkish prosecutor demands life sentences for protesting soccer fans