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.

 

Yemen warring parties 'closer' to agreement

Major assaults target IS jihadists in Iraq, Syria

Juncker warns Ankara against migrant deal threats

New Afghan Taliban leader named

Annual Jewish pilgrimage starts in Tunisia

Tunisia tourism sees 'slight recovery'

UN envoy calls for economic rescue plan for Yemen

Bahrain jails 19 for attacks on police

Up to 30 dead in shipwreck off Libya

UN says Syrians will 'starve' unless aid improves

Christian homes set ablaze in Egyptian village 'love story'

Kuwait's main opposition group ends polls boycott

Twin offensives on IS edge forward in Syria, Iraq

Private firms to help in hunt for Egyptair black boxes

New Israeli defence minister's tough talk to be put to the test

Syria most dangerous place for health workers

Concern for civilians trapped in Iraq's Fallujah

Brent rises past $50 a barrel

Iraq PM urges protesters to stay home

Israeli air force carries out strikes on Hamas sites in Gaza

Sudan accuses UN official of 'false' reports on displaced

Egypt quashes prison sentences for 47 protesters

At least 5 drown off Libya coast

Coalition airstrike kills six Yemen civilians 'by mistake'

Erdogan chairs first meeting of new Turkey cabinet

Pope prays to 'convert hearts' of ISIS extremists

Egypt expels French journalist amid crackdown on media

Israeli rights group gives up on army complaints system

Hamas-led council backs executions without Abbas approval

Netanyahu forms ultra-nationalist Israel government

Syrian base used by Russia damaged in IS attack

Kurdish, Arab forces announce anti-IS offensive north of Syria's Raqa

Palestinian PM dismisses Netanyahu proposal

Israel PM's travel expenses under scrutiny

EgyptAir victims' relatives give samples for DNA tests

Iran sends new delegation to Saudi for hajj talks

Hardline cleric elected head of Iran's Assembly of Experts

Civilians trapped as Fallujah siege tightens

Iraq's Fallujah offensive draws attention from embattled PM

Turkey incoming PM unveils cabinet

US, Russia scramble to save Syria truce

Libyan coastguards intercept 550 bound for Europe

Campus bomb kills two in Yemen's Sanaa

Saudi soldier killed in landmine blast on Yemen border

Over 148 killed in IS bombings in Syria regime heartland