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.

 

Iraq’s peshmerga ‘break’ Mount Sinjar siege

Yemen’s Huthis seize Sanaa state offices

Tough times for oil-rich GCC

Obama concerned about Egypt mass trials

Tumbling oil prices cut budgets of Mideast arms exporters

Turkish media chiefs charged with terrorism

Iraq may delay payment of Kuwait war reparations

Over $900 million needed to help Syria children

Saudi rules out oil output reduction

Dutch populist lawmaker to be tried for 'fewer Moroccans' vow

Outrage in Algeria over Islamist call for Algerian author's death

Iraq Kurds, coalition launch offensive to retake Sinjar

Three years to end Israeli occupation in UN resolution

Somalia appoints new PM after bitter infighting

Blow to Israel: EU court removes Hamas from terror blacklist

Sharp rise in Syria passport applications

Turkey FM visit to Iran highlights Syria divide

UK troops mistreated Iraq detainees in 2004

Saudi to carry on massive public spending

Iran to Australia: We warned you about the gunman

From bikini to Jihad in Ceuta, Melilla

Tunisia votes Sunday in second round of presidential poll

Islamist militias launch air strike near key Libyan oil terminals

Egypt refers 312 Islamists to military courts

Turkey rejects EU criticism over media arrests

Kerry meets chief Palestinian negotiator

Saudi cleric sparks uproar for showing wife’s face

15,000 march against country’s ‘Islamisation’ in eastern Germany

Key oil producers face uncertain outlook in 2015

Gulf stock markets tumble

Australia mourns Sydney cafe siege victims

Hostages flee as police storm Sydney café

Erdogan to EU: Mind your own business!

Syria PM in Iran for talks with key ally

22 Swiss jihadists fighting abroad

#illridewithyou: Australians stand in solidarity with Muslims

Sydney siege 'lone wolf' or IS-led attack?

EU support UN efforts for Aleppo ceasefire

Saudi policeman killed in Riyadh hostage-taking

Saudi king receives Jordan monarch

Palestinians push UN bid to end Israeli occupation

Hostages held in Sydney cafe, Islamic flag held up

Hamas stages show of strength to mark 27th anniversary

France 'neutralised' 200 jihadists in Sahel region of West Africa

Kerry in Rome ahead of Palestinian push at UN