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.

 

Blair calls on West to combat ‘growing’ danger of Islamist extremism

No Qatar ‘concessions’ on end of dispute with fellow Gulf states

Bahrain expels representative of Grand Ayatollah Ali al-Sistani

Netayahu to Abbas: Does you want peace with Hamas or peace with Israel?

Dubai's Emaar posts huge Q1 profit

Witnesses in Morsi trial: Hamas and Hezbollah attacked Egypt prisons

Family of detained Al-Jazeera reporter in Egypt call for his release

Bomb targets convoy of Education Minister in north Iraq

After Ervin scandal, Iran Prisons Chief becomes Head of Justice Department

Egypt FM travels to US as Washington relaxes hold on military aid

US diplomat visits Libya amid political upheaval

Jarba asks Saudi Arabia to increase support for Syria rebels

Better late than never: Erdogan offers condolences over mass WWI killings of Armenians

Hezbollah veto dashes Geagea dreams of presidency

UN aid chiefs make impassionate call for Syria access

Police brigadier general killed in Cairo bomb attack

11 new MERS infections registered in Saudi

EU denounces Syria plans for June 3 election

Iran envoy row fails to make headway at UN

Amnesty: Qatar fails to protect domestic workers

US will deliver 10 Apache choppers to Egypt to counter terrorism

US expresses horror at South Sudan violence

Egypt's next president will have to deal with frustrated workers

Rival Palestinian leaders agree on national unity govt

Jumblatt backs lawmaker Henri Helou for Lebanon presidency

Global chemical watchdog: Syria weapons handover at 86.5 percent

Kerry ‘prefers’ Cold War-like situation to current complex challenges

Israel to call up Christian Arabs for military service

Egypt prosecutors submit new evidence in Jazeera trial

Families of Iran prisoners break silence over abuses at notorious Evin

Lebanon sends rare aid to its territory in Syria

Iran divorce rate increases amid slow population growth

Suspected militant attacks kill four Yemen officers in two days

Distrust casts shadow over South Kordofan peace talks

Ali Tarhuni heads Libya constituent assembly

Washington revisits story of Syria chemical weapons

PM Erdogan to tour Europe for expat presidency votes

Erdogan to May Day protesters: Give up on your hopes of Taksim!

Palestine plays down threat to dismantle PA

South Sudan army battle rebels as insurgents target oil fields

Two Somali MPs shot dead in 24 hours

MERS death toll keeps climbing in Saudi

Court deals blow to US administration on drone attacks

Berber protesters clash anew with Algeria police

US has 'indications' of new chemical attacks in Syria