Egypt Islamists offer vision for sin-free tourism

By Maggie Michael

Associated Press

Published: Monday, Dec. 12 2011 9:55 a.m. MST

Also, clerics like Yasser Bourhami, influential among hard-line Salafis, are presenting ideas for restrictions on tourism. Bourhami calls it "halal tourism," using the term for food that is ritually fit under Islamic law.

"A five-star hotel with no alcohol, a beach for women — sisters — separated from men in a bay where the two sides can enjoy a vacation for a week without sins," he said in an interview with private television network Dream TV. "The tourist doesn't have to swim with a bikini and harm our youth."

A leading member of Al-Nour, Tarek Shalaan, stumbled through a recent TV interview when asked about his views on the display of nude pharaonic statues like those depicting fertility gods.

"The antiquities that we have will be put under a different light to focus on historical events," he said, without explaining further.

He also failed to explain whether hotel reception clerks will have to start demanding marriage certificates from couples checking in together.

"Honestly, I don't know the Shariah position, so I don't want to give an answer," he said.

During Sunday's campaign event for the Muslim Brotherhood, candidate al-Jarf said the new approach doesn't have to spell the end of tourism.

"Foreigners respect traditions, they didn't come here for nudity," she told a crowd in a middle class district of Giza steps away from the Pyramids where many residents work in tourism.

Another candidate at the event, Ahmed el-Khouli, promised they would draw millions more tourists and criticized members of rival, secular parties who he said "promote nudity and prostitution in Egypt" for the sake of attracting tourist dollars.

Tourism accounts for roughly 10 percent of Egypt's gross domestic product, employs an estimated 3 million of Egypt's 85 million people, and is one of the top three mainstays of the economy, along with Suez Canal fees and remittances.

Huge swaths of the country, like the Red Sea shores with their stunning coral reefs and Nile Valley cities like Luxor with their ancient temples and tombs, are solely dependent on tourism.

This year, tourist arrivals fell more than 35 percent in the second quarter, according to government figures.

Still, residents of Luxor and Red Sea province voted in large numbers for the Islamists, which opponents said was a result of the parties feeding a "feeling of guilt" over things like serving alcohol.

Some Salafis acknowledge their approach could mean losses for the industry but propose ways to compensate, like promoting medical tourism or religious and educational tourism.

Their talk prompted an outcry from hundreds of tour guides and the minister of tourism, who recently held a demonstration at the steps of the Great Pyramid. They asserted that each speech by the Islamists translated into reservation cancellations.

The minister, Moneir Fakhri Abdel-Nour, said the impact of religious edicts, or fatwas, on tourism is as bad as the impact from Egypt's security troubles.

"The tourism industry is facing a double challenge: security ... and the fatwas," Abdel-Nour said Monday, according to Egypt's state-run news agency. "No one will be able to destroy or threaten this industry," he added.

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