Bikini, alcohol ban 'just attempt to win votes'
A bikini-clad tourist reads a book at the beach of the Red Sea resort town of Sharm el-Sheikh, Egypt. Tourism officials have sought to reassure tourists travellers about the future of the country as a holiday destination, despite fears of a crackdown on the sale of alcohol and calls for segregated beaches. Photo: AFP
Egyptian tourism authorities have sought to reassure travellers about the future of the country as a holiday destination, despite fears of a crackdown on the sale of alcohol and calls for segregated beaches.
Last week Mohamed Morsi of the Freedom and Justice Party (FJP) received a quarter of the votes in the country's first presidential elections since the overthrow of Hosni Mubarak. A run-off for the presidency between Morsi and Ahmed Shafik – a prime minister under Mubarak – is due to take place on June 16 and 17.
Extreme factions within the FJP, which possesses a parliamentary majority and has strong links to the Islamist Muslim Brotherhood, have demanded a ban on the sale of alcohol across the country, while calls have also been made for Egypt's beaches to be segregated by sex and for revealing swimwear to be outlawed. It is feared that the election of Morsi could see such policies put in place, but representatives from the country's tourism industry said any changes would face strong opposition.
"These calls are just rhetoric – it is an attempt to win votes," said Omayma El Husseini, director of the Egyptian Tourist Office. "These people can say and promise what they want but they will not deliver anything."
She added that economic concerns would make such changes disastrous and suggested that an "intellectual conflict" was developing in the country.
"Tourism is very important to Egypt – it is the second highest contributor to GDP," she said. "The tourism industry and the liberal Muslims in Egypt will not let them screw it up."
At least one in 10 people in Egypt make a living through tourism, and the country has already witnessed a sharp fall in visitors since the last year's revolution. According to official figures, foreign arrivals fell by around a quarter in 2011, compared with the previous year, and have fallen by a further 10 per cent so far in 2012.
Any restrictions on the sale of alcohol and sunbathing could have an even more dramatic impact, particularly in beach resorts such as Sharm El Sheikh.
Peter Lilley, a spokesman for the Middle East and North Africa Travel Association, which promotes the region as a holiday destination, said he doubted whether any major restrictions would be imposed.
"Tourism is such a massive industry in Egypt," he said. "I just can't foresee any extreme measures being introduced – they would have another revolution on their hands."
He confirmed that visitor numbers remained a cause for concern, and suggested that a number of factors besides lingering civil unrest – including Air Passenger Duty – were hampering the country's recovery. A family of four visiting Egypt must pay £208 more in tax than one visiting Turkey.
He added that the recent strength of the pound against the euro had encouraged British holidaymakers to visit Europe, rather than venture farther afield.
Egypt's image has also suffered following a spate of kidnappings and robberies in the Sinai, and this week two US tourists were kidnapped seized near the resort of Dahab. The Foreign Office currently advises against all but essential travel to the northern half of the peninsula.
- The Telegraph, London