Bargain holidays for Westerners looking to get a bit of sunshine and a drink by the pool in the winter could be a thing of the past on Egypt’s Red Sea coast.
The Muslim Brotherhood, which won success in the first round of parliamentary elections last month, is set on turning Egypt into a ‘sin-free’ holiday resort.
But the end of sun worshippers flying to resorts like Sharm el-Sheikh could spell disaster for an economy that has already been battered by this year’s political unrest.
Azza al-Jarf, a candidate for the Muslim Brotherhood, told supporters: ‘Tourists don’t need to drink alcohol when they come to Egypt; they have plenty at home.
‘They came to see the ancient civilisation, not to drink alcohol.’
Since its success in the first round of elections on November 28 and 29, the Brotherhood and the even more fundamentalist party of Salafi Muslims called Al-Nour have been under pressure to define their stance on a wide range of issues – including Islamic law, personal freedom and tourism.
Al-Nour has said it seeks to impose strict Islamic law in Egypt, while the Muslim Brotherhood says publicly it does not want to force its views on an appropriate Islamic lifestyle on Egyptians.
The unrest that saw former president Hosni Mubarak ousted has hit the economy hard and shaken investor confidence.
On Sunday, interim prime minister Kamal el-Ganzouri broke down in tears as he said the state of the economy was ‘worse than anyone imagines’.
Turning around the decline in tourism is key to breathing life back into the economy. The industry was also hit by two fatal shark attacks in Sharm el-Sheikh last year.
The Muslim Brotherhood came in first and Al-Nour second in the first round of voting.
The Salafis, who follow the Wahhabi school of thought that predominates in Saudi Arabia, are clear in their opposition to alcohol and skimpy beachwear.
They are also undecided on whether unmarried couples should be allowed to share hotel rooms, or the display of ancient Egyptian statues like fertility gods.
But the Muslim Brotherhood has sent more mixed messages, reflecting it is more inclined to leave tourism alone for the sake of the economy.
Influential cleric Yasser Bourhami has called for ‘halal tourism’ – which includes restrictions on Westerners.
Speaking to private television network Dream TV, he said: ‘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.
‘The tourist doesn’t have to swim with a bikini and harm our youth.’
Tourism accounts for roughly 10 per cent of Egypt’s GDP, employs an estimated 3million people and is one of the pillars of its economy.
Huge swathes of the country, including the Red Sea coast with its stunning coral reefs and Nile Valley cities like Luxor, with its ancient temples and tombs, are solely dependent on tourism.
There are around 15million visitors to Egypt every year and analysts say bookings for its beach resorts – mostly far from the unrest – have recovered faster than areas in the centre of the country where most pharaonic ruins are found.
A total of 1.4million Brits visited the country last year – with 70 per cent (around one million) heading to the beach resorts.
This year, tourist arrivals fell more than 35 per cent in the second quarter because of the unrest, and Egypt expects to earn around $9billion from tourism in 2011 – down by a third.
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