Egypt: Egyptian tourism workers reject proposal for halal tourism

By Waleed Abu al-Khair in Cairo

Egyptians in the tourism sector are worried that proposals by Salafi political leaders advocating halal tourism would hurt a sector that is already in decline following the wave of political protests this year.

Several Salafi leaders recently discussed implementing halal tourism, which would ban alcohol and bikinis on the beach, and conceal statues. Salafi political groups, particularly the Nour Party fared well in the first round of parliamentary elections.

Egyptians working in the tourism sector said the statements made their customers uneasy.

“These statements have caused a reaction from foreign tourism companies, many of which called and sent faxes to inquire about the situation and the fate of tourist groups in the coming period, especially since night parties, alcohol and beaches are the primary interests for tourists,” said Maggie Hanna, a tour guide at the pyramids in Giza.

Despite assurances provided by tourism companies, Hanna said the news coverage has shaken confidence and is being reflected in bookings from abroad.

Hanna, who has worked in the tourism sector for many years, said she “can emphasise that the tourism advocated by the Salafis is not applicable in Egypt, primarily because of the nature of Egyptians, and also because of the nature of tourists”.

Hanna said she expects that Egyptian society as a whole would reject halal tourism “because of the nature of the Egyptian people”.

“Even if they supported the Salafis politically and electorally, they are open-minded people who accept others as they are,” Hanna said.

Mohammed al-Bunni, a shop owner who sells souvenirs in central Cairo, said he feared for his fate and the fate of thousands of workers who sell antique statuettes like him.

“All our goods are statues, and all tourists come to Egypt to see the statues and the pyramids and enjoy the beautiful beaches. These are our tourist attractions that we rely upon in our trade,” he told Al-Shorfa.

Al-Bunni said one in every eight Egyptians works in tourism and benefits from it directly, in addition to other sectors that rely upon from the tourism sector. Tourism generates more than 12 billion pounds annually ($2 billion), in addition to providing an essential source of hard currency.

With regard to banning bikinis on beaches, Hosni Bassiouni, the director of a hotel in Sharm el-Sheikh, told Al-Shorfa, “It would be a disaster if it happened.”

“The Egyptian shores are known for openness and freedom, and if this changes, it will be a great loss,” he said. “No European tourist will be able to adapt to the new situation. Gulf tourists, who provide the second source of funds for Egyptian tourism, will not be happy with these prohibitions which will transform the shores of Egypt into a replica of the beaches in the Gulf, which they were escaping to begin with”.

Restaurant and nightclub owners expressed concern about the impact of a potential ban on the sale of alcoholic beverages.

“The prohibition, if it happens, would shut down a lot of nightclubs, restaurants and coffee shops and will displace thousands of Egyptians, who would join the ranks of the unemployed,” said Mohamed Alashour, the manager of a tourist coffee shop on Cairo’s Pyramid Street.

He said that even if the ban was limited to certain hotels or areas, the result would be the same for tourists.

“It will be limited to five-star hotels, which are far from the archaeological and tourist areas that suit ordinary, middle-income tourists, which are the vast majority of tourists,” Alashour said.

Dr. Nader Bakkar, spokesman for the Salafist Nour Party, said halal tourism would revitalise the tourism sector. During an electoral event in the Gharbiya district on Thursday (December 15th), Bakkar said the tourism situation is already very bad and that the Salafists are seeking to establish a real tourism sector that would revitalise a “limp” Egyptian economy.

“The most renowned modern hotel chains in Zurich announced the establishment of 30 hotels compatible with Islamic Sharia, and no one criticised them or blamed them,” he said. “The Jawhara hotel chain in the Emirates has an occupancy rate that reaches 100%, and the tourist himself is curious about the habits and traditions of the country in which he travels, and foreigners were brought up in an environment that respects the law.”

Bakkar also said the party has a plan to double the number of tourists and increase tourism revenue.