Egypt's Islamists and tourism

Halal tourism: summer fling anyone?

Read the passages below and you'll see a fundamental miscomprehension of what most European tourists (the bulk of those who visit Egypt) like to do on holiday:

"Tourists don't need to drink alcohol when they come to Egypt; they have plenty at home," a veiled Muslim Brotherhood candidate, Azza al-Jarf, told a cheering crowd of supporters on Sunday across the street from the Pyramids.

"They came to see the ancient civilization, not to drink alcohol," she said, her voice booming through a set of loudspeakers at a campaign event dubbed "Let's encourage tourism." The crowd chanted, "Tourism will be at its best under Freedom and Justice," the Brotherhood's party and the most influential political group to emerge from the fall of Hosni Mubarak.

. . .

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.

If they truly feel that their religion really doesn't allow the sale of alcohol or use of beaches in swimsuits, fine — although I'd still like to see the whole religious argument for it, with sources, and particularly when it concerns non-Muslims. But at least be honest about the impact on a major source of revenue for the country. We are now at a point when the comfortable role of opposition no longer holds for Islamists, it's time to be serious about one's positions and their consequences.

A few years ago, for instance, the Muslim Brotherhood MPs in parliament opposed a law that would tighten the ban on Female Genital Mutilation (a practice that has absolutely no basis in Islam, it's largely a Nile Valley thing) and also opposed a law banning child beatings. If they are just traditionalists, let them say that. But if they want to invoke religion, they better make their case with full theological and scriptural backing.

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Issandr El Amrani

Issandr El Amrani is a Cairo-based writer and consultant. His reporting and commentary on the Middle East and North Africa has appeared in The Economist, London Review of Books, Financial Times, The National, The Guardian, Time and other publications. He also publishes one of the longest-running blog in the region, www.arabist.net.

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