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Egyption Election Raises Fear of Booze Ban

An outside chance of an alcohol sales ban and gender-segregated beaches worries Egypt's thriving tourism industry.


Presidential candidate Mohamed Morsi.
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By Gabrielle Wuhl


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Egypt's tourism industry fears a nationwide ban on the sale of alcohol that would likely turn travelers away in their thousands. On June 16 and 17, Egypt will hold its first presidential election since the overthrow of Hosni Mubarak. Mohamed Morsi of the Freedom and Justice Party (FJP) is running against Ahmed Shafik, and it's Morsi’s potential policies that are causing alarm. Extreme factions within the FJP—which has strong ties to the Islamist Muslim Botherhood—have demanded that the sale of alcohol be banned, and that beaches should segregated by sex, with revealing swimwear such as bikinis also outlawed. Naturally, such ideas have stoked strong concerns within the country’s tourism sector, and senior figures have moved to play down the possibility: “These calls are just rhetoric, an attempt to win votes,” says Omayma El Husseini, director of the Egyptian Tourist Office. “These people can say and promise what they want, but they will not deliver anything.” El Husseini adds that if such changes were enacted, they'd have ruinous effects on Egypt’s struggling economy. Tourism is vital to the country—the industry is the second highest contributor to GDP and employs at least one in ten people in Egypt. Peter Lilley, a spokesman for the Middle East and North Africa Travel Association, also doubts that such major restrictions would be imposed: “I just can’t foresee any extreme measures being introduced—they would have another revolution on their hands.”

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