Booze and bikinis are welcome in Egypt, says tourism minister

Sun May 5, 2013 10:28am EDT
 
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By Amena Bakr

DUBAI (Reuters) - Islamist-ruled Egypt is open to visitors who drink alcohol and wear bikinis as it sets out to boost numbers by at least a fifth this year, the tourism minister said on Sunday.

Tourism is a pillar of the Egyptian economy but has suffered since a popular uprising toppled President Hosni Mubarak in 2011 and set off two years of periodic rioting and instability.

The minister, Hisham Zaazou, said the government had "optimistic goals" for the sector, and played down comments from radical Salafi Muslim groups who have called for a ban on alcohol and women wearing swimsuits.

"Bikinis are welcome in Egypt and booze is still being served," Zaazou, speaking in English, told a news conference during a visit to the United Arab Emirates.

"We had talks with these Salafi groups and now they understand the importance of the tourism sector, but still you have some individuals that are not from the leadership saying these things," added the minister, an independent who is not a member of the ruling Muslim Brotherhood.

Islamist President Mohamed Mursi's government increased taxes on alcohol in December but backed down after the move was criticized by the tourism sector and by liberals.

DECLINE AND REBOUND

Before the uprising, tourism was worth more than a tenth of Egypt's economic output. In 2010, 14.7 million visitors came, generating $12.5 billion in earnings, but arrivals slowed to 9.8 million the following year and income to $8.8 billion.   Continued...

 
Tourists walk along the main corridor of the Temple of Hatshepsut, a day after a hot air balloon crash left 19 foreigners dead, in Luxor, February 27, 2013. REUTERS/Mohamed Abd El Ghany