Protesting Egypt tour guides fear Islamist rise

Fri Dec 9, 2011 9:28am EST
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By Marwa Awad

CAIRO (Reuters) - Around 1,000 Egyptians rallied near the ancient pyramids on Friday to protest against what they said were threats by Islamic radicals to undermine tourism, one of the country's biggest money earners.

Islamist groups look set to dominate the next parliament, with the once-banned Muslim Brotherhood seeing its party win 37 percent of the vote in a first phase of balloting and the much more puritanical Salafis securing a surprise 24 percent.

The spectacular rise of the Salafist al-Nour party has sent a shiver through more secular Egyptians, who fear the newly empowered group might try to impose its views on society.

Heightening their anxieties, one prominent Salafi spokesman has suggested covering up ancient Egyptian statues, such as the Sphinx that guards the pyramids, saying they may be idolatrous.

He was later disavowed by other al-Nour members. But tour guides say an Islamist victory could deter tourists from coming to Egypt, which has already seen a sharp fall-off in visitors since the ousting of president Hosni Mubarak in February.

"Islamist individuals who see the world in black and white are a real danger to this country," said Khaled Touni, 35, a guide who studied Egyptology, Islamic and Coptic history.

"We demand that each party, whether Islamist or mainstream, announce what is its program for enhancing tourism before parliament convenes," he added.

Anger was directed at Abdel Moneim el-Shahat, who is highly popular among Egypt's Salafis and who has questioned the moral integrity of priceless ancient statues that dot the country.   Continued...