Egypt’s Islamist parties have moved to reassure tourists that the country is not threatened by religious fanatics.
The Freedom and Justice Party (FJP) – the political arm of the influential Muslim Brotherhood – announced a conference in Cairo entitled “Let’s encourage tourism” that brought together industry leaders and party members.
Meanwhile, Al-Nur, the ultra-conservative party representing followers of the fundamentalist Salafi brand of Islam, said it was launching a conference to promote the industry in the southern city of Aswan.
About 15 million holidaymakers visited the country last year, attracted by its Pharaonic sites and Red Sea beach resorts. The industry is a key money earner and source of foreign currency.
Islamist parties won a crushing victory in the first stage of parliamentary elections which wrapped up last week, leading to fears they might impose strict Islamic law that could scare off Western holidaymakers.
Some Islamist candidates or religious scholars have advocated destroying ancient monuments – seen as a form of idol worshipping – and bans on alcohol, mixed-sex beaches, gambling and even bikinis.
On the Facebook page of the Muslim Brotherhood yesterday, Supreme Guide Mohammed Badie was shown shaking hands with foreign visitors as he toured the historic city of Luxor.
Members of the FJP also visited the ancient Pyramids of Giza yesterday to show the “Brotherhood’s support for tourism,” said the Facebook page.
Al-Nur, which has come second in the polls with more than 20 per cent of votes so far, said their conference would bring together representatives from tourism chambers, hotels and tour operators “in a bid to support the industry.”
“We do not want to ban tourism. On the contrary, we want revenue from tourism to multiply,” spokesman Nader Bakkar told the Egyptian satellite channel CBC on Saturday.
But he also spoke in favour of segregation of the sexes on beaches.
“The Al-Nur party does not want to ban beach tourism. But we do want to see a type of Halal tourism … such as segregation of beaches,” Mr Bakkar said.
The tourism sector was virtually paralysed during 18 days of protests that toppled Hosni Mubarak earlier this year and has been struggling to recover since.
Following years of crackdowns under Mr Mubarak, Islamists have become increasingly open since the revolt about their ambitions for an Islamic state, threatening the livelihoods of hundreds of hotels and beaches.
About a thousand employees in the sector demonstrated last Friday to draw attention to their difficulties and the anti-tourist declarations of some Islamists.
The industry is estimated to support about a tenth of the active population.