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Egypt’s ruling Islamists move to ban selling of alcohol

Published: Updated:

Egypt’s Islamist government will no longer issue licenses for selling alcohol in certain areas of Cairo, Alexandria and other major cities, an official has said.

Nabil Abbas, the vice president of the New Urban Communities Authorities (NUCA) told Reuters on Sunday: “NUCA has stopped renewing licenses to sell alcohol but the current ones will continue until they expire.”

The current law states that only licensed outlets can sell alcoholic beverages.

The authority said the move will reduce access to alcohol and will increase safety in Egypt’s suburbs. In his statement Abbas said that the consumption of alcohol has led to deviant behavior in the country such “attacking women and randomly ringing doorbells of people’s homes.”

However, Ahmed Abdulhay, a Cairo resident and an opponent of the Muslim Brotherhood rejected Abbas’s statement as “totally untrue.”

In an interview with Al Arabiya, he said only a small number of Egyptians drink heavily. “They cannot be causing such a large problem that deserves this much attention by the government.”

This is just a way for the authorities to “impose their views” on society, Abdulhay said.

Islamist President Mohamed Mursi’s government increased taxes on alcoholic beverages in December 2012, but they reneged after the move was criticized.

When asked if there had been an angry reaction to the newest proposal, Abdulhay said: “No, people who drink know where they can go,” adding that there hasn’t been a widespread ban on the activity.

Tourism concerns

Karim Mohsen, board member of the Egyptian Travel Agents Association, said if the government were to ban alcohol in hotels and restaurants across the country it could hurt Egypt’s ailing tourism industry, hard hit by political turmoil.

Abdulhay added: “When foreigners see this story aired on news channels around the world, they will think Egypt is a mess and they will not visit.”

“If they come to Egypt they will see it is not as bad as they think, we Egyptians can still drink alcohol as it hasn’t been completely banned. The situation on the ground is different to the international perceptions,” he said.

The possible hit to the tourism industry has left some observers worried.

The economy is already dwindling, tourism is moribund and investment is at a standstill. For a country that previously received roughly 15 million tourists per year, the drop to around three million visitors per annum presents a serious challenge.

Furthermore “no one is investing in tourism, it is not a sure source of income now,” Abdulhay said.

For the moment, major tourist hot-spots such as Sharm-el-Sheihk will not have their alcohol license taken away.

Poking fun

A satirical poster was circulated online on Sunday, in direct response to the alcohol curb. It listed some of Egypt’s main problems including road accidents, police brutality and poverty then showed a cartoon of Mursi dressed as Superman and saying: “Must save Egypt from porn, alcohol and YouTube.”

The phrase refers to an Egyptian court’s ruling that YouTube should be suspended for a month for broadcasting a film insulting the Prophet Mohammad.