Sisi: ‘Religious rhetoric’ stained Egypt tourism

Presidential candidate Abdel Fatah al-Sisi says in the past 50 years, ‘hardline religious rhetoric’ has stunted the tourism sector in Egypt

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Egypt’s presidential candidate Abdel Fatah al-Sisi blamed “hardline religious rhetoric” for negatively affecting one of the country’s major sectors, tourism, in a video published by his campaigners on YouTube Saturday.

Sisi, who hasn’t yet officially presented his electoral program for the scheduled May 26-27 election, said plans for tourism has long been affected by such rhetoric during a meeting with people in charge of the tourism industry in the country.

“I remember whenever the sector used to recover, and get some fresh air, it could not take the next step,” said the now-retired army chief.

He said: “If things were going smoothly, we could have talked about 30-40 million tourists in Egypt,” as oppose to the annual figure of 13-14 million tourists visiting the country before the revolution that toppled strongman President Hosni Mubarak in 2011.

This “will allow people to earn,” he said, adding “we need to increase awareness about this in Egypt.”

He also explained that he has “an idea for tourism,” because he “lives in a (Cairo) district abundant with popular tourist areas such as Khan Khalili, al-Gamaliya, al-Azhar…all offering different types of religious tourism and more.”

He also urged the tourism sector representatives to represent the notion that July 3 last year - the date when Islamist President Mohammed Mursi was ousted by the then army chief – was the “people’s will and not anything else.”

The power to reign comes from God, he said, adding that “God can take that too.”

He promised if he wins the election, he will choose an effective team, demanding “loyalty, honesty, creativity and unlimited energy” for the upcoming era.

Egypt’s only two presidential candidates began their election campaigns on Saturday. Sisi appears poised to win on a wave of nationalistic fervor as opposed to leftist candidate Hamdeen Sabahi, who came third in the 2012 election.

While Sabahi began his campaign Saturday after giving a press conference in the southern city of Asyut, Sisi’s campaign later on in the day posted its first video clip for the former military man that appeared to have been taken during an interview with local television networks that’s scheduled to be aired Monday.

Sabahi kicked off his campaign in Asyut, promising to “achieve democracy, development and freedom for each Egyptian.”

Sabahi told journalists that he chose southern Egypt because he hopes to eliminate poverty and unemployment, as well as end previous policies that concentrated development on the capital and marginalized the south, where Islamists hold sway.

Later in the day, Sabahi vowed he would keep the military out of politics if he became president. He also vowed to abolish a divisive law that bans protests not approved by police, a measure that’s seen activists arrested and imprisoned.

“It is not appropriate to overburden (the military) or to get in middle of political conflict,” Sabahi said.

Meanwhile, Sisi launched his election campaign on Twitter after midnight with the hashtag “Long Live Egypt.”

Sisi posters in Cairo present him as a strongman in “the fight against terror” - referring to the wave of Islamic militant attacks that followed Mursi’s ouster.

(With The Associated Press)

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