Egypt Islamist party says wants to boost tourism

CAIRO Wed Dec 28, 2011 5:27am EST

A tourist poses for a picture with the Sphinx at the Pyramids of Giza in Cairo October 19, 2011.    REUTERS/Jamal Saidi

A tourist poses for a picture with the Sphinx at the Pyramids of Giza in Cairo October 19, 2011.

Credit: Reuters/Jamal Saidi

CAIRO (Reuters) - The Muslim Brotherhood's party, leading in a parliamentary election, wants to boost tourist numbers to Egypt and will not take steps that would harm the industry, a party official told a rally in the Red Sea resort of Sharm el-Sheikh.

The strong showing by Islamsists in Egypt's staggered parliamentary poll has aroused fears among liberals and others in Egypt that it could lead to rules that would ban alcohol sales and outlaw mixed bathing in popular resorts.

Tourism is Egypt's top foreign currency earner, accounting for more than a tenth of gross domestic product and employing an estimated one in eight of the workforce.

Essam el-Erian, deputy head of the Freedom and Justice Party FJP.L, said accusations that Islamists rise to power would harm tourism were "rumours" circulated by remnants of the party of deposed President Hosni Mubarak to influence voters.

"No citizen who makes a living from this field should be concerned," Erian said in statements carried by the party's website while addressing voters in Sinai ahead of the third stage of the election in January.

He said the party wanted to draw in 20 million tourists a year to Egypt, compared to the more than 12 million that visited before the uprising against Mubarak and subsequent political upheaval sent tourists packing.

The FJP says that, by its estimation, its candidates and smaller parties in its alliance have secured almost 50 percent of the seats up for grabs in the staggered election race that runs till January.

Clear breakdown of seats contested so far and the overall picture for the 498 elected seats in the assembly will not be known definitively until the final round of voting in January. Seats will be allocated by a mixture of party lists and individual candidates.

Erian said laws regarding alcohol would not be changed and the party would not support legislation that might harm the industry. Alcohol is sold at hotels across Egypt and can also be bought at specialised shops and some licensed restaurants.

But he hinted the Brotherhood would seek to curb some aspects of public consumption, but only based on existing laws.

"The current law has punishments in this regard (to alcohol). We won't add to it nor modify it but drinking alcohol won't be in the streets," he said, without giving details.

Under Egyptian law, anyone caught drunk in a public place can be imprisoned for up to six months, but the law is only sporadically enforced.

Erian suggested there was broad agreement among Egypt's political forces to keep, without modification, the first four articles of the constitution, including the one saying "the principles of Islamic law are the principle source of legislation".

Liberals, whose parties trail Islamists in the election, have voiced concerns that an Islamist dominated parliament may seek to push more Islamic content into a new constitution.

The new parliament's prime task will be to pick a 100-strong constituent assembly to draw up the new constitution.

(Editing by Edmund Blair and Matthew Jones)

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