Lebanon minister apologizes to Egypt for insulting its cleanliness

BEIRUT (Reuters) - Lebanon’s tourism minister has apologized to Egypt after criticizing the country’s cleanliness and living conditions in a newspaper interview, Lebanon’s state news agency NNA said.

Caretaker Tourism Minister Avedis Guidanian, in the interview published on Monday by Lebanon’s English-language Daily Star, complained that negative media reports about Lebanon were harming his country’s image and hindering tourism.

“Look at Egypt - is there a place dirtier than it? People are louder than us, there is more traffic than here - people live in graves, OK? But there is tourism, because they know how to sell the country,” Guidanian said.

Late on Monday Guidanian apologized for his remarks and visited the Egyptian ambassador to Lebanon on Tuesday, NNA said.

In Egypt, pro-government TV talk show host Ahmed Moussa said he “does not care for his apology”, but stressed the good relations between the people of Egypt and Lebanon. Moussa dismissed the minister as a “fool” and said the Lebanese government should “intervene”.

An official diplomatic source said the minister’s statement in the newspaper “does not reflect the position of Lebanon as a country or government, nor the Lebanese people”.

“The Lebanese people come to Egypt for tourism in large numbers,” the source added.

A Lebanese tourist in Egypt was sentenced in July to eight years in prison after authorities said she had insulted the country in a Facebook video post. The tourist, Mona el-Mazboh, had made a series of complaints including of sexual harassment. Her sentence was reduced in September to one year and suspended, and she left Egypt.

Lebanon has been without a government for six months since parliamentary elections, holding up vital reforms and raising fears for the economy. Prime Minister-designate Saad al-Hariri has so far been unable to find consensus among rival political parties to form a national unity government.

Reporting by Lisa Barrington in Beirut; Additional reporting by Nayera Abdellah and Yousef Saba in Cairo; editing by David Stamp