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In talk with Ahram Online, tourism minister allays fears of Islamist govt

In exclusive interview with Ahram Online, Mounir Fakhry Abd El-Nour, the liberal minister of tourism, downplays rising concerns that an Islamist electoral landslide will negatively impact flow of foreigners

Salma Shukrallah, Tuesday 6 Dec 2011
Egypt
Egypt's Minister of Tourism Mounir Fakhry Abdel Nour (Photo: Mai Shaheen)
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Amid concerns over the rise of an Islamist-led parliament, the fate of Egypt’s once-thriving tourism sector is being hotly debated.

Islamist figures have often had to answer tough questions as to their ultimate intentions regarding tourism, especially in terms of their willingness to accept social norms that they have historically rejected.

Some critics, meanwhile, express fear that an Islamist-dominated parliament would jeopardise some LE200 billion ($33.3 billion) worth of tourism investments in Egypt. 

In an interview with Ahram Online, Tourism Minister Mounir Fakhry Abd El-Nour downplayed such worries, however, noting that, "a party’s political discourse changes when it comes to power.”

Abd El-Nour, who has served as tourism minister in three different post-revolution governments, appears confident that an Islamist majority in parliament will not adversely impact Egypt’s tourism industry.

"Any party that takes power will be met with demands to supply more than 80 million Egyptians with food and clothing; provide some 800,000 employment opportunities to fresh university graduates every year; and formulate the state budget while taking responsibility for cutting the budget deficit,” said Abd El-Nour.

“I doubt that anyone facing such responsibilities would want to give up the 12.5 per cent of Egypt's GDP that tourism accounts for, not to mention the job opportunities it creates.”

Along with remittances and Suez Canal receipts, tourism has traditionally represented one of the country’s top foreign currency earners.

Abd El-Nour, a Coptic-Christian member of Egypt’s liberal Wafd Party, insists that an Islamist-led government will not constitute a threat.

The media, he says, tends to depict political Islam as a single, monolithic bloc, even though Islamist parties and groups, he stressed, differ considerably in practical terms.

"The Muslim Brotherhood (MB) is not the same as the Salafists,” he pointed out.

“There are also different currents within the MB and differences between the different generations within the MB. The younger generation, for example, tends to be more open."

Statements by the MB’s Freedom and Justice Party (FJP) regarding the new government, meanwhile, have also raised alarm bells that the MB would not be satisfied with anything less than a parliamentary majority.

FJP head Mohamed Morsi, for his part, has stated that the parliamentary majority should appoint the new government. In response to statements by Egypt’s ruling military council that parliament lacks authority to do so, Morsi has asserted that no government can function practically without the approval of the national assembly.

Abd El-Nour agreed with Morsi’s assertion, saying that the MB’s wheeling and dealing with other parties represented in parliament would lead them to form a coalition government or leave the incumbent Cabinet in office.

Indeed, the MB was one of the few political groups that did not express disapproval of the newly appointed government headed up by former prime minister Kamal El-Ganzouri.

Currently, hundreds of demonstrators are staging a sit-in – which the MB has refrained from endorsing – in front of the Cabinet building to reject the appointment of El-Ganzouri, who also served as prime minister under ousted president Hosni Mubarak.

Tahrir demonstrators had at one point proposed a government of “national salvation” to be headed by would-be presidential contender Mohamed ElBaradei, former MB leader and presidential hopeful Abd El-Moneim Abu El-Fotouh, and Nasserist presidential candidate Hamdin El-Sabahy.

Abd El-Nour, for his part, believes the national salvation initiative lacked popular consensus.

Despite Abd El-Nour’s seeming confidence that Islamist politicians would merely seek to build bridges with their parliamentary counterparts, he went on to say that the Wafd Party’s failed electoral coalition with the MB had been a mistake from the outset.

According to the tourism minister, the Wafd – being Egypt’s oldest liberal political party – should have reached out to other liberal parties, such as those in the recently established Egyptian Bloc.

The Egyptian Bloc – which includes the liberal Free Egyptians, the Egyptian Social Democratic Party and the leftist Tagammu Party – represented the main non-Islamist challenger in the country’s first post-Mubarak parliamentary polls. 

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Gia Maria
06-12-2011 05:00pm
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In the same bag
There may be differences between different Islamists parties and currents, but as Mr. Abd el Nour says himself, the media gives a block image. As someone who has family and friends outside Egypt, I feel the media's view is the one most foriegners have, not only because of the media itself, but because not everyone is willing to explore the potential differences of the religious currents in a country they may visit on holiday. Many of the people I know who were comming to Egypt this year have changed plans because of the revolution, and many fear the rise of Islamists -whether the fear is well funded or not- when considering coming to visit if Islamists rule. It's a complex situation.
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