Egypt will stop issuing licences for the sale of alcohol in some urban areas due to local complaints over safety, a government official has said.
The new measures will apply to recently-built settlements on the outskirts of Egypt's major cities such as Cairo and Alexandria, the vice-president of the New Urban Communities Authorities told Ahram Online.
"It's not our decision. The cities' boards of trustees who are freely elected by the residents are demanding the closure of places which sell alcoholic products and have submitted numerous complaints of troubles the residents incur," Nabil Abbass said in a phone interview on Friday.
He went on to quote the residents who claim that liquor stores are the first places attacked in Egypt's security vacuum. Living close to the liquor store, therefore, puts the residents' lives in danger.
"The decision will affect only the residential areas of the new cities, while other areas, such as touristic, industrial and commercial zones, are still free from the ban," Abbass added.
NUCA also decided last week that existing liquor stores will not have their alcohol sales licenses renewed, according to Abbass.
"I don't know why that decision had stirred controversy, alcohol is already a taboo per se under all religions - and note that I do not belong to any political party," Abbass told Ahram Online.
The head of Egypt's Federation of Tourism Chamber, Elhamy Al-Zayat, tells Ahram Online that this decision will greatly affect foreigners and Copts living in the new cities.
"The decision is a clear violation of citizens' personal rights," Al-Zayat argued.
"There is no justification for this sales ban. The liquor stores opened in these cities long ago and nothing happened."
If the government ban liquor stores in new cities, it should reduce taxes levied on beverages firms in Egypt. "One of those manufacturers pays the government half a billion Egyptian pounds annually," he claimed.
In December 2011 President Mohamed Morsi decided to increase taxes on alcoholic beer from 100 per cent (with a minimum of LE200 per 100 litres) to 200 per cent (with a minimum of LE400 per 100 litres). He backed down on his decision after public criticism.
A recent report by The Economist magazine indicates that alcohol consumption in Islamic countries in the Middle East and North Africa region has risen considerably by some 72 percent between 2001 and 2011 against a global average of 30 percent.