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While the elections meant to turn Egypt into a democracy are yet to be held, the Muslim Brotherhood (MB) is already turning the country towards an Iranian-like theocracy. The MB announced recently that it wants government officials to adopt stricter regulations, mainly targeting tourists, regarding bikinis and alcohol consumption in public. In a sharia law-ruled state, which the MB hopes to introduce in Egypt, alcohol and certain women’s clothing deemed too revealing would be banned outright. The MB’s proposed alcohol and bikini restrictions probably represent the first step in making this ban a reality.
“Beach tourism must take the values and norms of our society into account,” Muhammad Saad Al-Katany, secretary-general of the Freedom and Justice Party, told Egyptian tourism officials in late August. “We must place regulations on tourists wishing to visit Egypt, which we will announce in advance.”
The Freedom and Justice Party is the political wing of the MB. It will contest elections, scheduled for this November, against 17 other political parties and stands a good chance of becoming the strongest faction in Egypt’s new parliament. But many Egyptians fear that a triumphant Freedom and Justice Party will radicalise Egyptian society, turning it into a strict, religious theocracy like Iran’s.
“This is how things began in Iran,” said Hani Henry, a psychology professor at Cairo’s American University. “The moderate youth wanted to implement changes, but the mullahs hijacked the revolution. The same thing is happening now here in Egypt with the Muslim Brotherhood. It makes me sick to my stomach.”
Al-Katany says his party will investigate the alcohol and bikini issue and will amend legislation accordingly after the elections. The Freedom and Justice youth director, Ali Khafagy, said the answer to this issue his party finds so offensive may lie in having tourists wear modest swimwear and separate beaches for men and women.
“Bathing suits and mixing on the beaches go against our traditions,” said Khafagy. “It’s not just a matter of religion. When I go to the beach, I don’t want to see nudity.”
But a hardcore Egyptian Salafist group, called Dawa, really stirred fears in Egypt’s tourist industry when one of its representatives, Abd Al-Minim A-Shahhat, told a London-based Arab newspaper that the tourist-attracting treasures of Egyptian antiquity, like the sphinx, pyramids and pharaonic statues should be covered up. Comparing them to idols in Mecca in pre-Islamic times, he called them un-Islamic.
“The pharaonic culture is a rotten culture,” A-Shahhat told the paper, adding the statues’ faces “should be covered with wax, since they are religiously forbidden.”
The idea that Egypt’s world-famous archaeological riches could be in danger is not so far-fetched. In Afghanistan, the sixth-century Bamiyan Buddhas, a United Nations World Heritage site, were victims of similar fanatical Islamist thinking in 2001. The Taliban, declaring the Buddhas also “un-Islamic,” destroyed the centuries-old architectural gems with explosives. Defacing ancient statues of Egypt’s pharaohs with wax is not many steps away from a repetition of the Bamiyan Buddhas’ fate.
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