Egyptian tourism managers celebrated the opening of an alcohol-free hotel at the popular beach resort of Hurghada over the weekend, a move they hoped would lure conservative Muslim tourists to a region popular with foreign and local visitors.
Le Roi Hotel is one of the first “dry” hotels to open on Egypt’s Red Sea coast, and comes as liberals voice concerns that Islamists who came to power last year were seeking to limit personal freedoms and impose conservative ideology.
They also worry such hotels could deter foreign tourists, whose numbers dropped sharply after the uprising that ousted Hosni Mubarak in 2011.
Yasser Kamal, the owner of the hotel, played down its political significance.
“The idea of launching a hotel without alcohol is not to adhere to any particular movement but rather to provide a new kind of tourism,” he told the MENA state news agency.
A YouTube video showed hotel managers celebrating the launch by lining up bottles of alcohol on the curb outside the building before pouring out their contents and smashing them.
The hotel, which has 134 rooms and 35 suites, has allocated the top floor and a swimming pool to women only – conservative Muslims believe in the segregation of unrelated males and females.
Most mainstream Islamic scholars also agree that Islam forbids alcohol consumption.
Around 14.5 million people visited Egypt in 2010, accounting for 10 percent of economic activity and earning the country $12.5 billion.
But visitors numbers fell to around 9.8 million the following year, reflecting political turmoil at the time, and have yet to recover to anywhere close to pre-revolution levels.
President Mohamed Mursi’s government increased taxes on alcoholic beverages in December, but backed down after the move was criticized by his opponents.
An Egyptian official said in February that the government would no longer issue or renew licenses for the sale of alcohol in new residential settlements on the outskirts of Cairo, Alexandria and other big cities.
Reporting by Omar Fahmy and Asma Alsharif; editing by Mike Collett-White. Copyright (2013) Thomson Reuters. Click for restrictions.