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Egypt May Ban Sale of Duty-Free Alcohol

Mon, March 18, 2013

Egypt's Civil Aviation Ministry is considering halting the sale of alcohol at airport duty-free shops after receiving complaints that it goes against the country's Islamic principles. Officials at the duty-free shops said that they have known that the ministry was considering the ban for four months.

Secularists and liberals in Egypt have objected, saying that this is just another way for Islamist president Mohammad Morsi to impose Sharia, (Islamic law) on the country. The groups also fear that if the ban is imposed, it will cause a drop in tourism, a major source of income for many Egyptians.

A spokesman for the secularist National Salvation Front (NSF), Ahmed el-Borai, told the Associated Press that banning the sale of alcohol will not stop people from drinking. "Are we asking people to bring alcohol from abroad? There is no reason for this study and it will affect tourism," he said. Borai claims that it is a ploy by the Muslim Brotherhood to move Egypt into a conservative Islamist country.

The sale of alcohol is a major source of revenue in Egypt. Officials at Cairo's airport report that the sale of alcohol and cigarettes at the duty-free shops accounts for more than half of total profits of such stores in Egypt. All officials spoke on condition of anonymity because they were not authorized to speak to the media about internal reviews.

A spokesman for the ultraconservative Islamist Salafi Nour Party told a conference of tour guides last year that tourists should not be allowed to buy alcohol in Egypt but may bring it with them and drink it in their rooms. The Housing Ministry's New Urban Communities Authority said no new licenses would be issued for liquor stores and current licenses will be revoked in new residential settlements. The decision does not affect tourist establishments such as restaurants or hotels that sell liquor

Currently, alcohol may only be sold by licensed dealers and in tourist areas such as hotels, restaurants and bars which are heavily taxed and pay high import duty. During the Muslim holy month of Ramadan, Egyptians are prohibited from purchasing alcoholic drinks anywhere.

Mohammad Sadeq, a member of the Muslim Brotherhood’s political party, said that the issue involves both financial considerations and matters of Islamic law, which prohibits the sale and consumption of alcohol. Egypt is a predominantly Muslim nation and its laws include both religious and civil codes. Morsi and the Muslim Brotherhood are currently the most powerful political party in Egypt and are in control of the parliament.

There have been other hints that Egypt might be moving in a more conservatively religious direction. Last year, the head of the upper house of parliament ordered a review of the national carrier Egypt Air's policy on the films it shows. The review was in response to complaints that the airline was showing old Egyptian movies during international flights, with scenes that were considered too “racy.”

The NSF's El-Borai said that there are so many more important things to talk about than "wasting time talking about films on an airplane or whiskey in the airport." His concern became very evident when he said, "People cannot find diesel to drive their cars and maybe will not find electricity. There are much bigger issues than this to think about."