Two years after the Egyptian revolution, liberals in Egypt are increasingly concerned that the ruling Islamists are out to curb personal freedoms and build a society in their own image.
Extremist factions within the ruling Freedom and Justice Party (FJP), who have a majority in the parliament and h ave strong ties to the Muslim Brotherhood, have demanded a ban on the sale of alcohol throughout the country.
As a result, the Islamist government has decided that they will no longer issue licenses for selling alcohol in certain areas such as the new suburbs of Cairo, Alexandria and other major cities. Nabil Abbas, vice president of the New Urban Communities Authorities (NUCA) said that “NUCA has stopped renewing licenses to sell alcohol, but the current ones will continue until they expire.”
When announcing the ban the government said that it was due to local complaints over safety, and that the ban would reduce the availability of alcohol and thus result in increased safety in Egypt’s suburbs.
“The consumption of alcohol has led to deviant behavior in the country, such as attacking women and randomly ringing doorbells of people’s homes,” Nabil Abbas said. They cited a recent report by the magazine, The Economist, which indicated that alcohol consumption in Islamic countries has seen a substantial increase of some 72 percent between 2001 and 2011, against a global average of 30 percent.
One Cairo resident dismissed the statement as “totally untrue.” He said that the small number of Egyptians who can be described as heavy drinkers, “cannot be causing such a large problem that deserves this much attention by the government. There is no justification for this sales ban. The liquor stores opened in these cities long ago and nothing happened.”
Many Egyptians who oppose the new Islamist leadership condemned the new law as an infringement on their personal freedoms and fear that the curbs could spread further. “This is just a way for the authorities to impose their views on society,” said a Cairo resident.
“The decision is a clear violation of citizens’ personal rights,” added Elhamy Al-Zayat head of Egypt’s Federation of Tourism Chamber.
Dian Fahmy, a 30-year-old interior designer, said that she did not at all believe that safety is what is behind the ban. “I don’t believe this move is driven by safety reasons, but rather by the leaders’ attempt to impose their Islamist vision. First this Islamist government will ban alcohol in the new urban communities, then slowly they will try to start banning it elsewhere, and then God knows what’s next,” Fahmy said.
The ban will have a major impact on Egypt’s tourism industry which has already seen a sharp drop in visitors since the revolution. Tour operators are concerned that the current move could send a negative message to potential tourists and decision makers in tourism. The fear is that alcohol will eventually be banned from hotels and restaurants serving foreign tourists. And a decrease in tourism would also directly affect many local citizens, since at least 10 percent of Egyptians earn their living from tourism.
A satirical poster recently circulated in Egypt in response to the alcohol curb. It listed some of Egypt’s most pressing problems including road accidents, police brutality and poverty. It then showed a cartoon of Morsi dressed as Superman and saying “Must save Egypt from porn, alcohol and YouTube.”