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Burkini war hits Egypt beaches, swimming pools

Rules set for donning the conservative swimwear amid surge in domestic tourism

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Swimmers and sunbathers pack the beaches along the coast of the Mediterranean Sea at Alexandria, a popular seaside resort.
Gulf News

Cairo: Egypt’s tourism authorities have warned coastal hotels against barring women clad in burking swimwear from using their beaches and swimming pools. The warning comes after a series of complaints from burkini wearers in the mostly Muslim country that some beach resorts have banned them.

The burking, locally known as the Sharia-compliant swimsuit, is a full-body garment that also covers the head. Over recent years, the outfits have become widely popular in Egypt amid a wave of Islamism. Local garment-makers have sought to capitalise on the trend by promoting burkinis of various colours on their websites. Prices of the conservative swimsuit range from 100 Egyptian pounds (Dh20.8) to 300 Egyptian pounds apiece, depending on the size and quality, according to dealers.

This summer, large numbers of Egyptians, including burking-clad women, have flocked to the country’s beach resorts, filling a vacuum resulting from a sharp drop in foreign visitors to the country since the unrest that followed a 2011 uprising in Egypt.

Hotels in Egypt’s popular holiday spots of Hurghada, Sharm Al Shaikh and the North Coast have reported high occupancy rates this summer due to a spike in numbers of local visitors.

However, in recent weeks, Egyptian media and social networking websites have carried reports about a purported increase in cases of burking wearers barred by hotels from using their beaches and pools allegedly due to their outfits. The restriction has triggered ire and accusations of discrimination on religious grounds.

The Tourism Ministry has also condemned the ban, but urged guests to comply with swimsuit rules.

“No one has the right to prevent any guest from using the swimming pools as long as the guest observes the relevant general rules, including wearing appropriate outfits,” head of the ministry’s hotels sector, Abdul Fatah Al Asi, said.

He explained in media remarks that the swimwear should not be made of material that “harmfully interacts” with the water. “It is also inappropriate to wear such dresses as a blouse or a gallabiyah (a flowing robe) in the swimming pool,” he added.

Al Asi said that hotel managers have the right to designate certain pools for women donning the hijab, an Islamic headgear.

Some of the announced rules have drawn criticism.

“Will the ministry [of tourism] form a committee to be tasked with testing the material of each burking in order to make sure it complies with hygiene?” columnist Sahar Al Jara said sarcastically in private newspaper Al Watan.

“In fact, there is no such thing as a Sharia-compliant swimsuit because the burking becomes tight-skin and see-through due to water,” she added.

Agreeing, member of parliament Amna Nuseir, objected to calling the burking an Islamic swimwear.

“Using the term ‘Sharia-compliant” for this swimsuit implies a kind of contempt for religion. Like any other swimsuit, the so-called Sharia-compliant garment defines and exposes the wearer’s body,” Nuseir, a professor of Islamic philosophy, told private television station Dream.

She advised conservative women, who want to enjoy swimming, to do this in females-only places. “This service is now available in several areas.”

In recent years, several sports clubs and hotels in Egypt have started designating certain days every week for women to use their swimming pools, a move aimed at protecting their privacy.