Burkini war hits Egypt beaches, swimming pools

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

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.