Lifestyle & Belief

Some Fear Egypt's New Islamist President Will Usher in an Era of Prohibition

Hours after being declared the new president of Egypt, Mohammed Mursi started reaching out. His first speech as chief executive was clearly aimed at building rapport with groups of Egyptians who might be less than thrilled that a leader of the Muslim Brotherhood is now president. Mursi said he will be president for all Egyptians.

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But what about people who make a living by selling alcohol, which, of course, is forbidden in Islam?

On recent night in a swanky part of Cairo called Zamalek, a college-aged kid in designer jeans and a black t-shirt throws down the cover charge of 200 Egypt pounds — about 33 bucks — and walks into a packed night club.

To most American youth, the scene would be unremarkable. Deafening dance beats. Smoking, dancing, and lots of drinking. But to the vast majority of Egyptians, this behavior would be utterly unfamiliar, and likely immoral. On the dance floor, I ask a young woman named Menna if she thinks President Mohammed Mursi of the Muslim Brotherhood will try to shut down places like this.

"On the long run, yes," she said. "Maybe not these five years or something, but on the long run, yes."

Are you worried about it, I asked? "I won't be young enough in five years to celebrate and stuff, but I do worry about it somewhat, in a way."

"Have fun while I can, you know," she said with a laugh.

Rawy Rizk the place. It's called Amici. He told me the alcohol-related industry has been dreading the prospect of Mursi becoming president.

"Everybody's panicking," Rizk said. "The first thing that Mursi will do, he will close the company that produce Egyptian alcohol."

The Al Ahram Beverage Company produces beer, wine and liquor. Once that company is shut down, Egypt's new president will start closing the bars, Rizk said. And he compared Egypt with two other countries where political Islam took hold.

"The two big examples [are] Afghanistan and Iran," he said. "Egypt will be a new Iran."

As a leader in the Muslim Brotherhood, it is not hard to guess how Mohammed Mursi feels about alcohol. But as a presidential candidate, he has not talked much about the issue. Some Egyptians in the booze business see that as a sign they have little to worry about.

For more than 35 years, the Arabesque bar and restaurant has operated a couple of blocks from Tahrir Square. It's got antique floor tiles and paintings of belly dancers. Business has been slow since the start of the revolution, says the manager, who said his name was Mohsen. Whenever there are demonstrations in the square, he said, customers are scarce.

"The new president will not close down bars and restaurants that sell alcohol," Mohsen said. "It would hurt the tourism industry. Too many Egyptians depend on tourism-related business to make their living."

It's probably not going to happen, he said.

At least, it will not be on the Brotherhoods agenda in the near term, said Gihad Khaled. She is a sociology student at a university in Cairo and a former member of the Muslim Brotherhood herself.

"I'm not sure what they'll do," Khaled told me during an interview at a cafe in downtown Cairo. "But the Muslim Brotherhood has other things to worry about. They're not going to make banning alcohol a priority."

As for her own beliefs, Khaled said Christians in Egypt should be allowed to drink, because their religion doesn't forbid it.

But what about Muslims who want to do so, I ask?

"It makes me sad," Khaled said, "to think about Muslims falling out of touch with their religion and doing something that's forbidden. But maybe, they should also have the freedom to make choices of their own."

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    A chandelier made of Egyptian beer bottles hangs in a Cairo bar. (Photo: Abdelrahman Ayyash)

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    A chandelier made of Egyptian beer bottles hangs in a Cairo bar. (Photo: Abdelrahman Ayyash)

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