Cairo (AsiaNews) - Egypt's tourist operators are afraid of Islamism and have attacked Murgan Salem al-Gohary,a Salafist Jihadist leader who during a TV programme, aired on privately owned Dream TV2 channel, proposed the destruction of Pyramids of Giza and the Sphinx because they symbolise idolatry.
The Salafist's statement follows dozens of threats made by Salafists against Egypt's artistic heritage and holiday resorts, which represent one of the main sources of employment in the country.
Ihab El-Badry, leader of the Coalition to Support Tourism, said he would sue President Morsi, the prime minister and the ministers of tourism and monuments for doing nothing to control the Islamists.
He added that such statements are having a devastating effect on Egypt's already struggling tourism industry.
"International media picked up these statements up and this will negatively affect tourism and the Egyptian economy in general," El-Badry said, adding that tourists are now afraid to travel to Egypt.
Known for his extremist positions, Murgan Salem al-Gohary spent time in jail under the Mubarak regime for his pro-Islamic terror activities.
On TV, El-Gohary recounted proudly how he participated in the blowing up of the statues of the Buddhas of Bamyan in Afghanistan in 2001 with the Taliban. He explained that the statues and archaeological heritage of ancient Egypt could end up the same way.
"All Muslims are charged with applying the teachings of Islam to remove such idols, as we did in Afghanistan when we destroyed the Buddha statues," he said. "God ordered Prophet Mohammed to destroy idols," he added.
Al-Gohary's controversial comments came one day after a large Salafist rally in Tahrir Square in favour of the introduction of Sharia law, causing not only a row with the country's tourist operators, but also adding flue to the controversy between pro-democracy advocates and Islamists over the place of Islamic law in the new constitution.
In the wake of Egypt's revolution, the ultraconservative Salafist al-Nour party has risen to become the second most influential force in parliament, behind the Muslim Brotherhood.
According to Egyptian author Ahmed Osman, the Salafists sympathise with Al-Gohary's view, and have demanded that statues be destroyed or covered up to hide the parts that offend Islam.
However, Al-Gohary's position is not shared by all Islamists. The vice president of Tunisia's Islamist Ennahda party, Sheikh Abdel Fattah Moro, said Al-Gohary's interpretation of Islam is wrong.
"The Prophet destroyed the idols because people worshipped them", he said. "But the Sphinx and the Pyramids are not worshiped;" hence, there is no need to destroy them.
Despite reassurances from the Muslim Brotherhood and other Islamist parties on keeping religion and politics apart, the former is gradually creeping into the country's institutions. Things once inconceivable are now more and more justified by the authorities.
In November 2011 for example, the al-Nour Party covered up the mermaids that embellish the fountain of Zeus in the centre of Alexandria.
Another example of the gradual Islamisation of Egyptian society is the recent decision taken by 250 Egypt Air stewardesses to wear the veil on board, like those working for the airline companies of Qatar, United Arab Emirates and Saudi Arabia.
Founded in 1932, Egypt's national carrier has never enforced the Muslim veil. Under Mubarak, it was a sort of taboo. (S.C.)