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Worried by violence in popular Lebanon, Arab tourists are heading to Egypt instead, and causing waves as they ignore Islamic customs adhered to at home. July 12, As the sun set on another day of "Arab Season," Amr Khouli leaned on the cushions of his boat as it moved to the gentle waves of the Nile.
This time of year, Mr. Khouli spends days on his faluka , one of the many motorboats that cart tourists up and down the wide river that cuts through this city, catering to a growing number of Arab tourists who have passed up violent Lebanon and opted for safer Egypt for summertime holidays. In , 13 percent more Arab tourists came to Egypt and stayed 12 percent longer than the year before. This season is shaping up to be another banner year because of the Lebanese instability, says Hala el-Khatib, spokeswoman for the Ministry of Tourism.
But while Khouli welcomes the influx of money that comes with the uptick in tourism, many Egyptians complain that Arabs coming from nearby countries, such as religiously strict Saudi Arabia and Libya, are using Cairo as their own city of sin.
Indeed, for many of these tourists, the pyramids and the Sphinx are low on the agenda. High-end shopping, the best restaurants, Egypt's two seas, and watching Egypt's famous movies are the common pastimes. But it is the tales of drinking to excess, driving recklessly, and even soliciting prostitutes that dominate the Egyptian view of Arab tourists. To be sure, tourists of all stripes in Egypt drink more than their share of the locally brewed Stella beer, but the exceptional wealth of the Arab tourists coupled with what Egyptians see as violations of religious rules grates more than the bad behavior of Westerners.
Tourists from Arab countries made up about 20 percent of all visitors in , according to Egypt's Central Agency for Public Mobilization and Statistics yearbook, the latest edition available. But they stay 50 percent longer than their Western counterparts and therefore spend more per tourist. Egypt wants to increase that with sparkling new malls featuring expensive foreign brand names like Gucci and Bulgari.