THIS STORY HAS BEEN FORMATTED FOR EASY PRINTING

It's last call at Cairo Hyatt, and tensions are on tap

Email|Print|Single Page| Text size + By Ellen Knickmeyer
Washington Post / July 21, 2008

CAIRO - Diners in the revolving restaurant on the 41st floor of Cairo's Grand Hyatt once could count on a certain order to things: As surely as the torpid Nile coursed below and the Pyramids loomed in the distance, the whiskey, beer, and wine flowed for hotel guests.

Then a Saudi sheik bought the Grand Hyatt, one of the city's leading luxury hotels. On visiting his new holding in April, Abdel Aziz Ibrahim declared the hotel dry and ordered managers to destroy its alcohol. Hotel workers poured out the bottles into drains running into the Nile, according to news reports at the time.

The new prohibition reflects the disdain that some Muslims maintain for what they see as the libertine ways of Cairo. Ibrahim's action has sparked a five-star tussle with the Hyatt chain, which wants to restore liquor to the hotel, and has revived a debate over tolerance in Egypt.

Amid the wrangling, the Hyatt's thirsty have found refuge a few steps away in a dark bar that is also under Saudi ownership. Hassan bin Laden, half brother of Osama, is a prominent shareholder of the Hard Rock Cafe in the Grand Hyatt complex.

Vatche Yacoubian, general manager of Cairo Hard Rock, said business has jumped since the hotel went dry. The bar has a liquor license and intends to keep using it, he said.

He offered an Arab proverb to explain how two Saudi businessmen could be in such a standoff: "Even the five fingers on your hand aren't the same, are they?"

The sheik's supporters applaud him for his forcefulness in upholding Islamic prohibitions on alcohol, and started an online petition on his behalf. Detractors see the declaration of temperance at the Grand Hyatt as another instance of wealthy Saudis imposing their religious views on the rest of the Muslim world.

The alcohol ban will only feed the perception of "terrorism and fanaticism," said Ahmed el-Nazer, secretary general of Egypt's Chamber of Tourist Establishments.

Ibrahim "deprived foreign guests from finding the alcoholic beverage which they wanted, and forced it upon the Muslim fish of the Nile," added Ezzat al-Qamhawi, one of several columnists in Cairo who wrote against the ban.

The religious law is clear: The Koran says Muslims should neither drink alcohol nor associate themselves with it. While many of Egypt's Muslim majority are devout, the government and most Egyptians look the other way when it comes to foreigners - 11 million of whom visited the country last year.

Cairo swells each summer with tourists from the Arabian peninsula, many seeking respite from their countries' religious codes.

The alcohol ban has been hard on the Hyatt's business, according to travel agents, who reported hundreds of cancellations. The chain is negotiating with Ibrahim on restoring alcohol, Malene Rydahl, spokeswoman for Hyatt Hotels and Resorts, said in an e-mail. The chain declined to comment on whether business has suffered.

  • Email
  • Email
  • Print
  • Print
  • Single page
  • Single page
  • Reprints
  • Reprints
  • Share
  • Share
  • Comment
  • Comment
 
  • Share on DiggShare on Digg
  • Tag with Del.icio.us Save this article
  • powered by Del.icio.us
Your Name Your e-mail address (for return address purposes) E-mail address of recipients (separate multiple addresses with commas) Name and both e-mail fields are required.
Message (optional)
Disclaimer: Boston.com does not share this information or keep it permanently, as it is for the sole purpose of sending this one time e-mail.