In the first initiative of its kind, the Tunisian flag carrier Tunis Air decided to ban offering alcohol in its flights during the Muslim holy month of Ramadan, stirring anger of liberal activists who accused the government of Islamizing the country by force.
The decision was slammed by several Tunis Air senior employees as well as owners of hotels and travel agencies who complain of the negative impact the ban is bound to have on their businesses, especially that Tunisia is frequented by large number of European tourists.
Those working in the tourism sector expressed their concerns over potential future losses in the number of tourists especially that the country was experiencing a boom before Ramadan.
“Hotel occupancy reached 100 percent in June in Hammamet, Sousse, and the island of Djerba,” al-Habib Ammar, general manager of the Tunisian National Tourist Office, told Al Arabiya.
Ammar added that tourism in Tunisia was regaining its strength following the revolution that toppled the regime of former president Zein al-Abedine bin Ali.
“We had expected that tourism will be better this year than before the revolution.”
The ban also infuriated liberal activists who viewed it as an attempt towards the “forced Islamization of the country.”
Through a campaign they launched on social networking websites, those activists also slammed other similar decisions like the closure of restaurants and coffee shops during the day in Ramadan in what they saw as a flagrant violation of personal freedoms.
In the same vein, several restaurants and coffee shops close during Ramadan based on a decision issued by the Ministry of Interior, which was not the case during bin Ali’s secular rule.
In response to a campaign launched by shop owners against the decision, Interior Ministry spokesman Khaled Taroush denied that he ordered restaurants and food courts in touristic zones to close during Ramadan.
“Restaurants and cafes in areas known to be frequented by foreigners were not asked to close,” he told Al Arabiya.
Taroush also denied that this decision is linked to the new government, headed by the Islamist party al-Nahda.
“For years, the ministry has been issuing a decree that all cafes and restaurants be closed during Ramadan days with the exception of touristic areas.”
(Translated from Arabic original by Sonia Farid)