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Mon 15 Sep 2014 01:51 PM

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Egypt's tourism could fully recover by end 2015 – minister

Number of tourists could rise by 10% this year, says tourism minister Hisham Zaazou

Egypt's tourism could fully recover by end 2015 – minister

Egypt's tourism industry, battered by three years of political upheaval and street protests, could fully recover by the end of 2015 if current levels of stability persist, the tourism minister said.

But Hisham Zaazou also expressed concern that tourism would take another hit if Islamic State militants, who have seized parts of Iraq and Syria, showed any signs of infiltrating Egypt, the biggest Arab country.

"Of course it represents a threat. No one can deny that," Zaazou told Reuters in an interview late on Sunday.

Egypt has long been a magnet for visitors interested in ancient sites, sunbathing on the Red Sea coast, or Nile cruises, but their numbers have fallen sharply since a popular revolt overthrew President Hosni Mubarak in February 2011.

Once peaking at $12.5 billion a year, tourism revenues were less than half that in 2013 as political tension in the lead-up to the army's ouster of Islamist President Mohamed Mursi put off foreign visitors.

Although tourists have been slowly reappearing in hotels this year, especially from other Arab states, a deterioration of the security situation in the Middle East poses a further threat to the sector.

The rapid advance of Islamic State has worried governments across the region, including in Egypt.

"The idea of trying to secure our country and ensure that this kind of threat does not infiltrate and come into Egypt is definitely of concern for the government and the president," Zaazou said.

US Secretary of State John Kerry met with Egyptian President Abdel Fattah al-Sisi and other senior officials over the weekend during a regional tour aimed at building a global coalition against Islamic State.

The al-Qaeda offshoot has been coaching Egypt's most dangerous militant group, Ansar Bayt al-Maqdis, on ways of operating more effectively and evading capture, an Ansar commander recently told Reuters.

Egypt is also closely monitoring Islamic State-inspired militants who operate just over the border in the chaos of post-Gaddafi Libya and are seeking to topple the Cairo government.

"Definitely it does concern me. We are now looking like a green oasis in the middle of this desert, of this turmoil around us both in Libya, what's happening in Iraq and Syria," said Zaazou.

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