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Mubarak Urges Egyptians To Curtail Overseas Travel - 2001-11-23

Egyptians are being asked to stay at home because of a worsening economy. Egypt's president said traveling outside of the country is only helping to shut down businesses and increase unemployment.

President Hosni Mubarak appealed to Egypt's Muslims not to make the pilgrimage to Mecca if they already have done so. President Mubarak said in an interview with the Middle East News Agency Thursday, "At such a difficult time it is neither religious nor helpful to the economy of Egypt to go for pilgrimage again and again."

Mecca is the birthplace of the Prophet Mohammed and home to Islam's holiest shrine. Pilgrimage is one of the pillars of the faith of Islam. It is a once-in-a-lifetime obligation for those who are able and can afford the trip although many Muslims make the pilgrimage several times.

President Mubarak said the pilgrimages costs Egypt as much as $ 940 million that otherwise would have stayed in the country.

The president also criticized wealthy Egyptians who vacation abroad, urging them to take holidays in local resorts. He said those who travel overseas are helping to shut down Egyptian businesses and increase unemployment. He called overseas vacations an extravagant luxury.

The government said Egypt's unemployment rate is 9 percent, representing 1.8 million workers.

The country's economy is being battered by world economic woes and an estimated 50 percent decline in tourism from overseas as a result of the September 11 terrorist attacks in the United States.

Mokhtar Abdel Kader Khattab is the Minister of Public Sector in Egypt. He said fear of traveling abroad may help draw more Arab tourists to Egypt but said cultivating that market will take time. "We have an advantage in Egypt, which is the tourism of Arabs but this is a new potential for us. Arab tourists always existed but when they could travel to anyplace in the world then these places, outside of Egypt, competed with Egypt. Now they have an advantage here.They cannot easily travel to outside because, you know how people fear now from traveling. But, it needs a little bit of time, some months, to shift," he said.

President Mubarak, this week, named four new cabinet members and reassigned two others in an effort to streamline his government's economic performance.

He has also ordered the government to reduce spending, increase exports, encourage investment and not to borrow from abroad.