CAIRO – Egypt’s Osunaarashi, the first sumo wrestler from Africa to turn pro in Japan, became a tourism ambassador for his native country on Thursday, in a campaign to encourage Japanese to visit a destination avoided by many travelers following political upheaval.
“I want to contribute in various ways for the sake of Egypt,” the 24-year-old wrestler, whose real name is Abdelrahman Ahmed Shaalan, said at a press conference in Cairo.
He recalled a meeting with Egyptian President Abdel Fattah el-Sisi during the latter’s visit to Japan earlier this year, saying the president had at that time invited him to expand his contributions beyond the world of sports.
The so-called “Arab Spring” democracy movement, which started in Tunisia and swept into Egypt in 2011, led to violent clashes in Cairo and the eventual ouster of 30-year ruler Hosni Mubarak. Fear of public disorder and terrorist attacks have drastically reduced the flow of travelers from Japan and elsewhere into the country, dealing a major blow to its vital tourist trade.
Osunaarashi’s current trip marks his first return to Egypt in about three years.
“Next time I come back to Egypt, I would like to make the trip together with a group of Japanese travelers,” he said.