The local tourism sector might receive a fresh blow after the appointment of Adel El-Khayat, a founding member of Egypt's militant Al-Gamaa Al-Islamiya group, as governor of the tourist-friendly Luxor governorate.
On Sunday, President Mohamed Morsi issued a decree appointing 17 new provincial governors, including El-Khayat.
Seven of the new governors are members of the Muslim Brotherhood, the group from which the president hails, including those appointed to the Nile Delta governorates of Gharbiya and Menoufiya.
Tourism industry insiders voiced surprise and concern over Morsi's decision to assign the ultra-conservative El-Khayat to the top post in Luxor, considered one of the world's largest open-air museums. On Monday, dozens of residents gathered outside the governor's office to protest the move.
An official Luxor governorate source told Ahram Online on condition of anonymity that protesters had raised placards reading: "We don't want terrorists" and "The government has replaced an ambassador with a terrorist."
Luxor’s outgoing governor, Ezzat Saad, had formerly served as Egypt’s ambassador to Russia.
Egypt's Al-Gamaa Al-Islamiya group, of which the 52-year-old El-Khayat remains a leading member, was responsible for the infamous1997 Luxor attack in which at least 58 foreign tourists and four Egyptians were killed.
The group was also implicated in the 1981 assassination of president Anwar El-Sadat, after which El-Khayat was sentenced to one year in prison without a charge.
In an ideological u-turn, the group formally renounced violence in the immediate wake of the Luxor attack. Following Egypt's 2011 popular uprising, which ended Hosni Mubarak's three-decade rule, the group established the Building and Development Party as its political arm.
"I don't know what expertise El-Khayat has in tourism," said the official source. "All I know is that he ran in student union elections at Assiut University in the early 1970s."
'Scaring tourists to death'
Ihab Moussa, head of the Egyptian Coalition to Support Tourism (CST), told Ahram Online: "Morsi is scaring tourists to death by appointing this man to the governorship of Luxor."
He added that the CST was "very irritated" by the appointment and had given President Morsi a 72-hour deadline to reverse the decision. Otherwise, he warned, the coalition would lodge an official complaint with UNESCO, the UN's world heritage organisation.
"We will inform UNESCO that our antiquities in Luxor, which are considered world heritage sites, are in danger because the man in charge of them belongs to a terrorist group that committed the Luxor massacre," said Moussa.
Moussa went on to accuse President Morsi of wanting "to destroy tourism," adding that the CST planned to take part in demonstrations outside the Luxor governor's office to bar El-Khayat from entering the building.
Former tourism minister Mounir Fakhri Abdel-Nour, for his part, told Ahram Online that El-Khayat's appointment constituted proof that Morsi and his associates were "losing control."
"The new governor's mindset entirely contradicts tourism, especially when hard-line Islamists see ancient statues as pagan idols that must be demolished," said Abdel-Nour.
Last November, the CTS announced that it would file a case against top Egyptian officials for failing to respond to statements made by radical Salafist scholar Morgan El-Gohary, who had issued calls for the demolition of Giza's Sphinx and Pyramids. "They were worshipped once and could be worshipped again," El-Gohary had warned at the time.
'An excellent choice'
On Sunday, Reuters reported that Morsi's supporters had defended El-Khayat's appointment, pointing out that Al-Gamaa Al-Islamiya had successfully curbed crime in Upper Egypt, where the group is well integrated into the local tribal system.
"They are the most capable force for guarding security in the Upper Egyptian provinces," said Mostafa El-Gheinemy, a member of the Brotherhood's authoritative Guidance Bureau. He went on to call El-Khayat's appointment an "excellent choice."
"It is impossible to exclude one faction, even if its history is bad, as long as they have rid themselves of these ideas," El-Gheinemy told Reuters.
Tourism Minister Hisham Zaazou recently announced that the country had received roughly five million tourists – worth some $4 billion in revenue – since the outset of 2013.
Speaking last week, Zaazou asserted that tourist arrivals could reach a total of 13 million by year's end, bringing the industry close to its pre-revolution record of 14.8 million tourists in 2010.