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Egypt tourism insiders voice misgivings over Luxor’s new Islamist governor

Tourism experts express deep reservations over appointment of Adel El-Khayat – a leading member of the formerly-violent Al-Gamaa Al-Islamiya group – as head of Egypt's tourist-friendly Luxor governorate

Bassem Abo Alabass and Randa Ali, Monday 17 Jun 2013
Luxor’s
File photo: Foreign tourists visit the Hatshepsut Temple, in the ancient southern city of Luxor Feb. 27, 2013 (Photo: AP)
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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.

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Nan G.
18-06-2013 09:02pm
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Tourism is not the only problem
Tourism is essential to Egypt's economy, but it is not the only problem here. Luxor Governorate is home to an ancient and numerous Christian population. How can they possibly trust a governor with Salafist ties? This is terrible news for them, and proves once again that the Brotherhood-linked President is NOT serving all Egyptians, but only his sect and their allies.
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Kevin
18-06-2013 08:22pm
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As a tourist...
As a tourist, I refuse to spend any of my money in a city that is now overseen by a known terrorist. I also will stop spending my money in Egypt because a "former" terrorist is now the president.
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Ahmed Kamel
18-06-2013 05:33pm
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Minister of Tourism
If we had a repectable Minister of Tourism, he should have resigned in protest for the appointment of the x-terrorist Governor of Luxor!
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expat
18-06-2013 11:45am
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seems to be a pattern
Hi Hamza,the organisor of the temple massacre,was freed by mursi 2012 and now this town is ruled by a founding member of the Gamaa....seems,he want to really destroy every aspect of tourism and butter the Gamaa before the 30th....
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Democracia
18-06-2013 11:34am
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Spittle on the victims
With this unbelievable decision President Morsi spits on the victims of Deir el Bahari terrorist attack, carried out by Gamaa Islamiya in 1997. It is like those people get slaughtered again. Shame...
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Al-Misry
18-06-2013 12:48am
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Governor to govern
You make out though in whole of Luxor as holiday resort. There are people to be governed. He is fit and proper one for this area. Tourism is doing well in Egypt under ISlamists. No need to panic at all unless you are money launderer or escaped justice or fugitive .
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Roslyn
17-06-2013 10:50pm
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Appointing a terrorist as Governor!
It is totally unbelievable and sends out a very bad signal to tourists that one of the founding members of a 'previously' considered terrorist group who was responsible for the Luxor temple massacre and the assassination of Sadat is now the new Governor of Luxor. Is this some sort of reward from Morsi, or does it spell the end of tourism as, we know it in Luxor. Perhaps he will cover all of the statues or even decimate them. These heritage sites belong to the world not to just Egypt, another reason why we must support 30th June. Egypt's culture and heritage is NOW under ATTACK along with the economy and society!
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patkar
18-06-2013 08:29am
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where are they going
WE the expats living in Egypt seem more motivated about the welfare of this countryfollowing the say " you chose your friends, not your familly ".But is Egypt commiting collective suicide ?
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Margaret Zoheir
17-06-2013 10:41pm
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It beggars belief
I am an ex-patriat (married to an Egyptian for over 33 years). We both lived in Luxor and had just left before the 'butchery' not 'murder' of the people in Luxor, Egyptians as well as tourists. It is appalling and beggars belief that now someone, who was the founder of this group, should be the Governor of Luxor. I feel sick.It is chilling. It matches Pinochet's Chile for murderous butchery. That child had her throat cut, if reports were to be believed. 62 people. What is this? I well remember telling people that the Egyptians weren't like that. They were not so brutal. I don't know what to say. Those people took the 'bread' out of the mouths of the people of Luxor in 1997. Whatever your loyalties or beliefs, as true journalists - do you think this is right? Look at the pictures of Trang Bang in Vietnam and the child running down the road.Think as a journalist and be honest. This appointment is horrible.
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