Luxor workers rise against Islamist governor linked to 1997 massacre

They fear his link to group responsible for 1997 massacre will hurt struggling tourism sector

PUBLISHED : Wednesday, 19 June, 2013, 12:00am
UPDATED : Wednesday, 19 June, 2013, 1:52am


Angry tourism workers and activists in Luxor threatened to block a newly appointed Islamist governor from his office because of his links to a former militant group that killed scores of people in a 1997 attack in the ancient city and shattered Egypt's tourism sector.

Their anger was triggered on Sunday when President Mohammed Mursi named Adel el-Khayat provincial governor. El-Khayat is a member of the Construction and Development party, the political arm of Gamaa Islamiya, which waged an armed insurgency against the state starting in 1992 and attacked police, Coptic Christians and tourists.

In November 1997, gunmen from the group attacked tourists at Luxor's 3,400-year-old Hatshepsut Temple, killing 58. More than 1,200 people died in the campaign of violence by the group and another militant organisation, Islamic Jihad.

Tourism is the lifeblood of Luxor, home to some of Egypt's most dramatic ancient temples and pharaonic tombs, including Tutankhamun's. The city has been hit hard by the downturn in foreign visitors since the Arab spring unleashed political turmoil since 2011.

Hundreds of people protested outside the governor's office on Monday night. The tourism workers, opposition politicians and activists in the crowd said they would consider sealing off the site with locks and chains, and sending el-Khayat back to Luxor's airport.

"When I heard about the appointment, I remembered the whole scene," said Tharwat Agamy, the head of Luxor's Tourism Chamber, who witnessed the 1997 attack. "With my own arms, I carried the blooded bodies of the women, children and men.

"I still remember the … newly-wed Japanese couple hugging each other and both dead. Are these human beings? Do they have mercy inside their hearts?"

Not only are the horrific memories of the Luxor massacre still fresh in the minds of many residents, but they also worry about the impact of a hardline Islamist running the southern city and surrounding province.

El-Khayat's party calls for strict implementation of Islamic sharia law, which includes imposing an Islamic dress code for women, banning alcohol and preventing the mixing of the sexes. Workers in a city as heavily dependent on tourism as Luxor worried that such policies would further hurt their business.

His appointment was seen as a move to solidify Mursi's support from hardliners before protests planned later this month by the liberal opposition and youth activists. Gamaa has threatened to counter the protests with an "Islamic revolution".

Gamaa and Islamic Jihad renounced violence in the 2000s amid a crackdown by then-president Hosni Mubarak. Since Mubarak's ousting in 2011, both have set up political parties and Gamaa's is allied to Mursi, a member of the Muslim Brotherhood.

El-Khayat, who was among 17 new governors appointed by Mursi, said he would not be influenced by his political affiliation.

"I am honoured to belong to the Islamist current, but now as a governor, I am in the service of the nation," he said in e-mailed comments. "It is not fair to judge someone just because of affiliation but by evaluating their work, performance and skills."