Angry Luxor set to join Egyptian revolt this weekend
MEDINAT HABU, Egypt — Muhammed Hassan vividly remembers the November day in 1997 when six Gama’a Islamiyya gunmen charged a 3,400-year-old mortuary temple in Luxor.
“My cousin was a guard and was sitting in the police kiosk, and they took their guns out of their jackets and killed him,” he recounts.
A temple custodian, Hassan hid as the Islamists slaughtered 58 foreign tourists and four Egyptians. He crept out 45 minutes later to find “a bloodbath … puddles of blood everywhere.”
Helping to remove the bodies, he saw “one woman holding her child … when they died, they were stuck together. That was the most difficult thing for me to see.”
Like many workers at one of Egypt’s most popular tourist sites, Hassan plans to join a national protest on Sunday against President Mohamed Morsy and his ruling Muslim Brotherhood.
Opposition leaders hope to send millions of demonstrators into the streets and to collect 15 million signatures on petitions demanding Morsy’s resignation.
Only a few thousand turned out for the last opposition rally in Cairo.
In Luxor, protests erupted last week when Morsy named Adel Al Khayat, a leading Gama’a Islamiyya figure, as the local governor; Al Khayat withdrew when residents barred his office door and burned tires in the street.
Many here resented his connection to the group behind the 1997 massacre. Many believe his selection reflected an Islamist assault on tourism, near collapse since Egypt’s 2011 revolution.
In the past, Hassan says, 20,000 tourists visited Luxor daily. “Now we are lucky to get 400, 500.” Only five of the normal 320 tourist cruise ships sail the Nile, according to guides.
Hassan calls out to a fellow guide, Adel Asad, to ask his opinion about the state of things. “Luxor is dead,” Asad yells back, and the ousted governor “is an idiot, like the president.”
That’s a sentiment heard often here.
A good gauge of unrest
“Morsy doesn’t understand that Egypt is too big for him,” says Aly Araby, who runs a tourist shop outside Queen Hatshepsut’s Temple, site of the 1997 massacre. With tourists all but gone, he worries, “Where will we get our food?”
He predicts “all the people in Luxor” and nearby villages will join the protest on Sunday.
In a 2½-hour televised speech on Wednesday, Morsy conceded some mistakes, suggested amending a controversial 2012 constitution and criticized his opponents.
Yet, as Sunday nears, the growing division — and impact — of his yearlong presidency can be seen, heard and felt everywhere.
Soldiers are deployed in many cities. Traffic is snarled in long lines as fuel supplies evaporate. Electrical blackouts, rising food prices and lawlessness intensify the public rage and alarm.
Luxor is a good gauge of how such unrest has surged, because it has rarely witnessed protests.
During the 2011 revolution, tour guide Ahmed Kareem formed a small group to oppose then-dictator Hosni Mubarak. But “whenever a tour bus came, we would put our signs down and wave at the tourists,” says Kareem, 37, a leader of the local guides’ syndicate.
Last week, hearing rumors of a Brotherhood attack, anti-Al Khayat protesters grabbed sticks and metal poles and went looking for a fight.
Ashraf Ahmed, head of a Luxor shopkeepers’ syndicate, says “the biggest mistake of my life” was voting for Morsy in 2012’s presidential election.
As he walks past empty tourist-bazaar stalls, another man says people “want the downfall of the beards” — meaning Islamists, who typically are unshaven.
Ahmed, 41, believes Morsy and the Brotherhood hate tourism. “We will fight with them until they die,” he vows.
Illustrated with AK-47s
Not everyone opposes the embattled president and his party, however.
In the Luxor office of the Building and Development Party, Gama’a Islamiyya’s political wing, Muhamed Bakry insists the group is “not practicing violence any more because we have found the means to express ourselves peacefully.”
Bakry, who leads the Brotherhood-allied party in four provinces, says last week’s unrest in Luxor proved that point: “If Gama’a Islamiyya was using violence, we would have forced (Al Khayat) into the governor’s house with the power of the gun — and we are capable of that. … We are just a peaceful party.”
Yet a pro-Morsy petition passed out by some of his followers shows an illustrated hand giving the “Peace” sign — a hand outlined in tiny AK-47 assault rifles.
Asked about it, Bakry, 59, professes surprise: “Just because a member started it, that doesn’t mean this campaign is the Gama’a Islamiyya. We just support it to support the legitimacy (of the presidency).”
Kareem, the local tour-syndicate official, doesn’t want a democratically elected president to be ousted because of something like Sunday’s protest. “For sure, it will not be peaceful,” he predicts. “Hidden powers on both sides don’t want peace. It’s a war.”
He voted for Morsy in 2012 and is disappointed. He resigned from a liberal party he helped to found, because of disillusionment with it.
He no longer trusts either political side.
“We are the victims,” he says. “We need a miracle.”
Betsy Hiel is Trib Total Media’s foreign correspondent. Email her at [email protected].