The American Interest
Analysis by Walter Russell Mead & Staff
Egypt Shoots Tourism Industry in the Foot

Luxor

Handing over control of a tourist hotspot to a party that loathes tourists is asking for trouble, but that’s exactly what Egypt has just done. On Sunday, President Morsi appointed Adel al-Khayat of the Gamaa al-Islamiyya party as Governor of Luxor, a region home to the ruins of two temples and several monuments, widely known as the “open air museum.”  The party, Gamaa al-Islamiyya, not only holds conservative views against sunbathing, women wearing shorts, and alcohol, but is also responsible for the 1997 attack in Luxor that killed 60 tourists. The New York Times reports:

“A fatwa, or religious decree, published on the Gamaa al-Islamiyya’s Web site advised members of the group not to build tourist accommodations. ‘Because tourist villages have aspects that anger Allah, including alcohol, gambling and other forbidden things, building these hotels and villages is considered aiding their owners in sin and aggression, and is not permitted,’ the decision read.”

This is a boneheaded move for a country that relies so heavily upon tourism for its economic well-being. Tourism accounts for more than 11 percent of Egypt’s GDP, and 90 percent of Egyptians employed in Luxor work in industries that depend on tourism to stay afloat. The revolution and the political turmoil following it has already dealt a blow to the country’s tourist economy, and this recent appointment will only make things worse. Egypt’s death spiral continues…

[Karnak Temple photo courtesy of Shutterstock]

Published on June 17, 2013 2:00 pm
  • Thirdsyphon

    On one level, it sounds like a terrible move- and it is- but on another level, giving the group best-placed to disrupt the tourism industry in Luxor a stake in its management and a swig of the revenue it creates might just turn out to be a minor act of genius.
    It’s not a decision I’d make if I had any safe moves left on the board; but the situation in Egypt is approaching checkmate, and in that situation even a desperate gambit is better than none at all.

    • Lyle7

      Interesting point.

    • Matt B

      Yes, an interesting point. However, I’m not inclined to believe that ideological murderers can be bought off with a vig from the tourist trade.

      • Thirdsyphon

        Me neither…. but it’s not impossible. a society with more social cohesion, a thriving economy, and a functioning government could handle this faction more confrontationally, and would be wise to. But that’s not the Egypt Morsi’s running.

        • http://whenfallsthecoliseum.com/author/kwatson/ megapotamus

          The presumption is that Morsi’s position is significantly different than that of the Luxor ambuscaders. If so, it doesn’t vary by much and it’s only for the money.

    • musterion

      I suggest that this is a really boneheaded move. These are the type on mohamedan extremists that would actually blow up the Luxor monuments as the Taliban did in Afghanistan.

      • Thirdsyphon

        That thought did occur to me as well, but there are some important differences between Luxor and Bamiyan. When the Buddhas of Bamayan were destroyed, there was no longer a Buddhist population in Afghanistan that could have been motivated to protect them. Also, Buddhism is a religion that still exists, which increased the Taliban’s motivation to strike a blow against it. Finally, although Bamiyan generated *some* tourist dollars, the geographical isolation of the site and its comparative lack of notoriety in the West ensured that it never amounted to much.
        Contrast that with Luxor. The Egyptian traditional religion might be viewed by many Muslim (and Christian) fundamentalists as a form of idolatry, but in the modern age it’s extinct and hardly poses a clear and present threat to Islam. Also, most modern Egyptians feel a deep affinity to these sites, and think of themselves as the inheritors of Ancient Egypt’s accomplishments. Unlike Bamiyan, these sites would not lack for fervent defenders. And finally, there’s the money. The potential revenue stream from Luxor is enormous. . . not, perhaps, a factor of great interest to a true fanatic, but of *considerable* importance to any more pragmatic groups that might be inclined to support them.

  • Jim__L

    Just out of curiosity, wouldn’t the proper anthropological approach to being a tourist in someone else’s country involve respecting local customs — even if those customs frowned on sunbathing and drunkenness?

    • jeburke

      Conceivably, although the supply of non-drinking, non-sunbathing, non-fornicating and let’s not forget non-skirt wearing, hair-exposing women tourists may be severely limited.

      More to your point, these kinds of restrictions are NOT “local customs” in that most Egyptians have not found them customary for the 150 years that tourists have been cruising the nile. Traditionally, Egyptian Islam has been if the relaxed sort, and of course the country is home to millions of Christians (and not so long ago to a whole lot of Jews). Yielding to strict Salafist religious scruples is something very new, not at all a matter of customs.

      • Jim__L

        You make a number of good points. When it comes to a “proper anthropological approach” I’m sympathetic to the Sir Charles Napier re: suttee…‘You say that it is your custom to burn widows. Very well. We also have a custom: when men burn a woman alive, we tie a rope around their necks and we hang them. Build your funeral pyre; beside it my carpenters will build a gallows. You may follow your custom. And we will follow ours’.

        I was hoping to get some comments in support of the “proper anthropological approach”, to better understand their point of view.

    • Matt B

      Are you suggesting that the murder of 60 tourists was justified by the victim’s lack of cultural sensitivity?

    • NoDonkey

      Yes and if local customs include the killing and kidnapping of tourists, I’ll be spending my tourist dollars elsewhere.

  • Lyle7

    Would there be a reason for the Muslim Brotherhood to want to kill off the tourism industry?

    • Van Grungy

      No witnesses to the genocide of the Coptic Christians and the total destruction of all things unislamic

  • USNK2

    Good that St. Catherine’s Monastery at the base of Mt. Sinai has a letter of protection signed by Mohamed himself.
    Too bad the pilgrims are Christian, who may not feel welcome in the Sinai.

  • ElmerEvans

    May Egypt rot in the sewage that they have created of their own volition.

  • NoDonkey

    There’s too much of Europe I haven’t seen yet to even consider Egypt. The State Department’s Travel Alert is enough for me to forgo Egypt for probably my lifetime.

    • John Stephens

      Better hurry. Europe’s turn is coming soon, and history seems to be moving in sudden lurches these days.

  • ZeitTrash

    “This is a boneheaded move for a country that relies so heavily upon tourism for its economic well-being.”

    True, but America has decided to arm Al Qaeda in Syria in spite of 9/11 and after prolonged wars against Al Qaeda and their allies in Iraq and Afghanistan. In the worldwide sweepstakes for biggest maniacal idiots we’re winning, unfortunately.

  • http://whenfallsthecoliseum.com/author/kwatson/ megapotamus

    Egypt is hungry now. It will starve in short order. We should be aiding Christians with food and the security to hold on to it. If there are ‘moderate Muslims’ identifiable they may be included but there seem to be none in Syria and as of now there is evidence of none, of any number, in Egypt.

  • Millie_Woods

    We can always increase our aid to Egypt in order to make up the revenue they’re losing.

  • R Sweeney

    You don’t need a time machine to visit the 6th century, Any Islamic country will do.