Gunfire and explosions rocked Luxor today in a suicide bomb attack at an important Egyptian tourist site that left four wounded. The Telegraph has the story:
Police in Luxor said they had averted a “massacre” after security officials grew suspicious when a taxi refused a request for the car boot to be searched. One attacker then detonated a suicide vest outside the world famous Karnak temple, wounding a handful of bystanders.
Two accomplices and a policeman were killed in the ensuing firefight, but a local general warned that a far bloodier outcome had been averted.
“If they had managed to enter the temple, it would have been a massacre,” he told AFP news agency, saying the bags had contained 19 fully loaded rifle magazines.
While fortunately today’s attack was foiled, the threat to Egypt that it (and any further attacks) pose is grave. The tourism industry in Egypt is reported to account for 11 percent of Egypt’s GDP; recently, the sector has been making a slow climb back towards its record high numbers in 2010-2011. Sadly, this key industry has been mired in institutional mismanagement, as we wrote about after a story emerged that somebody had knocked the beard off King Tut’s burial mask—then decided just to superglue it back on. Government turnover has only exacerbated the problem.
But while better management of Egypt’s treasures could increase tourism, deaths from terrorism could kill it. People will put up with some amount of mismanagement because the Pyramids and other sites are irreplaceable wonders. By and large, however, they will not risk death to see them. The murder of 20 tourists and one police officer at the Bardo Museum in Tunisia this March was a stark reminder that Islamist groups know how to hit tourism-reliant states where it hurts. Tunisia’s tourism sector is estimated to indirectly employ about 473,000 people, or about 14 percent of its workforce. In a best case scenario, it’s now projected to decline by 5 percent after the Bardo attack (by comparison, the Egyptian tourism industry is estimated to indirectly employ 2.85 million people, or about 11.5 percent of the Egyptian workforce).
A ton is at stake—and both sides know it. These bombing attempts come amidst attacks on gas pipelines in Gaza and a drive-by shooting of two police officers on guard by the Giza pyramids last week. All of these should be seen together as attacks on vital economic infrastructure. Egyptian leadership won’t mess around. Mubarak recognized the vulnerability of tourism sites after the 1997 Luxor attack, and took action to secure the industry. With the future of the Egyptian economy strongly tied to the safety of the tourism industry, Sisi will surely be aware of the legacy he is expected to uphold.