A member of the movement whose gunmen killed 58 foreigners at a temple in Luxor in 1997 was sworn in by Egyptian President Mohamed Mursi on Monday as governor of the vital tourist region.
Adel Mohamed al-Khayat, who now represents the Building and Development Party, political wing of the once violent al-Gamaa al-Islamiya movement, was one of 17 new governors, several of them Islamists, who took their oaths with the president.
His appointment stirred outrage in some quarters.
‘No to the terrorist governor!’ read one placard at a demonstration by dozens of tourism workers who protested outside the governor’s office in Luxor.
Khayat, then in his mid-40s, was a leader of al-Gamaa al-Islamiya in another province when, on Nov. 17, 1997, six young men from the group shot their way into the Temple of Hatshepsut in Luxor’s Valley of the Queens.
The attack was part of a broader campaign by the group, at that time linked to al Qaeda, to cripple tourism revenues for the government of then-president Hosni Mubarak. Of the 62 people killed in the next hour, 58 were foreign tourists, more than half of them Swiss and the rest Japanese, British, German and Colombian.
The gunmen, reported to have trained at al Qaeda camps in Afghanistan, committed suicide.
Al-Gamaa al-Islamiya, also implicated in the 1981 assassination of Mubarak’s predecessor Anwar Sadat, renounced violence and condemned al Qaeda in ideological U-turns a decade ago. It moved into public life after the revolution in 2011 which ended Mubarak’s military-backed rule.
Mursi, from the Islamist Muslim Brotherhood, last year pardoned one al-Gamaa member accused of trying to kill Mubarak. He has called for the United States to free the group’s spiritual leader, Omar Abdel Rahman, who was jailed for life over a bid to blow up New York’s World Trade Center in 1993.
In Luxor, where tourism dropped off sharply after the 1997 attack and has been hit again by the unrest before and since Mubarak’s fall, some of the protesters expressed concern that radical Islam could cause even further damage.
The new governor’s party has called for a ban on alcohol and night clubs and wants visitors to cover up and not wear skimpy clothing.
‘Doesn’t the president know that the people of Luxor depend on tourism for their livelihoods?’ said one of the demonstrators, Abubaker Fadel.
Protesters said they hoped to prevent Khayat from entering his office when he returned from his swearing-in ceremony in Cairo.
Khayat himself was quoted in one Egyptian newspaper on Monday as saying he would welcome ‘all forms of tourism’.
Historian Khaled Fahmy at the American University in Cairo said that the appointment was the latest proof of a ‘short-sighted approach’ by Mursi and his Muslim Brotherhood, a major Islamist movement that foreswore violence in the 1970s.
‘It’s as if the Muslim Brotherhood is reaching out to the extremists,’ Fahmy said. He noted tension was building ahead of planned mass demonstrations by the opposition and Islamists to mark the first anniversary of Mursi’s taking office on June 30.
Mursi’s supporters defended the choice of Khayat, saying al-Gamaa al-Islamiya had been successful in cracking down on crime in the south, where it is well established in the local tribal system.
‘We see they are the most capable of guarding security in these type of provinces,’ said Mostafa Elgheinemy of the Muslim Brotherhood’s executive, calling Khayat’s appointment an ‘excellent choice’.
‘It is impossible to exclude a faction, even if its history is bad, as long as they have rid themselves of these ideas,’ he told Reuters. ‘I must open the door for them and welcome them.’