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Egypt's Morsi sparks anger with Islamist picks for top posts

June 20, 2013|By Ingy Hassieb
  • Supporters and opponents of Egyptian President Mohamed Morsi clash in Luxor over his appointment of a Gamaa Islamiya member as governor.
Supporters and opponents of Egyptian President Mohamed Morsi clash in… (Ibrahim Zayed / Associated…)

CAIRO -- President Mohamed Morsi’s appointment this week of eight Islamist governors has sparked a fresh wave of anger against him ahead what are expected to be massive anti-government protests June 30.

Critics condemned Morsi, who appointed 17 new governors, for attempting to force Islamist control over key positions and institutions. The opposition was particularly concerned about the nation’s ailing tourism industry after a member of Gamaa Islamiya -- a one-time terrorist organization -- was named governor of Luxor, home to many of ancient Egypt’s most famous tourist sites.

“One of my first priorities is supporting and revitalizing tourism, and maintaining monuments and taking care of them,” the new Luxor governor, Adel El-Khayat, told satellite channel ONTV on Wednesday. He earlier denied calling for the destruction of ancient Egyptian monuments, a demand by some conservative Islamists who view such antiquities as pagan idols forbidden by Islam.

Egyptian Tourism Minister Hisham Zaazou resigned in protest over El-Khayat’s appointment, saying it “has dangerous implications on the entire Egyptian tourism industry and foretells severe consequences.”

Prime Minister Hesham Kandil rejected Zaazou’s resignation, but a Tourism Ministry spokesperson said Zaazou is determined to leave his post.

Activists and bloggers have accused El-Khayat of attempting to conceal his disdain for the monuments, which include the Luxor temple and the Valley of the Kings.

“What about statements attributed to you that monuments are pagan and paganism is forbidden, and if we don’t tear them down, we will cover them?” El-Khayat was asked on TV.

“I did not make any statements about these pagan monuments,” he responded.

Although Gamaa Islamiya renounced violence over a decade ago, the group is considered a pillar of Egypt’s ultra-conservative Islamist current, known mostly for several terrorist attacks, including the 1981 assassination of President Anwar Sadat and the 1997 assault in Luxor that killed 62 people, mostly tourists.

Tourism, which accounted for 10% of the country’s gross domestic product before 2011, was hit hard after the political instability that followed the toppling of President Hosni Mubarak. The number of tourists decreased from 14.7 million in 2010 to 11.5 million in 2012, according to reports from the Central Agency for Public Mobilization and Statistics.

Some in El-Khayat’s own party were unsettled by his appointment. Safwat Abdelghani, a party member, said he opposed El-Khayat’s governorship “because of the mental image the Egyptian street has of the Gamaa Islamiya.”

Abdelghani added that the group would have rejected the decision had they been told before the announcement. He said also that unless there is a “convincing reason” that Morsi can provide, he should have pushed the announcement of the new governors until after the June 30 protests to curb further dissent.

Seven of the 17 new governors are members of the Muslim Brotherhood and its Freedom and Justice Party.

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Hassieb is a special correspondent. Times staff writer Jeffrey Fleishman contributed to this report.

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