New Governor Shock to Some Inside Egypt

Egypt’s Islamist president appointed a new governor of Luxor on Sunday who comes from the political arm of an Islamist group that once carried out terrorist attacks that killed dozens of tourists, soldiers and police officers in the same city.

The group, the Gamaa al-Islamiyya, renounced violence in 2003 and joined the political process after the revolution in 2011.

But its partisans hold ultraconservative views on matters like sunbathing, women wearing shorts, the consumption of alcohol and other things that many tourists consider necessary components of vacations to see the country’s Pharaonic sites. Luxor is a major attraction, and tourism has been vital to the Egyptian economy.

Many people were shocked by the appointment.

“It is amazingly tone-deaf to symbolism,” said Michael Wahid Hanna, an analyst at the Century Foundation. “Everybody is interested in the process of normalization of these former militant groups into politics, but I think it is pretty audacious to appoint a Gamaa member to be governor of Luxor, of all places.”

The new governor, Adel Asaad al-Khayyat, is not well known outside upper Egypt, where he was a leader in the engineers’ syndicate and worked for a government office that promotes regional development.

Security officials say he was detained without charge by the Egyptian authorities during the crackdown on Islamist groups after the assassination of President Anwar el-Sadat in 1981.

Mr. Khayyat did not immediately comment on what his policies would be as governor. Aides to President Mohamed Morsi could not be reached for comment on Sunday.

But the appointment immediately drew jokes that the end of Egypt’s ancient pre-Islamic heritage was nigh.

“The governor of Luxor from the Gamaa? O.K., get us two idols from there before it’s too late,” the TV comedian Bassem Youssef posted on Twitter.

Mr. Khayyat’s group follows a puritanical form of Islam called Salafism that seeks to closely imitate the lives of the Prophet Muhammad and his companions. While less well organized than the Muslim Brotherhood, the group to which Mr. Morsi belonged, Salafists have formed political parties and won seats in Parliament.


Some Salafi leaders have expressed disregard, and even hostility, toward Egypt’s pre-Islamic relics and monuments, which they consider pagan.

They were widely blamed for splashing blue paint on a statue of a mermaid in Alexandria last month. And in 2011, they wrapped cloth around a fountain that depicted mermaids, and hung a sign praising Egyptian women for dedication to their husbands.

Salafi political leaders have not actively moved to eliminate the country’s ancient sites, but their contempt for the ways of non-Muslim tourists is well known. 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.

Mr. Khayyat was one of 17 new governors named Sunday, 7 of them from the Muslim Brotherhood. The group now has 13 of Egypt’s 27 governorates.

New York Times