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Massacre Also Hurts Egypt’s Tourism

November 18, 1997

LUXOR, Egypt (AP) _ At least one tour group took a vote, with unanimous results: Tuesday’s visit to the Hatshepsut Temple would go on, despite the horrific slaughter of foreigners there just 24 hours earlier.

Scores of tourists _ Americans, Europeans, Asians _ climbed the ancient steps Tuesday where Islamic militants had gunned down 58 visitors a day earlier. They marveled at the monument’s 3,400-year-old markings, now mixed with blood stains and bullet marks.

Many others were just too scared.

The massacre, the deadliest attack in five years of an Islamic rebellion, is a blow to Egypt’s efforts to encourage the tourism essential to its economy. Hundreds of travelers fled the country; travel agents worldwide canceled thousands of bookings.

President Hosni Mubarak, offering reassurances that Egypt was still safe, replaced his interior minister, blaming him for lax security. ``The area is full of tourists, and you tell me police are two kilometers (miles) away. This is a joke of a strategy,″ he said Tuesday at the Luxor attack site.

On Mubarak’s orders, dozens of heavily armed police guarded the temple Tuesday _ beefed-up patrols that sightseers were counting on.

``We thought it would be safer today than yesterday with all the guards and soldiers,″ said Joyce Bolden, a 68-year-old bookkeeper from Connellsville, Pa.

Her group, which held the vote, had originally planned to visit the temple Monday, but chose another site at the last minute. ``We feel we are very, very lucky,″ she told The Associated Press.

She and other tourists with cameras drifted around the temple’s pillars, wearing shorts and baseball caps and standing in small groups with their guides.

Snatches of the guides’ typical monologues _ in German, English, French, Italian, Japanese _ wafted on the cool morning air: ``This temple ... built by one of Egypt’s most famous queens ... Egypt’s only woman Pharaoh ... she married her half-brother ... lived like a man and wore a false beard.″

Monday’s bloody attack was not mentioned.

At Luxor’s airport, about 1,500 tourists waited to board evacuation flights sent by at least five British travel agencies.

Finnish agents said they canceled 7,000 winter bookings to Egypt. Japan’s largest tour operator, Travel Bureau Inc., canceled visits to Luxor and considered halting other tours. Germany warned citizens of a terrorism risk throughout Egypt. Switzerland advised its citizens not to come to the country at all.

Earlier Tuesday, however, tourists were still arriving.

Masako Goto, from Hirosaki in northern Japan, was aboard Egypt Air’s first flight of the day with her tour group. ``Of course I’m a little bit worried, I’m a little bit frightened, but we wanted to continue,″ she told the AP.

In Luxor, revulsion against the attackers was intense. The six gunmen were killed in police shootouts, bringing the total death toll to 68, including the tourists and four Egyptians. Villagers spat on the militants’ bodies when police brought them to ambulances.

``Luxor lives on tourism. If that goes, there’s nothing,″ said Magdi Wassef, a 32-year-old waiter at a Luxor hotel. ``If we found the terrorists, we would tear them apart, bit by bit.″

Monday’s victims came from at least seven different foreign countries, and the horrendous attack was retold in front-page stories in newspapers around the world. Yet, a London tourism official predicted it would not hurt travel in the long term.

``I know from previous experience, because we’ve had several other terrorist attacks in Egypt, that they’ve only had short-term impact,″ said Keith Betton, spokesman for The Association of British Travel Agents.

Among those waiting for evacuation flights were London resident Keith Bridle and his wife, who had come to Egypt for their 25th wedding anniversary.

``I feel really bad for the people here,″ said Bridle. ``They’re very, very friendly, and they even invited us to their homes for dinner. We didn’t want to leave, but we have to.″

Eventually, he hopes to come back.

``You can’t shut down the pyramids,″ he said. ``Everyone wants to come anyway, no matter what government it is.″

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