With candles and roses, Verdi’s “Requiem” and traditional Arab songs, Egypt mourned Wednesday for the 58 foreign tourists and four Egyptians killed in an attack by Muslim militants at the Temple of Hatshepsut last month.
In a state-sponsored message written by Nobel Prize-winning author Neguib Mahfouz, Egypt apologized for the massacre and promised to try and prevent such “destructive events” on its soil.
Wednesday’s mourning ceremony at the 3,500-year-old temple, held after dark around its lighted columns, was also an attempt to restore Egypt’s reputation as a safe tourist destination. Its tourism industry, a major source of revenue, has been devastated by the attack.
The assault “was a stab inflicted on the body of all the people of Egypt. The (Egyptian) people now wish to express to the world their deepest apologies and sincere condolences. … Our people will not allow such destructive events,” said Mahfouz’s message, read by Egyptian actor Omar Sharif.
Sharif said the words were Mahfouz’s, “but the feelings (are) of every Egyptian.”
Mahfouz, who turns 86 on Thursday, was stabbed by an Islamic radical three years ago and still cannot write with his right hand. Some of the 1988 Nobel laureate’s works were condemned by Muslim militants.
Egypt’s President Hosni Mubarak; his wife Suzanne; Prime Minister Kamal Ganzouri; and other government ministers attended the ceremony outside Luxor, 200 miles south of Cairo.
More than 2,000 people were invited to the service. Hundreds marched from Luxor, carrying banners that railed against terrorism.
Economists have estimated the Nov. 17 attack could mean a loss of up to $2 billion next year from the $3.5 billion that Egypt earns from tourism annually.
Its effect is glaring in Luxor, which depends almost totally on tourism.
Luxury hotels are all but deserted, many restaurants have closed, and the few tourists on the streets are bombarded by carriage drivers offering transport along the River Nile.
City banners read: “No, no, 1,000 times no to terrorism.”
In Cairo, hotel occupancy rates have plummeted. One shop had a sign saying, “We are sorry for what happened in Luxor.” It was signed, “The people of Egypt.”
At Wednesday’s ceremony, candles and flowers lined the area of the Hatshepsut temple, where most victims died when six gunmen sprayed the temple with automatic rifles and savagely stabbed some victims. Four Egyptians nearby also were killed. The attackers themselves were killed by police.
The Cairo Opera orchestra played an aria from Verdi’s “Requiem,” and the Bulgarian National Choir sang. A troupe of Nubians from Egypt’s south, wearing traditional white turbans and robes, beat drums in mourning.
Verdi’s 1871 opera “Aida,” set in Egypt, was performed at the Hatshepsut temple in October.