November 20, 1997 in Nation/World

Egypt Beefs Up Security Forces Tourists Continue To Leave; Mubarak Orders Safety Probe

Storer H. Rowley Chicago Tribune

Egyptian police carrying silencer-tipped machine guns were out in force Wednesday as the government beefed up security at airports, museums and tourist sites in the wake of the Luxor massacre.

As fearful foreigners continued leaving Luxor and canceling trips to Egypt, an angry President Hosni Mubarak appointed a committee to begin a high-level investigation into the security lapses that permitted six Islamic militants to stroll into the courtyard of the Pharaonic temple of Queen Hatshepsut on Monday and slaughter at least 62 people, 58 of them tourists.

Mubarak has ordered the committee to report within 24 hours. He has also put the prime minister’s office in charge of a top-to-bottom review of national security measures.

“He replaced the interior minister and ordered all security forces to cooperate better all over Egypt, and I believe that everybody can feel it already, at the pyramids and the Egyptian Museum. Everybody can see it’s more secure,” insisted Mounir Wissa, deputy general manager of Travco, the biggest travel company in Egypt. Travco handles some 350,000 clients a year.

“Before this accident, what the police tried to do was to have security but not be too visible to everybody. But now they don’t care, and I believe they are making a big effort to show themselves and take measures for security,” Wissa said.

Egypt’s $3 billion-a-year tourism industry brought in 4.2 million visitors last year, and officials had hoped for 4.7 million this year. But private tour operators like Wissa acknowledge that will be virtually impossible after Monday’s massacre.

“For the short term, it will affect us very much. I have a lot of cancellations for tomorrow and Saturday,” Wissa said in Cairo. “We will reach a good figure now because there are only one and a half months left. But, if I talk about 1998 this will be a disaster.”

In Luxor, where hundreds of intrepid tourists have continued to visit the Hatshepsut Temple and the adjacent Valley of the Kings despite the attack, some foreign visitors expressed sadness at the flight from Egypt and said they did not feel threatened by terrorism.

“This is the first time this happened in Luxor,” said Helen Coene, 50, a Belgian tourist visiting the temple where blood still stains the ancient colored walls. “I feel pity for the people who have to go back, like the English people called back by their government. They feel terrorized. I don’t know why.”

“I have no fear,” added her Italian husband, Pantaleone Sauro, 62, standing a few feet from where a bullet remained lodged beneath the foot of the ancient Egyptian god Amun on the temple’s stone wall.

“Every time there’s an act of terror against the government, it only strikes once, never twice in the same place,” Sauro said. “In Italy, we have lots of experience with terrorism.”

An official at the Ministry of Tourism could give no details of Mubarak’s plans to upgrade security throughout the country, but she insisted the government was in the process of implementing “stricter measures at historical sites to ensure the safety of the people.”

Tourists waiting for a departing flight jammed the terminal at the Luxor airport Wednesday morning, and tour operators across the country fear there will be a steep drop in business in the months ahead, though some tried to accent the positive.

“What astonished me yesterday and today, is that I am in negotiations for a big U.S. group coming in July, and they had heard all the news and they’re coming anyway,” said Wissa, insisting that Monday’s attack will not hurt tourism in the long run.

Still, he acknowledged gloomily, “This attack was the worst, because of the number of casualties. It was a massacre.”

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