Tuesday, May 31, 2011

Luxor Lately

Article first published as Luxor Lately on Blogcritics.

Luxor (the ancient city of Thebes) is a beautiful city of approximately 500,000 people. The streets are clean and broad. Horse drawn carriages and donkey drawn carts share the streets with slow moving vehicles. The Luxor Railway station is sparkling, decorated in the typical red granite of Egypt, with impressive bas reliefs drawn from the many temples in the area.

Words do not do justice to the grandiosity of the Luxor temple. The columns are several stories tall. The statues and hieroglyphics have lasted for over 3000 years. What building built today could last that long?  The near absence of rain certainly helped to preserve the temple and its statues, but one can only marvel at the ancient Egyptian mastery of engineering. In late April, the reformed Egyptian Antiquities Council announced that a 3400 year old statute of King Ahmenhotep III was unearthed in Luxor.

The main Luxor temple was unusual in that it first housed a temple for ancient Egyptian Gods. Then, a church was built on the Temple grounds. Later, a Mosque, which is still operational, was built on the ruins of part of the temple. For a period, both the Mosque and the Church operated simultaneously within the temple grounds. There is a lesson regarding peaceful coexistence of multiple faiths inside that temple.

In Upper Egypt, remnants of the old regime still cling to power. In late April. violence erupted between supporters of the old National Democratic Party, and the January 25 Revolution Youth Coalition during a rally for Amr Moussa , Secretary General of the Arab League and a potential presidential candidate for Egypt. Moussa has pledged to prioritize the region of Upper Egypt.

I asked my guide to tell me how the government of Luxor has been functioning since the Revolution. My guide Khaled lives in Luxor with his family. The Governor of Luxor, Samir Farag has been replaced by the Supreme Council of the Armed Forces. Allegedly, Farag is implicated in the corruption of the Mubarak era.  The SCAF has replaced 14 out of 26 regional governors since the revolution. In mid April, hundreds of thousands of protesters demanded the speedy trial of Mubarak and the replacement of governors he had appointed. The SCAF made the decision to replace these governors one day after the massive protest. As Khaled pointed out, the head of the snake has been removed, but the body is still there, and writhing, with enough venom in it to do damage. He said that in Luxor, electricity and water are functioning, but many government services are barely being attended to.

While in Luxor, I saw many many signs with the photo of a beautiful young girl about my daughter's age: five years old.Apparently, she has been abducted. According to Al Masry Al Youm, two children have dissapeared from their homes, and several child abductions have been attempted. Apparently, Luxor has been plagued by a state of lawlessness in the past few months. As I mentioned, one of Mubarak's moves to thwart the revolution was to pull the police from the streets. A small number of police are back on the streets, but according to my tour guide Khaled, they are not really doing their jobs lately.  The Local People's Council has warned of a continuing deterioration of security in the area, and has asked for more police to be deployed, to combat thuggery and thievery.

Changes are coming to Upper Egypt in this post-revolutionary period, and Luxor, as the nation's tourism capital, will be an important part of this change. In a good year, as many as 11 million tourists can pass through Egypt, and the vast majority of them will make a stop in Luxor. This is a city to watch in the coming months as Egypt moves tentatively toward democracy.

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