Egypt’s tourism minister resigned in protest on Wednesday after President Mohamed Morsi appointed a new governor for Luxor from an Islamist party linked to a massacre of holidaymakers in the temple city.
Hesham Zazou said he “cannot continue in the role of tourism minister” a day after the appointment of Adel al-Khayat, a member of the political arm of ex-Islamic militant group Gamaa Islamiya, and other Islamist governors triggered unrest in several provinces.
Gamaa Islamiya claimed responsibility for an attack on a major tourist attraction in the southern city of Luxor that killed 58 foreign tourists in 1997.
Prime Minister Hesham Qandil refused to accept Zazou’s resignation and asked him to remain in his post until the situation is reviewed, ministry spokeswoman Rasha al-Azaizy told the official MENA news agency.
But she said Zazou insisted he would cease to work “as long as the new governor remains in his post, greatly harming tourism in Egypt generally and in Luxor specifically”.
President Morsi named Khayat along with 16 other new governors on Sunday, including seven from his Muslim Brotherhood movement.
Apart from its symbolic implications, Khayat’s appointment deals a blow to the once-lucrative tourism industry struggling to recover after the 2011 uprising that toppled Hosni Mubarak.
Khayat belongs to the Construction and Development party, the political arm of Gamaa Islamiya which was blamed for a spate of attacks in the 1990s before it renounced violence.
In statements to the media, he said his first priority as governor would be to “ensure the return of tourists” to Luxor.
But a coalition of opposition groups, trade unions and tourism workers has threatened to close down all Pharaonic temples and tourist attractions should Khayat remain in the post.
The groups called for the cancellation of the appointment “of a governor with a religious background in a tourist city” otherwise “all historic areas and pharaonic sites will be closed down”.
On Tuesday, clashes erupted in several cities of the Nile Delta following protests against the appointments, leaving 26 people injured.
In Tanta, police fired tear gas to break up clashes between protesters demanding the ouster of new governor Ahmed al-Beely — a member of the Brotherhood — and his supporters.
In Menufiya, dozens pursued a sit-in outside the governorate headquarters demanding the removal of governor Ahmed Shaarawy, also a member of the Islamist group.
“The governorate has always voted against the Brotherhood, in all elections and referendums, so appointing a Muslim Brotherhood governor is a provocation,” one of the protesters, Mahmud Kamal, told AFP by telephone.
Similar protests took place in the canal province of Ismailiya, the northern provinces of Damietta and Beheira against the appointment of their governors.
The protests are the latest sign of polarisation in the country, pitting Morsi’s mainly Islamist supporters against a wide-ranging opposition that accuses the president of failing the revolution that brought him to power.
The tension comes ahead of mass protests planned on June 30 seeking to withdraw confidence from Morsi and calling for early presidential elections.