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Tuesday, November 17, 1998 Published at 10:27 GMT

World: Middle East

Tourists return to Luxor

Unveiling the spruced-up sphinx

A year after the massacre of 58 foreign tourists in Luxor, Egypt's tourism industry is slowly recovering.

Last November, a band of Muslim militants charged the temple, and the attack kept the site nearly empty until the government staged a series of high-profile events.

The BBC's Barbara Plett: "Luxor now guarded by police armed with machine guns"
To remind people about the Pyramids, there has been an opera, a concert and a tennis tournament there in recent months.

But tourist executives estimate the Luxor incident cost Egyptian tourism about 50% of its annual $3.7bn revenues this year.

"By any account, it was a catastrophe. I myself lost something like 85% of my business," said Ilhamy el-Zayyat, head of Egypt's Chamber of Tourism and owner of a major travel agency.

Security stepped up

Egypt fought against its image as a dangerous place with a publicity campaign that stressed the country's 20th century safety as well as its ancient splendour.

[ image: Aďda: opera at the pyramids]
Aďda: opera at the pyramids
With security forces more in evidence at Luxor's ancient temples and at Cairo's Pyramids, the tourists are returning.

And the Islamic group which claimed responsibility for the attack seems weaker.

Some of its leaders have declared a unilateral cease-fire while others have abandoned violence completely in favour of a political campaign to turn secular Egypt into a strict Islamic state.

The Egyptian authorities say their security campaign against Islamic militants means less of a threat of random attacks.

Back to the pyramids

Egyptian Hotelier Mansour Amer: "A great lesson"
Egypt's efforts have paid off. In Luxor, hotels are at least half full and flights to the city by national carrier EgyptAir are fully booked.

Mohammed el-Deiry, director of archaeology in Luxor, said that about 3,000 tourists now visit the city's ancient sites every day, about 75% of the figure before the massacre.

But the Luxor attack has not merely disappeared into the locality's 3,400-year history.

Egypt's battle between secularism and Islamic extremism has gone on for decades.

And although the tourists are back, police and plain clothes detectives with sub-machine guns mix with the crowds.

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