Last night, a Belgian friend and I attended a meeting in the beautiful Sofitel Karnak hotel in Luxor. The Governor of Luxor had invited foreign nationals who live in Luxor to the hotel. Although I am not interested in what foreign nationals do here in Luxor I was curious as to what the Governor would want to talk to us about. To be honest I was suspicious! If I have learned one thing during my time living here it is that nothing is as it appears.
It took us an hour to find the Hotel, as we live in the West Bank and had no idea how to find it. But tourist police, also on the way to the meeting, guided us there for the last little bit! The hotel itself is decorated beautifully, with replica sandstone lotus pillars and a replica sacred barque. Artistic murals cover the walls, beautifully crafted. Not the usual Egyptian wall art!
When we first entered we were offered coffee and cakes; and once we had gotten some we sat down and waited for the ‘talk’. The room was full of foreign nationals, some of whom I recognised. I never realised how many actually lived in Luxor, many of them being retired UK ex-pats.
After a brief introduction, the ex-chief of Police, Gen. Hafez, spoke to us about a committee that he wanted to set up. This committee has a Facebook page, (which I couldn’t find) and a website, apparently! It will be about a place for foreign nationals to bring ideas for change and to solve problems in Luxor. But I still felt suspicious. I know that if I wait long enough the truth will out so I stayed with my suspicious ‘why are they really doing this‘ feelings until the end!
The next speaker, (I couldn’t hear any of their names) told us that we were ambassadors for Egypt. Everything we said had an impact on what people believed about Egypt back home in our own countries. Hmmm….
After the chats were finished we were given the opportunity to speak and ask questions. The second woman, from the audience, who spoke told us that she was on the committee and that they were looking for people from the community to join and help, with the intention to maybe meet once a month and then every week. They would do this big meeting with all of us monthly but the committee itself would meet weekly! When she mentioned that the committee had already been set up there were murmurs from the audience. I thought it was still in the idea stage? Obviously not! My suspicions deepened.
Other members of the audience asked questions, which I felt showed me how out of touch people really were in regards to Luxor’s needs. Was this committee set up purely with the intention of settling foreigner’s problems in Luxor? What about the Egyptians? What about their lives and struggles?
Questions were asked about why we didn’t have public swimming pools? Sports and recreation centres etc. Great stuff, unless you live in Upper Egypt where they can’t even afford medical care, and often food, let alone a swimming pool!
I stayed listening, still trying to figure out why we were there. One man asked the Visa question. First sensible question I thought! We were once able to get a tourist visa for one year but now only for 6 months. But we have to pay the same price. The men in the audience were angry for the right reasons.
But it felt to me that they were wasting their breath. The Ex Chief of Police said he would send a ‘memorandum’ to Cairo to see if they would change the ruling about Visas. A memorandum!
It seemed to me, sitting and listening to people speak, telling this man their gripes, that they treated him as though he actually had the power to change anything! He is the ex-chief of police. How much clout does he have with the government of Egypt! Two revolutions, with millions of people, haven’t made a change in this country and the people sitting in the room expected one ex-chief, to be able to change it? It made no sense to me!
But, like I said, the truth usually comes out if you wait long enough for it. Just as I was about to leave, having heard enough, he spoke again and told all of us that he wanted us all to contact our governments and tell them to revoke the FCO’s advice about travelling to Egypt! https://www.gov.uk/foreign-travel-advice/egypt
Aaahh…that was why we were there! It had nothing to do with the committee or anything else. It was because he obviously thinks that we, as foreigners, have as much clout with our governments as he does with his! He thinks that we can just email and phone our governments and tell them to change their safety advice. We were to tell them that Luxor was safe and well and that it was OK for tourists to come back! It was all about money! I had to laugh! Its not about them doing anything for us, but us doing something for them…again! Eh sorry mate…but we didn’t start the revolution!
The irony of all of this is that on our way to the Sofitel Hotel we passed the preparations for today’s 6th October celebrations. The day that Egypt won the war against Israel! Normally, as I’ve said in previous blogs, army tanks guard some sensitive points around Luxor, such as banks, hotels and Christian churches. Last night, those army tanks were also accompanied by numerous, large police vehicles filled with police officers. Other places had three or four army tanks, with machine guns on top and a soldier manning each one! They were prepared for the violence which they expect to erupt today. The Muslim Brotherhood are angry about the celebrations!
So on our way to a meeting, where we are being told to tell our countries that Luxor is safe to come to, we pass numerous army tanks and police vehicles, in strategic positions, ready to do battle. I did try to take a picture but was afraid that if they saw me they might shoot me, thinking that I was a spy…so I resisted!
That, my friends, sums up the position today in Luxor…and in Egypt! I think the FCO are right to keep their travel advice. I would not change it until I was damn sure that it was safe enough. Anything could happen and I think it is incredibly irresponsible to tell people otherwise. I know that the lack of money here in Luxor impacts on Egyptians hugely, but I think that the best way for us foreigners to help is by doing all we can for our Egyptian friends and neighbours, helping them in their hour of need. Stuff the swimming pools…as much as I would love one!
Here is a picture of the pool at the hotel! An average Egyptian would never even get to see a pool like this! It would be like us going to Buckingham Palace for tea!
But we can dream!