Luxor Bazaar owners cut off the road leading to the city’s West Bank on Sunday, which includes prominent touristic monuments such as the Hatshepsut Temple, the Valley of the Kings and the Valley of the Queens, in a move to pressure the government to exempt them from paying their bazaar rents, said head of the Bazaar Owners Association Bakri Abdel Gelil.
Luxor is one of Egypt’s main tourist attractions and has frequently been characterised as the “world’s greatest open air museum”.
As a result of this action by Bazaar owners, all tourist visits directed to the West Bank temples and monuments have been halted.
“Our problem is mainly with ministries of local development, antiquities and tourism,” said Abdel Gelil. “We demand to be completely exempted from rent fees, since our trade has suffered since the 25 January Revolution.”
“The Ministry of Antiquities exempted the rental fees before from February 2011 to February 2012 only, but now there’s no exemption at all,” said Abdel Gelil.
He added that several verdicts have been issued against around 500 bazaar owners, including prison incarceration and dismissal.
“We are also looking to close the Karnak Temple by Wednesday, or maximum by Thursday,” said Abdel Gelil to Daily News Egypt.
“We have tried several times to negotiate with the Luxor governor but until now the meetings have been fruitless,” he continued. “However we are expecting to meet with the governor today, and hopefully this will be positive.”
He added that tomorrow, bazaar owners from the Abu Simbel Temple will be joining them in blocking the roads leading to the temple.
The Al-Dostour Party has announced it is standing by the demands of the bazaar owners, demanding also that they be exempted from their rental fees.
“There was a verdict to close down four bazaars on 24 February, and there are 101 bazaar owners threatened with dismissal because they haven’t paid their financial dues,” said the Al-Dostour Party spokesperson in Luxor Amr Hussien.
“Some representatives of the Al-Dostour Party have tried to communicate with the governor to handle the problem,” added Hussien.
Mohamed El Qatan, head of the Shops and Tourism Products Division at the Chamber of Commerce condemned the strike: “It will affect Egypt tourism,” he said.
“There are many groups that collect rental fees,” El-Qatan Told Daily News Egypt. “They are the ministries of tourism and antiquities, the governorate, the building owners, the hotels. So it’s very difficult to issue a legal statement forcing these people to drop their rental fees.”
“Those strikes may have a negative effect on a contract with the Berlin Stock Market for a winter session for investors; how can they contract with us confidently when the temples are closed like this? “ said El-Qatan.
“The rental fees are not that high; they are around EGP 400 monthly,” he continued. “This is not a huge amount.”
“Most of the bazaar owners are not licensed, as there is no applied law to ban randomly-opened bazaars,” he said.
“I’ve called the head of the Bazaar Owner Association before to handle the problem, but we haven’t reached a solution”.
Tourism in Luxor has been in decline after the recent hot air balloon accident. The balloon, which was carrying 20 tourists, crashed near Luxor early on Tuesday morning after the fuel supply caught fire. The balloon then fell 300 metres to the ground, killing 18 and injuring three.
“After the balloon crash, tourism got worse,” said Tharwat Agamy, head of the Tourism Companies Division at the Chamber of Commerce. “And it’s even worse now with the closure of the West Bank temples, as visits have stopped completely and there are agencies threatening to sue.”
“Companies are expected to cancel all tours from tomorrow if the situation hasn’t been resolved,” he concluded.