Egypt Balloon Probe May Imperil Mursi’s Tourism Drive

A fatal hot air balloon crash involving foreigners may undermine Egyptian President Mohamed Mursi’s efforts to revive tourism, opening the door for new criticism on his handling of the economy.

Investigators in Luxor, the southern city famed for its pharaonic monuments, will today conclude an investigation into the fiery crash that left 19 tourists dead. Initial reports from the Luxor prosecutor’s office indicate the pilot, who survived with serious burns, radioed the control room to report a problem with the helium tube and tried to make an early landing, the state-run Ahram Gate reported today.

It was the latest blow to tourism, which has yet to recover from the 2011 uprising and subsequent unrest, and drew complaints that Mursi’s not visiting the site was another example of how his government is divorced from the nation’s economic problems after the ousting of Hosni Mubarak.

Hassan Galal, a 43-year-old Luxor-based partner in a tourism company said Mursi’s absence and lack of public statements sent the wrong signal, particularly to residents of the city that’s been spared the kind of protests and unrest gripping other parts of the nation.

“If he believed that tourism was important to the country, then he should have come,” Galal said. “The president didn’t come, the prime minister didn’t come. It’s as if nothing has happened in Luxor.”

Red Sea Focus

Instability has kept tourists largely focused on the Red Sea resorts and antiquity havens like Luxor, hindering a recovery of an economy that has been growing at its slowest pace in two decades. A $4.8 billion International Monetary Fund loan request has yet to be agreed on.

The Cabinet has issued statements about the incident. The presidency reposted on its Twitter site on Feb. 26 condolences sent by the Foreign Ministry. Luxor Governor Ezzat Saad El-Sayed said he had received a call from Mursi offering his condolences.

After a 1997 massacre of foreign tourists at a famed Luxor area temple, Mubarak flew down to the city, publicly berated his then interior minister and fired him on the spot.

The crash will have a “fatal impact” on tourism in the city, Tharwat El-Agamy, head of Luxor’s tourism chamber, said by phone. The suspension of flights is costing the nine companies that operate the tours about $60,000 per day, he said.

Balloon operators now get 30 to 40 tourists a day, down from as much as 200 before the 2011 uprising, he said.

The response by Mursi and the government has been “really disappointing,” El-Agamy said. “They should have made any effort to send a reassuring message to the world that they care about the industry and that the lives of tourists matter.”

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