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Western Press Review: Tragedy Strikes At Egypt's Luxor Temple

  • Don Hill
  • Dora Slaba

Prague, 18 November 1997 (RFE/RL) -- "Now the barbarians have visited the temples," The (London) "Daily Telegraph" says today in an editorial that -- along with other Western press outlets -- searches for meaning in yesterday's massacre at Luxor, Egypt.


The newspaper asks, "What prompts such madness?" It answers that the targets were actually the government of President Hosni Mubarak and that catch-all devil, the United States; the timing an homage to Iraq's Saddam Hussein.

The editorial says: "For the hotheads of the mosque, it is partly a blow against Hosni Mubarak, the president of Egypt. He is to them the poodle of the United States." It says: "Why, though, have they struck now after a period of quiet" Because Saddam Hussein is in the eye of the international storm, and the Luxor massacre, in the eyes of the maniacs, is partly a blow in support of him."


In a news analysis today, John Lancaster writes: "The attack was the most lethal incident of violence in Egypt since Islamic fundamentalists launched their campaign to topple the secular, military-backed government of President Hosni Mubarak in 1991. Coming after more than a year of relative calm, and repeated claims of victory by government security officials, the violence served as a brutal reminder of the continued terrorist threat in the Arab world's most populous and, by some reckonings, influential country." The writer says: "Today's attack was a major setback for Egypt's tourist industry, which has undergone a renaissance of late after several years in the doldrums caused by previous episodes of violence."


The Austrian newspaper says: "The reasons that, following the death of every dead Islamic martyr, three new ones arise, are ever the same. First, there is the economic and social misery of a lost youth, a sense of security and and togetherness among the Islamists, that express themselves through political propaganda as an efficient social force in a state which is undemocratic and deeply corrupt. Second, there's the state of the Arab world, which has grown rather worse after the decline of colonialism. The secular republics have produced dictators; socialism as a counterbalance to Western capitalism is dead; and pan-Arabism has shown itself since the Iraqi attack on Kuwait as mere myth."


"Blood on the Nile," says the headline over an editorial. The paper says: "Since the assassination of President (Anwar) Sadat, Egypt has fought a long-running battle with militants, hanging dozens of 'martyrs' who have been convicted of terrorism by military courts. Police raids, summary trials, the use of torture and intensified security around all the tourist sites have been matched by legislation banning dozens of extremist groups and cracking down on religious fundamentalism." The editorial says: "Few in the Middle East know how to defeat terrorism. Two enlightened kings -- King Hassan of Morocco and King Hussein of Jordan -- are attempting, through democracy, to isolate the extremists by giving legitimate opposition a political voice: both have just held elections which have demonstrated their countries' political maturity. Terrorism, however, feeds on frustration and repression. When it vents its anger so terribly on the innocent, governments must look beyond their security forces to deeper causes of malaise."


A news analysis by Youssef M. Ibrahim in London says: "Even after years of harsh government repression, even with 15,000 sympathizers imprisoned and its top leaders in jail, exile or both, the militant movement thought to have killed scores of foreign tourists in Luxor remains Egypt's most active Islamic fundamentalist organization. In recent months, the Egyptian government has been claiming success at bringing the Islamic Group -- Al Gamaa al Islamiya in Arabic -- under tighter control. But that is not the same thing as eradicating it. Instead, the struggle seems to have merely transformed the Islamic Group from a highly disciplined organization that assassinated Anwar el-Sadat in 1981 into a far more loosely knit group of cells."


Heiko Flottau suggests in a commentary that part of the blame for Luxor falls not only on the militants but also on others in Islam who fail to condemn them. Flottau writes: "No organization immediately claimed responsibility for the attack, but it seems safe to assume that the killers came from the ranks of so-called Islamic extremists. Violence, as many Islamic clerics have stressed repeatedly, has no part in Islam which, like Christianity, is a peace-loving religion. But that no longer helps. For too long, many representatives of Islam have looked on idly as preachers and mullahs have excused terrorism on religious grounds."


Hungarian voters' overwhelming support in Sunday's referendum for NATO entry has attracted Western press commentary also. "Nothing essentially changes because of the vote," Christine Spolar wrote in a news analysis in yesterday's edition. She wrote: "Every major political party in Hungary, in fact, has supported NATO expansion for years. But Sunday's referendum helped strengthen the public relations campaign for all three of the formerly communist countries, which still face scrutiny by NATO's 16 members, including the United States.

"Neither of the other invitees risked taking the public's pulse on NATO. Poland, where opinion polls indicate eight of every 10 people support joining NATO, saw little need for such a vote. In the Czech Republic, where public support only recently climbed above 50 percent, political leaders have repeatedly dismissed going to the voters."


An editorial yesterday in the U.S. newspaper took the Czech government to task for suppressing debate on NATO. It said: "Besieged Czech Premier Vaclav Klaus doesn't want a national referendum on his country's entry into NATO, mainly, as he put it to 'The Washington Post,' because it would spark 'unnecessary destabilizing debates' among the political factions. That way he decides which debate is warranted and which isn't." The editorial concludes: "True, not all issues are susceptible to public referendums and the Czech Republic's NATO membership may be among them. But it's wrong to reject it on the grounds it would lead to a public debate."


From Budapest, Anatol Lieven writes in the British business daily that Romanians followed the Hungarian results with mixed reaction. He says: "The vote (officially) was welcomed by Hungary's neighbor Romania (but) in private, however, many Romanians remain distressed that Hungary has overtaken them in the NATO accession procedure."