What happens when government ambitions meet the every-day mundane existence of the common man? The same thing that is happening now in Luxor – Egypt’s prized possession. Did you know that 30% of all significant world monuments lie in Luxor as do 70% of Egypt’s most popular monuments? It was home to the capital of Thebes for the ancient Egyptians and Pharaohs built gigantic temples to Gods here. And, this is where the Tutankhamen’s tomb with all its richness was unearthed creating ripples through the archaeological community.
In an attempt to beef up tourism even more, the local authorities have quite an ambitious plan to revive and reinvent Luxor in an unprecedented fashion. Along with the usual tasks like rehabilitation of tombs and expansion of the city’s infrastructure, Egyptian authorities are carrying out a large scale excavation of the “Avenue of the Sphinxes,” – an ancient 2.7 kilometer long corridor that was once lined with human-headed lion statues. Once this avenue has been resurrected, it will link Luxor Temple to the Karnak Temple. The end product, as the authorities view it, is the city in the form of an open air museum.
However, what seems to be a daring and ambitious project yet another side where the common man and the local communities of Egypt stand in helplessness. The projects agenda is to create a sort of buffer zone between the ancient relics and local communities; what critics describe in plain speak as keeping the treasures away from the native population of Luxor. The wide streets and five-star hotels will be built at the cost of pushing back overflowing slums and in many cases, evicting them forcefully.
The locals claim in disgust that they are being sent into the desert and the compensation that has been promised by the government – 75,000 Egyptian Pounds, roughly about $13,000 or a brand new apartment – is eyewash. Most residents say they’ve been offered nothing and those that did receive compensation were dismayed at the amount that came to them eventually. Besides, the question remains – where do they all move to?
To some this “Face lift of Luxor” project seems like a grand vision that will change the face and destiny of Egypt forevermore. But to others, those that are most affected, it seems like a cruel joke to develop the city at their expense. Critics are wary of Luxor turning into a glitzy version of Las Vegas and losing the intrinsic charm that defines Egypt while archaeologists are despairing over the dangers caused to the antiquities beneath the surface by all the construction work. Only time will tell which warring party will emerge victorious.