Avenue of Sphinxes grand reopening is 'make or break' for Luxor livelihoods

Residents bemoan their suffering from dry spell of tourism brought on by Covid-19 pandemic

A guard stands on the Avenue of Sphinxes at the site of the ancient Egyptian Temple of Luxor, a day before the official opening of the 3,000-year-old thoroughfare with a grand ceremony. EPA

Watch the Avenue of Sphinxes parade live here

Residents of the Egyptian southern city of Luxor are waiting with bated breath for a spectacular ceremony that will inaugurate the newly renovated Avenue of Sphinxes, a 2.7-kilometre road connecting the city’s most prominent temples.

When Covid-19 stopped almost all tourists coming to the city, many in the city could not make ends meet. They say they are now heavily invested in the success of Thursday’s ceremony to revive the industry and bring money back to Luxor.

“Many of the city’s tour guides have been having a really tough time amid the dry spell brought on by the pandemic,” Luxor native Mohamed Fahmy, 34, told The National. He is a taxi driver who mainly makes a living transporting tourists from the airport into the city centre.

Many of the city’s residents will be involved in the procession and its associated performances, demonstrating the extent to which the city has got behind the event.

A tourist views Avenue of the Sphinxes in front of  Luxor Temple in Luxor, Egypt on September 24, 2008. Photo: Victoria Hazou for the National

Parts of the city were closed on Thursday for security reasons in the run-up to President Abdel Fattah El Sisi’s arrival.

“You have no idea how difficult it’s been for us to make ends meet here over the past couple of years. A friend of mine had to sell most of the furniture in his house after he was let go from his job at a local tour operating company,” said local bazaar owner Hassan Imam, 45.

Though many business owners were asked to stay at home on Thursday as security forces banned locals from the Nile’s front around the city centre, residents were more than happy to comply in the hope that the attention the event will bring helps the city’s tourism industry return to pre-pandemic levels.

The Nile in Luxor, which is usually crowded with boats ferrying passengers between the two banks of the river, was markedly empty on Thursday. One ferryman told The National that he and his colleagues were told to moor their boats at docks outside the city centre until the celebration was over.

An old Nile Cruise boat sails along the Nile River in Luxor, Egypt October 27, 2019. REUTERS/Amr Abdallah Dalsh

Additionally, the city’s ferry, the main mode of transport between the Nile's banks, was halted on Wednesday night to ensure nothing gets in the way of the event, a part of which is expected to take place in the stretch of the river by both temples with pharaonic-style boats built especially for the occasion.

Ever since international stay-at-home orders due to Covid-19 abated earlier this year, the city’s tourism sector has shown signs of recovery. But, it has not been enough of an improvement for Luxor's inhabitants, who are pinning their hopes on Thursday’s ceremony.

“To me and a lot of the city’s workers, this event is a matter of life and death. If it succeeds and revamps tourism, I will be able to feed my children. If it doesn’t, I don’t know what I will do, to be honest,” Mr Fahmy said.

Tourist is the city's main trade, he said.

“Craftsmen can continue making pharaonic statues all day, but without someone here to buy them, what is the use? Without the tourist, there isn’t much we can do here,” he said.

A tourist city through and through, Luxor is not known for its own industries and aside from agriculture, locals have to leave the city to find work outside the tourism sector.

Throughout the city’s streets, people were eagerly cleaning their shopfronts and sweeping the streets outside.

Security forces were in place and the roofs of buildings overlooking both temples have been closed by officers stationed there.

Hotels on side streets running off the avenue were ordered not to let guests take pictures or interfere with the procession in any way.

On Wednesday, the country’s Tourism Ministry announced that all of Luxor’s hotels were fully booked for the first time in months, which cheered many of Luxor’s residents.

“Already the city is overrun with tourists and media personnel coming to witness the event. If things continue as they have been over the past week, then God has blessed us,” Mr Imam said.

Luxor is definitely the star of Thursday’s ceremony, as the ministry intends to highlight all the aspects that make the city unique, including flying a number of hot-air balloons – for which the city is known – over the procession and using a number of horse-drawn carriages, another of the city’s defining features, which have been redecorated for the parade.

The ceremony will be broadcast live on various local and international TV channels, as well as online through the ministry’s pages on various social media platforms. The National will be broadcasting the event live on its various social media pages.

Updated: November 25, 2021, 5:37 PM