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Egypt's Morsi tightens grip ahead of protests

CAIRO -- In a controversial move seemingly aimed at shoring up his grip on power, Egypt President Mohamed Morsi appointed 17 new governors, including seven members of his own Muslim Brotherhood party and a member of the radical Islamist Group.  

The appointments mean that the Brotherhood controls the governorships in 10 out of the country's 27 provinces. 

Residents responded angrily to the move across the Nile Delta on Monday. In Fayoum, a hundred people were reportedly injured when Islamists marching in support of the new governor fought with opposition. A Muslim Brotherhood office was torched in Dakhaliya. Angry citizens in four other provinces barricaded and chained entrances to public offices, barring new governors from entering.  

But it was the naming of Adel Al-Khayyat as governor of Luxor that was the most controversial appointment. 

Al-Khayyat was a member of the formerly militant Gamaa Islamiya -- Islamic Group -- and is now a member of the group’s political arm, the Building and Construction Party. The Islamic Group, which has since renounced violence, took credit for the 1997 massacre in Luxor in which six gunmen killed 58 tourists and four Egyptians in front of a famous Pharonic temple on Luxor’s West Bank. 

Although news reports say that Al-Khayyat was jailed for a year as a minor suspect in President Anwar Sadat’s assassination and the killing of Egyptian security forces, he was not implicated in the Luxor attack.  

The distinction was lost on those who work in Luxor’s tourist industry. Residents started gathering in front of the governorate Monday morning to stop Al-Khayyat from taking up residence. 

“You know he is a terrorist!” exclaimed Yohanna Solyan, owner of a Luxor travel agency.  “We need help. There are no tourists here. I had to close my company.”  

His wife, Jacqueline Purki, a tour guide, now works one day a month compared to the six days a week she used to work before the revolution. 

“We are very angry,” she said. “The few people who are coming to Luxor will stop coming.”  

Some extremists have threatened to destroy antiquities or statues they consider idolatrous. Amre Moussa, opposition leader and former Arab League chief, tweeted  “Appointing … a member of the Islamic Group whose leaders ban tourism and call for destroying antiquities … is a wrong decision.” 

Islamic Group is a top ally of Morsi. It’s leaders have threatened an "Islamic revolution" if liberals try to unseat the Islamist president. 

“This was done to satisfy all the Islamic currents, groups and parties, to give them a piece of the cake. It didn’t come to mind that Al Khayyat is a delegate for the image of tourism,”  said Gen. Sameh Seif al Yazal, an intelligence analyst. Al Yazal said the move is a measure of Morsi’s fear of upcoming protests, widely expected to be massive and violent, calling on Morsi to hold early elections.

Morsi's appointments come before the June 30 anniversary of his taking office, when the liberal and secular Egyptian opposition plans demonstrations to demand his ouster.

“He wants to have loyalists in the position of governor at this point in time … . It indicates the Muslim Brotherhood is sticking to the same strategy of consolidating their rule,” said American University of Cairo political science professor Gamal Abdul Gawad. By appointing Al-Khayyat, reasoned Abdul Gawad, Morsi aimed to please Islamic Group and strengthen the coalition between his party and theirs.  

Neither the president’s office nor the Ministry of Tourism have responded to calls for comment.

The Associated Press contributed to this report.