The requests made by the World Heritage Committee at at its 31st session (Christchurch, 2007) raise concerns which first surfaced a decade earlier in a 1998 state of conservation report. At that time, responding to the stated intention of the State Party to remove the villages of Gurnah and their inhabitants (involved from the beginning of excavations on site since the 19th century), the World Heritage Bureau requested the Secretariat to study, with the Egyptian authorities, the possibility of launching a co-operation programme encompassing geological, archaeological, geographical, and anthropological studies, in order to better understand the situation of the villages and their inhabitants. The World Heritage Bureau further recommended to the Egyptian authorities “the postponement of any further transfer of the population of Gurnah until these investigations have taken place, and urged the authorities to establish an awareness campaign among the local community”. At the time, it was envisioned that “a comprehensive management plan could then be prepared to include the concept of a separate cultural landscape nomination for the villages of Gurnah and their environment”.
The World Heritage Committee’s Decision 31 COM 7B.55 regrets that the State Party did not take into account its earlier recommendations (1998, 2006) to carry out studies and impact assessments on Gurnah. This decision also regrets that the State Party has not taken up the recommendations of the 2006 mission to the World Heritage property, including those made regarding the design of the Karnak Plaza. The Decision also encouraged the State Party to revise its Master plan 2030 to directly integrate commitment to maintaining the outstanding universal value of the property within all projects and notably to organise an international consultation for the Karnak Plaza as well as for the Avenue of the Sphinxes, to abandon the landing stage for tourism boats planned for the western bank of the Nile, to organise adequate investigations before finalizing the dewatering trench delineation on the West bank, and also to set up management plans for Karnak, Luxor and the West Bank and a related co-ordinated management instrument.
In a letter sent to the World Heritage Centre on 25 January 2008, the State Party noted that:
a) The deliberations of a committee of experts in their fields “including foreigners” has guided the development of Karnak and Luxor. It, therefore, questioned the need for another international committee.
The World Heritage Centre has received no information about the composition of the committee of experts, its mandate or its discussions.
b) A letter regarding the 2030 master plan of the area has been sent to national authorities for review by a Committee of experts, egyptologists, archaeologists and ICOMOS.
The World Heritage Centre has received no information about the results of that review.
c) Concerning the establishment of a landing area for cruise boats on the West bank of the Nile, it seems that the Supreme Council of Antiquities (SCA) had requested to limit such developments to the East bank.
d) Concerning the request to carry out preliminary investigations prior to establishing the dewatering trench, that a monitoring and salvage archaeology team had been established to follow the work with USAID support.
The joint World Heritage Centre / ICOMOS reactive monitoring mission requested by the World Heritage Committee during its 31st session took place from 18-24 April 2008. Its report stated that none of the threats mentioned in previous reports had been effectively dealt with, except in cases where large-scale demolitions and new constructions have turned a threat into a fait accompli. The overall impression is that the values, authenticity and integrity of the property are being sacrificed in order to accommodate ever larger numbers of tourists.
Among the issues raised at the previous session of the World Heritage Committee, the following were highlighted by the mission:
a) No account was taken of the main recommendations of the 2006 and 2007 missions, nor of the previous recommendations of the World Heritage Bureau and Committee;
b) A large number of the houses of Gurnah were destroyed without any historic or ethnographic survey and the inhabitants moved to a new village to the North;
c) The project to destroy a portion of the city of Luxor in order to excavate the Alley of the Sphinxes and make it into a sunken pathway is still foreseen;
d) The project to build a mooring for cruise boats and various infrastructures on the West Bank, close to the new bridge, is still foreseen despite the State Party’s assurances to the contrary in its letter of 25 January 2008.
An issue already mentioned in the state of conservation report of 2007 is the present location of the parking lot at the entrance of the temple of Hatchepsut at Deir el-Bahari that seriously impairs the vision of the temple and should be moved to another location.
The mission expressed its concern regarding those issues, in particular the need to keep in mind, at all stages of planning and design, the outstanding universal value of the property for which it was inscribed on the World Heritage List, and to maintain the essential balance between the antiquities, the successive layers of history to date and the living communities.
An issue also mentioned in previous sessions is the absence of a comprehensive management plan for the entire property, Luxor, Karnak and the West bank. While appreciating the assistance provided to the SCA in this respect by international institutions, it is essential that such plan be urgently developed. The coordination of all activities in the property is under the responsibility of the SCA. This latter should organise meetings on a regular basis, where all those, Egyptian and foreign, involved in archaeological as well as infrastructure and development projects, could discuss the development of their projects.
The various recent projects undertaken and planned by the State Party (removal of nearly all of Gurnah, development of the Avenue of the sphinxes, development of the plaza at Karnak, cruise boat landing stage) all threaten the outstanding universal value of the property and in particular its authenticity and integrity. The criteria chosen for inscription in 1979 (in particular criterion vi), emphasize the need to see the site as reflective of developments from the Pharaonic period through the early Christian period. But moreover, all of these archaeological monuments and archaeological sites lie within a compelling and fundamentally important physical, historic and socio-cultural context, which is being permanently undermined by these changes. These modifications directly impair the authenticity of the setting and, in recreating elements such as the Avenue of the sphinxes without their former historic context, falsify the site with reconstruction work cautioned against in the Operational Guidelines. As well, the loss of Gurnah impairs the historical integrity and continuity of landscape use and occupation highlighted a decade ago by the World Heritage Bureau. Overall, the impairment of the existing historically evolved relations between features of the site, constitute a significant loss of integrity, as described in the Operational Guidelines.
These losses and the limited response of the State Party to these problems as raised over time suggest that, in the absence of any progress by 1 February 2009, the World Heritage Committee could consider to include this property on the List of World Heritage in Danger.