29 Apr. - 5 May 1999
Issue No. 427
|Published in Cairo by AL-AHRAM established in 1875|
Egypt Region International Economy Opinion Culture Profile Focus Special Travel Sports People Features Living Time Out Chronicles Cartoons Letters
Celebrating SinaiBy Mahmoud Bakr
Al-Tor, Ras Sidr, Abu Zeneima, Saint Catherine, Abu Ridiss, Sharm Al-Sheikh, Dahab and Nuweiba... the names of these cities and towns evoke very different things for different people: sun and sand for vacationers, spiritual fulfilment for pilgrims -- and investment opportunities for national planners. A host of different projects are set to fix this area more firmly than ever on the tourist and development map.
Real lives, holiday dreamscapes: Top, Bedouin women herding sheep and goats in Nuweiba; left, Naama Bay, near Sharm Al-Sheikh
photos: Thomas Hartwell
Many of those who remember Sinai only as miles of secluded beach and vast expanses of rugged, beautiful desert would be stunned today if they could see the frenzied construction activity that has taken place along the better part of the peninsula's coast. Maj.-Gen. Mustafa Afifi, governor of South Sinai, recently said that no more tourism establishments or projects will be built in Sharm Al-Sheikh after 2000. That area has already received the lion's share of tourism investment, with 117 villages and hotels offering a total of 12,000 rooms. Between now and next year, however, the governorate of South Sinai as a whole will offer the bus- and plane-loads of sun worshippers a choice of 300 villages and hotels. This construction bonanza, it is hoped, will also contribute to alleviating the unemployment problem by creating 60,000 jobs.
An agreement has also been reached with Minister of Culture Farouk Hosni for the establishment of a museum in Sharm Al-Sheikh, where those who weary of the sun, sand, sea and legendary night-life will be able to view locally excavated antiquities, as well as pieces currently in storage in several of Egypt's museums. The first phase of the project, an open museum, will be completed next year, the second three years hence.
Further diversification of Sharm Al-Sheikh's pulling power comes in the shape of an international sporting club. The governor recently said that 14 public beaches have also been planned -- an unexpected windfall for those who cannot afford to stay at one of the hotels. The space had originally been allocated to investors, but when these failed to demonstrate a "serious intention to complete work on their projects on schedule", their permits were revoked. In this case, therefore, private loss has meant public gain.
In a bid to attract conference tourism, too, plans for an international conference hall in Sharm Al-Sheikh have received an official seal of approval. Other projects have been inaugurated this year, many of which serve to reaffirm Sinai's Egyptian identity, and the government's desire to anchor the peninsula -- many parts of which sorely lack several basic services -- more firmly to national development plans.
In Al-Tor, for instance, the headquarters of the General Education Authority were inaugurated. Built at a cost of one million pounds, the Authority benefits, among other things, from an Internet connection to the central network in Cairo. The governor also inaugurated a primary school, two secondary schools, a cooperative, and a post office. This year's festivities witnessed the official opening of such environmentally-friendly projects as the Turquoise Gardens, a forest of 40,000 trees irrigated by recycled sanitary drainage water.
In a buzz of activity, a water desalination station as well as an electric power plant to supply the Sharm Al-Sheikh coast area were opened. Plans are underway for a new ring road to facilitate movement in the southern part of the peninsula. The Ras Mohamed first aid unit, on the Al-Tor/Sharm Al-Sheikh highway, is up and running while, at Ras Sidr, land has been allocated to young people at the nominal price of PT50 a feddan.
Our next stop was Dahab, 100km south of Sharm Al-Sheikh. Tourists come here for the beaches, water sports, wildlife, and the scuba diving. In the dreamscape that many vacationers inhabit, however, it is often easy to forget that Sinai is also made up of perennially inhabited areas, with perennial problems. One of Dahab's most pressing tasks, for instance, is cleaning up the city proper, as opposed to the holiday villages and camps.
Head of the City Council Mohamed Soliman told us a contract has been signed with a cleaning company, but individual and NGO initiatives will continue to form the backbone of efforts to keep the city garbage-free. The schoolchildren of Dahab have also been roped into the cleaning drive: 50 pupils from different districts roll up their sleeves and grab a broom each week. In return, they receive food and beverages, or LE5. The council's role is confined to following up this process, and purchasing the plastic bags used by the children for garbage collection.
As for the sea, perhaps the greatest victim of pollution, the owners of the diving centres have undertaken to clean the sea bed and the coral reefs once every four months.
Concluding the tour was a visit to Taba, where efforts are being made to encourage settlement: a primary school, a supply office and a cooperative are all being completed. Preparations are also underway to create a memorial panorama at the spot where the Egyptian flag was hoisted after Taba was won back from Israel.