Thursday,21 February, 2019
Current issue | Issue 1121, 8-14 November
Thursday,21 February, 2019
Issue 1121, 8-14 November

Ahram Weekly

Dreaming of Dahab

The Sinai city of Dahab is being promoted worldwide, but stray dogs and cats may not be the only problem to be found on its otherwise magnificent beaches, writes Ibrahim Farouk in the sixth part of an Al-Ahram Weekly series

Al-Ahram Weekly

When Yulia, a Russian pop singer, dreamed of paradise five years ago, she saw the place and its land, sky and sea in her mind’s eye. But she did not know that she would someday come to Dahab in Sinai and make her dream into reality.
Yulia left bustling Moscow with its mass of people and busy days after one of her friends told her about a heaven-on-earth in Egypt in the form of Dahab in Sinai. “She told me about Dahab, and so I followed my dream and my friend’s advice. It was perfect timing. I had spent the last two years taking care of my mother who has osteoporosis and had broken her arms and was hospitalised at the time.”
“I stayed with her until she had begun to recover, and then the doctors suggested we go to a destination where the sun always shines and the air is clean. I had had a recurring dream about a heaven-on-earth that I would go to someday, and that’s exactly what happened. I heeded my friend’s advice and took my mother to Dahab. I was amazed to find that this was the destination I had been dreaming of all the time.”
Yulia is not the only one who feels that Dahab is enchanted. Such people come from all over the world and from Egypt itself. They all believe that this unique place in Sinai attracts unique people who have a deep and special perspective on humanity and are in search of innocence, pristine nature and purity — a simple life distant from the complexities of the modern urban web and its attendant pollution.

A CITY OF ART: Pop singer Yulia is not the only artist who has had an instinctive attraction to Dahab, its beauty and simplicity and its stunning setting making it perfect for simple and straightforward living.
Looking at the foreigners who live in Dahab or visit the surrounding landmarks, such as Ras Shitan in Nuweiba or Ras Abu Galoum, it is clear that the majority of them, even the water-sports enthusiasts who love diving and surfing, all have artistic flare.
German national Simon and his wife Kate are artists living in Dahab, and they paint at several locations, even the walls of the shops owned by their friends in the Lighthouse district. Karen Selbi, author and a graphic designer for newspapers, magazines and advertisements, also lives here.
Singers, painters, writers and poets all pass through the city. Some decide to stay longer, while others visit when they can. They all take in the city’s relaxing atmosphere of self-cleansing and reflection. Russian journalist Albina said that “we come here to revive our souls and ourselves. We are able to repair what is broken inside us and to rethink our priorities — to look at life from a perspective we had lost.”
“We are able to take a step back from the hectic rat race of modern life in big cities. At the same time, the cheap cost and simplicity of living in Dahab makes it an ideal escape for a person having a different perspective on life.”
“I have met many artists and creative people who are famous in their home countries who have been looking for new inspiration for their creativity and a touch of magic in their work and a new emotional wave that can touch them to the core. All of this they have been able to find in Dahab.”

NOT ONLY A PARADISE: However, while visitors to the city talk about its beauty and its nature, geography and climate, for many who live and follow developments in Dahab much of this is incomplete. Some believe that while Dahab is a gift from heaven, it has not always been managed well, whether in terms of location or in best using its gifts and improving and sustaining them.
Dahab is often still viewed from a narrow perspective as a remote village and an appendage to the more famous resort of Sharm El-Sheikh 100km away that receives a lot more attention and support.
Karim Shaaban, a young Egyptian who lives in Dahab and works in the media, said that “Dahab is forgotten. Despite the huge development in recent years, much of this has been superficial, such as some new roads and street lights and unplanned subdivisions. It has been based on individual efforts that are sometimes incompatible with the nature and culture of the place, while many other projects have polluted the land, water and air.”
Egyptian Nubian author Salah Idrees has lived in Dahab for many years. “Although many tourist and hotel businesses flooded into Dahab at the beginning of the 1990s, and there are now an estimated 50 to 75 hotels in the city, most of these businesses have not taken into account the geography, climate, or type of tourist who comes to Dahab,” he said.
“Many investors were only interested in acquiring a plot of land in a unique spot near the water inside the city, or on the exclusive beaches at Al-Masbat, Al-Mashraba, Lagoona and on the road to Blue Hole by the White Canyon and Al-Bakhakhah. But the architecture of their buildings has been ill-planned and stiff, and there has been no oversight by state agencies. This has spoiled Dahab and disfigured large parts of the surrounding land. Many of the buildings started a while ago remain incomplete and unoccupied, like ruins.”
Idrees’s views are shared by many locals, whether Bedouin or Egyptians who have lived in Dahab for years after migrating from the Nile Valley. Even casual visitors to the city can detect some of this disfigurement, such as the eye-sore concrete apartment blocks at the beginning of the road leading to Assala.
A real-estate association took over a large plot of land there many years ago, and its members began building the ugly concrete blocks that remain unfinished today. The plot next to this one, owned by a member of the former ruling National Democratic Party, is no different. This man had intended to build an Olympic village without any oversight, and indeed he began to build badly designed buildings, though the project has not been completed.
Other land has been acquired through favours and cronyism that overlooks key locations at the entrance of Al-Mashraba, Lagoona and Blue Hole. Concrete high rises were begun, but never completed. This has spoilt the city’s natural beauty, but no one — whether officials from the government or from the South Sinai governorate — has put an end to these practices. Nevertheless, they have harmed the image of the city, and the tourism and cultural promotion that is based on its natural setting.

CATS AND DOGS: Dahab has many problems, though they are not as complex as those of other cities in Egypt since Dahab has a population of no more than 50,000 and has many open spaces that have not been utilised. Meanwhile, much of the misuse and eye sores could be corrected. Everyone in Dahab, native Bedouin, migrants from the Nile Valley and foreigners, talks about these problems from their own perspective.
They are discussed at social gatherings and on social networks like Facebook and twitter. No doubt they mostly pertain to the absent role played by the government and civil society in regulating the architectural, environmental and tourism planning in this unique part of the Egyptian Sinai. Although such complaints are similar to those of people elsewhere in Egypt, what makes Dahab’s problems unique is that the city is still young and its troubles could be quickly resolved.
Nevertheless, the absence of government has delayed finding solutions to these problems, most importantly solutions to the development of the supporting infrastructure that everyone agrees has for years been gravely neglected and is now unprepared to accommodate the rising numbers of arrivals and workers in the tourism industry.
The government cancelled plans to build an airport because the allocated land was on territory belonging to the Bedouin community of Assala, probably to pacify the Bedouin. But an alternative location has not been allocated, although there are plenty of possible locations. Visitors to Dahab currently land by plane in Sharm El-Sheikh and then travel 100km by road for no good reason as a result.
People also talk about water, sewage and mismanagement problems. Problems with sanitation, garbage disposal and environmental issues linked to the misuse of diving locations are destroying coral reefs and leading to over-fishing. One conscientious group of Bedouin decided to stop fishing during the breeding season in September last year, which resulted in an excellent fishing year in 2012.
Another problem facing foreigners who live in Dahab is the rising number of stray cats and dogs in the city, mostly concentrated in populated areas such as the sea promenade at Al-Masbat, Al-Mashraba, Eel Garden and residential areas. This has caused many resident foreigners to start paying for the animals’ upkeep, but one can only take care of one dog or cat or at most two at a time. The problem remains unsolved, and there is a need for a concerted effort and support from animal groups and societies.
Everyone in Dahab agrees that the stray cats and dogs are now everywhere, especially around the restaurants, cafés and bazaars. Some Egyptians are surprised at how well they are treated by the tourists and resident foreigners. The latter bring them gourmet food and treat them well, rendering the dogs harmless.

DAHAB IN 2020: Today, a group calling itself “Dahab Lovers” and representing all the city’s residents — Bedouin Egyptians, Nile Valley Egyptians and resident foreigners — is preparing to launch the Dahab 2013 Festival. This is the third consecutive year of the festival, which is sponsored by the Egyptian Tourism Authority, and over the past two years it has been disappointing, possibly because of its modest activities and poor management.
The group managing the event this year has overhauled it and raised further support for it. It has aimed to incorporate the largest possible number of people in it, in order to guarantee its success.
The group meets regularly to prepare for the festival, scheduled in April next year, with the aim of promoting the city in a way it deserves through a non-profit group that will oversee the festival and other events in Dahab. Some of the events will focus on Bedouin culture and art by launching workshop discussions about the future of the city, as proposed by Mohamed Daaya, a tourism expert and champion kite surfer, who has lived in Dahab for many years.
Daaya owns a surfing centre that serves enthusiasts on Lagoona’s enchanting beaches, these being blessed with continuous winds that attract dozens of kite and wind surfers each year.
“Dahab is unique because of the wind speeds here that exist all the year round. This is very unusual, and it is a boon for kite surfers,” Daaya said. “Kite surfing will be an official sport at the next Olympics, and what I want to do with my colleagues in the ‘Dahab Lovers’ group is to make the city a unique world destination for kite surfing and put together an Egyptian Olympic kite surfing team. We have everything we need to become world champions in this sport, especially since we have a city like Dahab.”
“For this reason, I decided to open a centre specialising in the sport, which has many fans from around the world who come to Lagoona. I am currently partnered with a Bedouin activist called Al-Sayed Ahmed Hemeid, who believes that Dahab deserves a unique world ranking as a tourism brand and a destination for water-sports lovers.”
Daaya and his co-workers among Dahab’s young people, both Bedouin and from the Nile Valley, dream that in the near future there will be a leap in development in the city that will tap into the area’s wealth of natural beauty, human resources and abundance of diving spots. Dahab boasts surfing, mountain climbing, horse and camel riding and surfing opportunities that are unique to Sinai.
For this reason, all of them are working hard to make the Dahab 2013 Festival a success, and they are also launching workshops to discuss what Dahab 2020 should look like and what planning is needed to begin today to conserve this paradise.
Daaya and his group of Dahab lovers not only envision promoting Dahab as a world-famous water-sports destination, but they also plan to promote cultural and art activities that will showcase Egypt’s civilisation and the Bedouin culture in Sinai worldwide.

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