Wednesday, January 4, 2012

The Shell of Sharm el-Sheikh

Christmas for me usually represents a time of leaving Egypt. This year, it was different. K and I headed to the Sinai Peninsula to meet my family who had travelled from overseas. It was a year of forging new traditions and re-creating the Christmas atmosphere in a very "un-Christmassy" place. For K and I our journey started in Sharm el-Sheikh, where we stayed before heading further into the Sinai towards Dahab.

This time of year in Egypt is considered one of the three peak, or "high" seasons. In resort towns like Sharm el-Sheikh and Hurghada, Christmas and New Years host an influx of tourists seeking respite from the cold and harsh winters at home. In previous years in Hurghada, New Years parties sell out a few weeks before the event with only a limited number of tickets remaining for last minute deals. Sharm is the same; big name DJs all booked to come in and play to what is hoped will be sell-out crowds and fully booked resorts and hotels.

K and I chose to stay in Delta Sharm, a hot-spot for Sharm residents and tourists alike. It offers the security of a compound alongside all the facilities you would expect of a hotel: pools, bars, restaurants, shops, and a little strip mall with rental car shops and real-estate offices.

One of the pools in Delta Sharm
But walking along these "mini mall" strip of shops was depressing. For every open office, there were two abandoned, empty, boarded up, or "for rent" next to it. Coffee shops had a few stragglers outside, others that boasted they were open 24 hours were closed. Remnants of what is evidently a party town working schedule, these offices just had no business to warrant keeping those hours.

Walking down the main strip in Sharm on Naama Bay was also an eye opening experience. K and I went to track down dinner and do a little shopping around 5 p.m. Coffee shop after coffee shop lay empty, with waiters outside trying to usher the small crowd of shoppers into their bars or restaurants. Also striking was that of the people milling around in the streets, most were Egyptians, not foreigners. By the time we were leaving Naama Bay the streets and restaurants had gotten a little more crowded, but nothing like the level of patrons one would normally expect in Sharm at this time of year.

Naama Bay in Sharm
Everywhere you go, people will tell you the same thing. "Business is suffering. Tourists are gone, we have no money anymore." This brings to mind the rhetoric in recent months of Islamist candidates who claim that Egypt's economy will do just fine surviving on Cultural Tourism (Which estimates point to making up less than 10 % of the total income from tourism). Al Masri Al-Yawm posted an article today in which quotes show that tourism in Egypt dropped almost 30 % in 2011 alone, in part due to ongoing unrest in the capital Cairo and the comments made about crack downs on the tourism industry.

When my family made the decision to come to Egypt, they were met with the common question of "why are you going there? Is it safe?" I've been hearing that question since I first moved to Egypt in 2006, and the answer is, YES, Egypt is safe. The Sinai is SAFE. There is an illusion being painted in the media that on every street corner you will find a protest, or someone flinging rocks, of a building on fire, or thugs running rampant. This is not the case, not at all. In fact the entire time that we were away, we left the news off and stayed offline - leaving us no indication of what was happening in the country. Were it not for national media, the unrest in Cairo and Alex would not even have made you question could you come to Egypt.

Don't get me wrong, I'm not naive enough to proclaim that Egypt is 100% at the moment, because it's not. There are certainly areas I would advise against foreigners travelling right now, particularly those that require travel over long stretches of mostly unmanned roads, such as roads down to Luxor, Aswan, and Sohag. But if you're coming to Egypt to check out the Red Sea sights and the Sinai Peninsula, you have very little to worry about. I was asked to emphasize this by family and friends who came to stay, if you have any doubts about your safety in Egypt, let me put your mind to ease.

Hurghada is more fortunate than many of the cities in the Sinai, as there continues to be a steady stream of foreigners coming here *knocks on wood* but in the Sinai things aren't so easy. I'll continue this saga in a new postings, but I will leave you with these words:

Please come and visit, the Egyptians are ready to welcome everyone with open arms! 

2 comments:

  1. Thank you for posting- I've been a little wary of coming back since December... may pop back over in May.

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  2. I have just been looking at property in sharm el shake, This was helpful thank you

    ReplyDelete