Problems on hold
Two weeks ago, on Sunday 9 September, I tackled Egypt’s North Coast dilemma under the title “North Coast issue revisited…again”, a dilemma that comes to mind every year once the summer holiday season is over. I had planned to continue tackling the issue the following Sunday, but had to interrupt the topic on account of a ‘right of reply’ that Watani was committed to honour. Today I go back to proceeding with the North Coast issue.
In my 9 September Editorial, I reviewed the real-estate-oriented investment strategy that the government applied to Egypt’s Mediterranean North Coast in the 1970s and 1980s. It was a strategy that allowed private and government investors to make free use of the full capacity of the coastal land put up for sale by the government without taking into account touristic requirements. By contrast, Egypt’s eastern coastal lands on the Red Sea and South Sinai were put up for sale with a view to touristic-oriented investment, requiring the new landowners to build hotels on at least 75 per cent of the total capacity of their developments. The outcome of the two strategies was that, after four decades of development, the Red Sea and South Sinai coastal areas have become thriving tourist hubs that pour millions into the State treasury, whereas the North Coast became a seasonal destination that throbs with holidaymakers no more than four months every year, after which it is abandoned, void of activity or job opportunity. It yields no return and no added value as far as tourism is concerned, which is a huge waste given its incomparable natural beauty, dreamy sandy beaches, turquoise blue waters and mellow weather.
Since I am not one to cry over spilt milk, I ended my previous Editorial with the question: Will New Alamein hold a lifeline for the region? Is there any vision to develop the ownership system there?
New Alamein is a modern, green, smart town currently under construction in the vicinity of the famous Alamein on the North Coast in Egypt’s Western Desert. It is designed as an ambitious, self-sufficient project that relies on all-year-round economic activity. It has excellent tourist potential owing to its location on the Mediterranean coast. New Alamein can give the kiss of life to the North Coast region, ending its annual eight-month hibernation that threatens its real estate wealth with decay. The new town can pull the region out of its seasonal activity and seasonal job opportunities, and promote investment to generate sustainable returns. It might very well encourage holidaymakers to make use of their holiday homes all year round, stabilising thus and sustaining constant economic activity and job opportunities.
Today, hopes in Egypt are high that national mega-projects, New Alamein being one of them, would create stable communities that congregate around thriving economic activity: agricultural, industrial, commercial or otherwise. Such projects are vital tributaries for human, economic and urban development, and can pump new blood into national planning. They have the potential not only of attracting investment, but also of spilling over to boost activity and investment in their vicinity.
Apart from New Alamein, however, a vision is in place to give the North Coast a touristic outlook that promises to make it a substantial contributor to Egypt’s national income. The idea is to make North Coast resorts available for tourist use during the ‘dead season’ when Egyptian families close their houses down because school holidays are over, and because of colder weather. But we must realise that what Egyptians see as cold winter weather in our North Coast is attractive weather for tourists from North Europe where temperatures dip to below zero Celsius in winter. With the exception of a few, well-known wintery short spells that witness heavy rains, gusty winds, and rough seas, known on the calendar as nawat—the weather is generally mild and sunny, totally devoid of the biting winter chill. Travel agencies hope to be able to market Egypt’s North Coast as an attractive winter tourist destination. Tourism experts recommend investment in the hotelier business, and in turning North Coast resorts into timeshare units. Yet this recommendation would require that such units be developed or upgraded to conform to timeshare standards, a not impossible goal to attain. The question is whether we have the will and the courage to change the North Coast? Or will it remain the perpetual “issue of every season”?
23 September 2018