Egypt’s north Mediterranean coast, which extends some 500km from Alexandria to Salloum, is the choice destination of thousands of Egyptian holidaymakers who flock there every summer to enjoy its cool breeze and pristine beaches. Some 105 kilometres west of Alexandria lies Alamein, site of the historic WWII battle in 1942, and Alamein War Cemetery where British, French, Australian, Italian, and German soldiers who died in the battle were interred. Today, not far from this spot, a national megaproject is on the rise: New Alamein City. The first phase opened in 2018, and the project is now well into its second phase. New Alamein is one of Egypt’s 4G cities, and has been planned as a centre for tourism, education and government. The new city will include three universities, 15 skyscrapers and 10 coastal towers. Holidaymakers who drive by are invariably impressed by what has already been achieved and by the current construction work in full swing.
New Alamein is the urban and developmental answer to the north coast dilemma which I repeatedly wrote about in great frustration because there appeared to be no answer in sight. The dilemma concerns a long stretch of prime land that houses splendid beach resorts which spring to life no more than four months every year then completely shut down the remaining part of the year leaving the place derelict. The reason is that these beach resorts are all privately owned; their owners open or shut them at whim. I see this as a terrible waste of prime resource that could have been a great touristic investment opportunity.
The story goes back to the 1980s when, in a surprise inexplicable move that lacked a comprehensive national planning outlook, the government decided to do something about Egypt’s vast coastland. It put the north Mediterranean coast in the charge of the Ministry of Housing and New Urban Communities which was then headed by Hassaballah al-Kafrawi, later dubbed the godfather of north coast investment. The eastern coasts of the Red Sea and South Sinai were charged to the Ministry of Tourism; its then Minister was Fouad Sultan. I wrote that the situation reminded me of a wealthy man who divided his wealth among his two sons, and left each to use his share the way he wished. So what happened with Egypt’s two long coasts?
In what appeared to be an absent national plan, each of the two ministers strove to develop the sector in his charge according to his vision; the two visions proved to be divergent in outlook. The Ministry of Housing divided the north coast from Alexandria to Alamein into plots of lands for developing as tourist resorts. These were sold to investors that included businessmen, contractor companies, cooperatives or professional syndicates to design, build them, and sell them as holiday resorts. The law protecting private property did not entitle the Ministry of Housing to monitor the seriousness of the investors in executing their projects over the lands they had purchased, nor did it allow the Ministry to decide on the type or use of units to be built. Today, some four decades later, the largest portion of the north coast has become “non-touristic” holiday resorts which include private houses used by only their owners for mostly no more than the four summer months. During this period, the area brims with life, activities, clamour and services. But once the holidaymakers close their houses and leave, the activities and services—which have by now taken a seasonal character—leave too, and the area is left desolate, empty of life and sustainable job opportunities.
Egypt’s eastern coast, meanwhile, was undergoing a different development. With a touristic outlook, the Ministry of Tourism joined hands with the governors of the Red Sea and South Sinai in a successful scheme of touristic development. The land on the coast was divided into plots which were not sold but were offered to investors to build and operate touristic projects.
This policy entitled the Ministry to take back any plot of land if an investor failed to execute a project according to their specified touristic features and time frame. Legislation decreed that hotel share should be no less than 75 per cent of the capacity of any given project, and that they should be managed by hotel companies and not sold. This policy produced a plethora of hotels that now constitute the backbone of tourist investment in the region, ensuring sustainable operation and job opportunities all year round, giving a huge boost to national income.
Many have been the experts who lamented the stark difference between the north and the east coasts, and wished that the government would somehow give a kiss of life to the north coast. Even though there once was a serious initiative to save the north coast from its winter hibernation, it never saw light. I plan to tackle this initiative in detail in an upcoming editorial, especially that this initiative constitutes an investment and touristic pattern that is widespread in many places in the world. But the real rescue came with New Alamein City which is a turning point in the investment of the north coast, and which I consider to be the urban and developmental answer to the north coast dilemma. The features and fundamentals of this extraordinary project will be the subject of an upcoming editorial.
30 July 2021