First Published: 2017-09-12

Egypt seeks to renew interest in Sinais religious sites
Researchers are divided on location of biblical Mount Sinai, but some believe that Mount Horeb in Egypt is where Moses received the Ten Commandments.
Middle East Online

By Hassan Abdel Zaher - CAIRO

Hikers walk in the Wadi Hudra area in South Sinai.

Egypt is seeking to rebrand Sinai as a destination for international religious tourism despite tight security conditions in parts of the peninsula because of bloody incidents between the army and a branch of the Islamic State (ISIS).

The government is organising a conference in September to promote Sinais potential as an international religious tourism centre. It is hoping to capitalise on the significance the area holds for the three major monotheistic religions to attract millions of pilgrims and visitors every year.

Sinai is a place where all religions meet, said Gaber Taye, a senior official at the Ministry of Religious Endowments, which is sponsoring the new drive. It is strongly relevant to Islam, Christianity and Judaism.

For the past four years, Sinai, which has some of Egypts most renowned beaches and resorts, including Sharm el-Sheikh, has made headlines, not for its tourist charm, but for the blood spilled in it. ISIS militants carried out attacks that claimed the lives of hundreds of troops and policemen and turned some parts of northern Sinai into no-go areas for civilians.

ISIS has specifically targeted Christians, forcing hundreds of Christian families to flee to cities west of the Suez Canal.

Followers of Islam, Christianity and Judaism would lose a lot by not visiting religious sites in Sinai, Taye said. We are speaking here of sites that witnessed the very beginning of the three religions.

Among the sites the ministry will try to put on the international tourism map is Mount Sinai. Also known as Mount Horeb, it is mentioned many times in the Book of Exodus, the Bible and the Quran. Researchers are divided on the location of the real Mount Sinai and many say that the one in Sinai is where Moses is believed to have received the Ten Commandments.

Near Mount Sinai is Saint Catherines Monastery, said to be the oldest continually occupied monastery in the world.

The Companions Mosque opened in Sharm el-Sheikh in March. It cost $1.6 million to build and can accommodate up to 3,000 people.

Egypts tourism sector was dealt a painful blow in late 2015 when ISIS operatives allegedly planted a bomb on a Russian passenger plane, killing 224 people on board. This led to Russia and other countries suspending flights to Egyptian tourist destinations, depriving Egypt of millions of international tourists and billions of dollars in lost revenues.

International tourists have started returning to Egypt in numbers in recent months, with hotel occupancy in traditional destinations such as Sharm el-Sheikh, Hurghada and Luxor experiencing an increased number of visitors.

Tourism experts said, however, that Egypt has a long way to go before it returns to the pre-Russian plane bombing tourist flow rates.

This is why we say putting Sinais religious sites on the international religious tourism map will carry a huge number of benefits, said Ahmed Shoukry, the head of the International Tourism section at the Ministry of Tourism. This can bring in a new type of tourists overlooked for years by entertainment and heritage tourism campaigns.

Renewed international interest in Sinai, especially in untraditional tourist sites, could sabotage plans by the ISIS militants bent on establishing an Islamic caliphate in Sinai, retired police Major-General Farouk Megrahi said.

The terrorists want to scare everybody out of Sinai so they can claim the land for themselves. They will hide like rats as tourism motivates development throughout the peninsula, he said.

Hassan Abdel Zaher is a Cairo-based contributor to The Arab Weekly.

This article was first published in The Arab Weekly.


Abbas calls US ambassador to Israel 'son of a dog'

Saudi crown prince keen to cement ties with US

IS controls Damascus district in surprise attack

Pro-Turkish forces loot Afrin

Iraqis flock to flea market for relics of bygone era

Netanyahu says African migrants threaten Jewish majority

US Senate votes on involvement in Yemen war as Saudi prince visits

What a ‘limited strike’ against Syria’s Assad might mean

Natural gas in eastern Mediterranean fuels increasing tensions

UN says Turkey security measures 'curtail human rights'

Erdogan tells US to stop ‘deceiving’, start helping on Syria

French ex-president held over Libya financing allegations

NGO says Israeli army violating Palestinian minors’ rights

Human rights chief slams Security Council for inaction on Syria

US warns Turkey over civilians caught in Syria assault

Erdogan vows to expand Syria op to other Kurdish-held areas

Kurdish envoy accuses foreign powers of ignoring Turkish war crimes

Morocco authorities vow to close Jerada's abandoned mines

Israeli soldier sees manslaughter sentence slashed

Turkey insists no plans to remain in Afrin

Cairo voters show unwavering support for native son Sisi

Forum in Jordan explores new teaching techniques

Gaza Strip woes receive renewed attention but no fix is expected

Kurds, Syrian opposition condemn Afrin looting

36 jihadists killed in Egypt’s Sinai

Israel arrests French consulate worker for gun smuggling

Israel prepares to demolish Jerusalem attacker's home

Saudi crown prince says his country to seek nuclear bomb if Iran does

Arab women artists in diaspora focus on identity and loss

Tunisia’s Central Bank targets inflation but may hurt growth prospects

Libya’s health system reflects a larger humanitarian crisis

Israel blasts Gaza underground tunnel

Abu Dhabi awards France's Total stakes in oil concessions

Erdogan says Afrin city centre under ‘total’ control

Egypt tries to contain Sudan but challenges, suspicions remain

US defence secretary presses Oman on Iran weapons smuggling

Syrian regime retakes two towns from Ghouta rebels

Hamas shutters mobile firm after Gaza attack on PM

Israel punishes family members of West Bank attacker

Syria opposition says UN 'failed to prevent' Assad 'crimes'

UK tries to soothe Egyptian anger over mob attack death

Hundreds of thousands flee in dual Syria assaults

Turkish Cypriots vow to stand firm in gas dispute

Intensifying assaults in Syria spark dual evacuations

Tearful reunions, uncertain fates for Syrians fleeing Ghouta