The marine aquatic and community life in Egypt’s sunny Red Sea resort of Sharm El-Sheikh is in danger as a result of a government project along the coast.
According to activists and local community group Sinai Reef, a government project aimed at repairing cracks in Ras Umm el-Sid cliff risks destroying key diving sites and large parts of the area’s coral reef.
Up to nine cracks had been discovered in the cliff and the government had hired the state-owned Arab Contractors to restore and repair the cracks. However, activists claim that the reconstruction work is being executed carelessly and without the advice of specialists or involvement by the public.
“The Prime Minister suspended the work because it threatens the lives of the people,” explains Karim Malak, Sinai Reef’s co-founder, regarding the Prime Minister’s decision to suspend the work following weeks of protest.
“Sinai Reef’s consultant Dr. Mamdouh Hamza showed that not only would the undertaken work cost more money, but it would destroy the cliff-top faster and not solve the mechanical threat to the cliff, making it prone to collapse.”
Reconstruction efforts were suspended by an order from the Prime Minister Ibrahim Mehleb after a meeting with concerned locals and Sinai Reef.
“Had the work continued, coral reefs overlooking the marine coastal zone of Ras Muhammed and other key diving sites would have been buried in rubble and sand particles, killing aquatic life,” says Karim before adding that the coral reef would slowly have decayed, “Sand particles would have cloaked sunlight and killed the algae which coral reefs and some fish feed off.”
Yet, the order of suspension by the Prime Minister also required that the Arab Contractors and the local South Sinai governorate cooperate with Sinai Reef and other concerned locals. Sinai Reef says that the Prime Minister ordered the creation of a coordinating committee so that any further work would require the revision and input of the community.
South Sinai governorate to be sued?
However, Karim says that the suspension was not purely out of concern for the reef.
“The Prime Minister suspended the work because there is a police complaint filed by Sinai Reef against the governor which will soon become a court case,” states Karim, adding that certain individuals attempted to cover up the complaint by not transferring it to the prosecutor’s office.
Prior to what appears to have been a peaceful settlement, tension was high in the community. In one incident, members of the local community stood in front of cranes and bulldozers to prevent the construction work to continue due to the governorate’s unwillingness to listen to the concerns surrounding the project.
“We mobilized residents and an altercation broke out as police forces encircles us,” says Karim. Video of the incident, including deliberations with local officials on the site of construction can be seen below.
Attempts to shut down Sinai Reef
According to the group, the governor of South Sinai, General Khalid Fouda, has taken extra-legal steps to prevent Sinai Reef from becoming licensed. The group says it completed all required paperwork two months ago but that the governor took extraordinary steps to halt that paperwork from being admitted.
Yet, today, a breakthrough occurred. While two court warnings were in the process of being sent to the Ministry of Social Solidarity, which is responsible for whether or not Sinai Reef is granted a license, the group received word that it its licensing is now being processed.
“[News on the risks to the reef must have] reverberated across government echelons,” says Karim of the breakthrough, “We had been going ahead with our court case [before the breakthrough] so that this [PM’s decision] is not just a temporary measure [which in the future would allow] construction work to resume.”
But, who are Sinai Reef?
Sinai Reef was started in 2013 and consists of Egyptians and foreigners, including foreign residents that have lived in Sharm El-Sheikh for many years. The members are passionate about ensuring the protection of the area’s environmental and marine life and ensuring that there is greater community participation in government decisions.
Below is one testimonial from a foreign resident living in Sharm El-Sheikh who explains his opposition to the government’s construction work at the cliff.
The group has gained exposure in the past few weeks over its protests at the construction work, but Karim explains that Sinai Reef also aims to promote other issues and support the fostering of community relationships and participation.
If you would like to volunteer, contact Sinai Reef at firstname.lastname@example.org