CAIRO: More than 100 hikers and Bedouin tribesmen trekked through south Sinai in late November, as part of the third Sinai is Safe Campaign.
“[The campaign] is boosting the Egyptian hiking scene in a big way, which is a new development and important if the European market continues to stay away. It will help keep at least some of the tourism alive that local people here need so badly, and especially now,” said organizer Ben Hoffler.
Following an Oct. 31 plane crash that claimed the lives of 224 Russian and Ukrainian passengers and crew, for which the Islamic State group claimed responsibility, the U.K. and Russia announced they would suspend flights to the restive peninsula.
“Sinai is Safe III was the toughest one we’ve ever organized, given the news from Sharm, the attacks in Paris and other areas; which got a lot of folks worried and put us under pressure to cancel,” Hoffler said, adding that “getting people hiking with the Bedouin tribes it’s about showing a new side of the Sinai and creating a counter narrative to bad news.”
The decisions of Russia and the UK to halt their flights to Egypt have resulted in financial losses estimated at 2.2 billion EGP ($275 million), Minister of Tourism Hisham Zaazou said in Nov. 26 news conference.
Travel warnings from various governments have urged holidaymakers to remain inside major cities and resorts. In September, a group of Mexican tourists were attacked in the Sahara Desert near the Bahariya Oasis when Egyptian security mistook them for a militant group, killing 12 (eight Mexicans and four Egyptians.)
“The Bedouin feel a huge sense of guardianship and responsibility for any tourists who travel with them in their tribal areas and always make the best, most genuine and far-reaching efforts they can to keep them safe,” said Hoffler, who hopes to challenge perceptions that the entire Sinai Peninsula is a tinderbox.
Fayez Antonious, an Egyptian hiker who says he travels to Sinai between four and five times a year, brought his children on the hike.
“We all think Sinai is just one piece full of troubles, although … North and South Sinai are geographically separated, and South Sinai is completely safe,” he told The Cairo Post in an email.
Nora Mortagui, a fellow trekker, works in an Egyptian NGO developing Bedouin communities in South Sinai, and said that she vists Sinai nearly 90 days for the past year and a half, said that the Bedouins treat hikers with “a lot of respect and care.”
“With the state officially announcing that we are fighting terrorism ‘in Sinai,’ not only foreigners, but Egyptians as well, think that ALL of Sinai is a battle field,” said Engy Samir, another hiker.
Sinai is Safe is planning another hike in 2016, “probably in a new part of the Sinai, with a new tribe,” said Hoffler, adding that “it’s important the campaign evolves, doing new things, drawing attention to new areas and tribes and spreading the benefits the event generates.”