Terrifying bluffs, sublime shores, ancient and modern history, tourism and terrorism—nowhere on earth do these come together the way they do in the Sinai Peninsula.
For over 40 years, the Sinai Peninsula was an oasis of peace in a war-torn region. Taken by Israel in the Six Day War of 1967, it was returned to Egypt as part of the historic 1977 peace treaty and demilitarized. Over the succeeding decades, its barren desert beauty and the plethora of exotic marine wildlife in its southern waters attracted tourists from around the world, including thousands of Israelis, who flocked there to enjoy what came to be called the “Red Sea Riviera.”
All this tragically ended in 2011. When the Egyptian Revolution toppled the ancien regime of Hosni Mubarak, the Sinai collapsed into anarchy, with the Egyptian army struggling against radical Islamists, Bedouin tribes, and terrorists from the neighboring Gaza Strip. Tourism, the peninsula’s only industry, collapsed, and only a handful of brave souls now make their way to what was once one of the Middle East’s most popular vacation spots.
Tower photographer Aviram Valdman was one of them. During his recent trip to the Sinai, he saw a place changed beyond recognition. The region is now crisscrossed with Egyptian army roadblocks and checkpoints, popular tourist spots and hotels lie empty, construction sites have been abandoned, and the Bedouin tribes that once thrived on the tourist trade are falling into poverty.
At the same time, the Sinai’s stark beauty remains timeless and unaffected by transient human events. Valdman ascended Mount Sinai and saw Russian pilgrims greet the dawn. He then made his way to Nuweiba, a seaside Bedouin village that was once filled with tourists, and saw both the desperation of the villagers and their ongoing love for this strange place where the desert and the sea come together.
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Banner Photo: Aviram Valdman / The Tower