Tourism along the Sinai Peninsula’s Gulf of Aqaba coastline has staged a post-COVID revival of sorts thanks in large part to hordes of Israeli Jews headed in the (historically) wrong direction. This Passover, for example, roughly 3,500 years after leaving en masse, thousands of Jews were expected to retrace their ancient steps back into the Sinai Peninsula. An article appearing in the April 13 Times of Israel anticipated that more Israelis would visit Sinai this Pesach than “since the Red Sea split.” The surge was to be aided by a new, direct flight from Tel Aviv to Sharm el Sheikh International Airport provided by Arkia, Israel’s discount airline, its second largest, founded in 1949.
Sharm El Sheikh, which lies at the southern tip of the Sinai Peninsula beside the Red Sea, is known as one of the world’s top scuba diving destinations featuring magnificent coral reefs and two sunken shipwrecks from World War II. It sits 40 miles south of prime Israeli vacation hotspot, Dahab, 70 miles south of equally popular Nuweibaa, and 100 miles south of Taba, all of which lie in along Egypt’s Gulf of Aqaba coastline.
The Passover surge was neither unprecedented nor unexpected. Per the same Times of Israel article, in October of 2019, a prime month for Israeli vacations (and a period preceding the debut of COVID), more than 150,000 Israelis visited Sinai. This Passover was also the first in over a decade during which Israel’s National Security Council had scaled back travel warnings in that direction. Because of COVID, Israel had closed its entrance to Sinai at Taba, just south of Eilat, for 54 weeks but, in March 2021, the Israeli government began allowing up to 300 Israelis per day to pass into Egypt. Now the border has been open without restrictions since September 2021.
Understandably, the Aqaba coastline was not always wildly popular—to anyone. In the past, periodic political instabilities, occasional hotel terror bombings and the 2015 bombing of a Russian airliner that had departed from Sharm el Sheikh had profoundly affected tourism of all kinds to Sinai. But beginning in 2016, threats of terror slowly diminished and Israeli visits to Sinai began to climb steadily, nearly doubling between 2017 and 2019. Egyptian property owners at the popular beach spots began to build more guest huts and amenities in anticipation of further growth. Even after COVID lockdowns struck, many owners continued to expand their facilities in anticipation of guests that they felt certain would return.
The same Times article recounts the experience of Farag Ode, age 38, who had finished his first year as manager of New Moon Island Beach Camp and Restaurant, a family-owned resort just north of Nuweibaa, in March of 2020. “‘New Moon Island was like many of the other beach camps in Ras Shaitan, [Ode said] with a scattering of bamboo huts on the beach.’ But Ode had bigger visions, and he was in the midst of overseeing major renovations, including adding a glass-paneled restaurant, a new reception building, and a new section of air-conditioned rooms, when the pandemic shut everything down.
“‘We totally closed the place for three or four months, with only the security people and the people watering the plants here,’ he said. ‘All the workers went back to their houses, and we paid them half salary and gave them rice for their families.’
“Ode said between their savings and selling off some of their vehicles, they were able to make it through the lockdown period and continue the building projects begun prior to the pandemic. Egyptians from Cairo started dribbling in over the summer of 2020, after Sinai was declared a ‘green zone’ for domestic travelers who could provide a negative COVID test. Israelis began to return, slowly, in March 2021. New Moon Island slowly increased capacity from 25% to 50%, and finally to 100% after the entire staff got vaccinated…
“‘You have to always keep moving with the circle of trends, you can’t stop the circle,’ said Ode. ‘Some camps have stopped and don’t move with the trends, and they don’t have work. Those that moved with the trends, they have work.”
Whether Ode knows much about Passover or the words of the prophet Isaiah was unclear from the article, but Egypt is mentioned in the Tanach 546 times. Where exactly this latest comingling between Mitsrayim and Israel fits in biblical prophecy is also not clear. Perhaps the 19th chapter of Isaiah applies to recent developments, perhaps not.
“He will send them a Savior and a Champion, and He will deliver them. Thus the Lord will make Himself known to Egypt, and the Egyptians will know the Lord in that day. They will even worship with sacrifice and offering, and will make a vow to the Lord and perform it. The Lord will strike Egypt, striking but healing; so they will return to the Lord, and He will respond to them and will heal them… In that day Israel will be the third party with Egypt and Assyria, a blessing in the midst of the earth, whom the Lord of hosts has blessed, saying, “Blessed is Egypt My people, and Assyria the work of My hands, and Israel My inheritance.” (Isa 19:19-25)