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Tourism in Marsa Alam and Disenfranchisement of Indigenous Community, Egypt

Marsa Alam's Ababda struggle against environmental stressors and tourist development that is driving their disenfranchisement, loss of traditional way of living and livelihoods.


The Ababda are the indigenous people inhabiting the southern part of Egypt's Eastern Desert between the Nile and Red Sea. Throughout modern history, they have struggled against environmental stressors like encroaching desertification and drought. As well as socio-economic stressors due to state efforts for their assimilation and formalisation, and for the exploitation of their natural resources. These have been compounded by ongoing mining and extraction activities by state companies in the area. In 2003, a large part of Marsa Alam was declared a protected area. This, however, led to further land tenure insecurity and loss of access to their natural resources, such as some beaches for fishing and areas of their land. Numerous donor-funded "community development" projects are designed without any consultation or participation from the local community, and without addressing their actual needs. Furthermore, the objective of maximising the tourism attraction potential of the area has so far led to the monopoly of the tourist industry by state actors and stakeholders, and the disenfranchisement of the locals. Leaving the community to bear the brunt of the environmental impacts of its activities. The community founded the Abu Ghosoun Development Association to represent its needs and demands, and is also actively using all available channels to reach out to state officials.

Basic Data
Name of conflict:Tourism in Marsa Alam and Disenfranchisement of Indigenous Community, Egypt
State or province:Red Sea Governorate
Location of conflict:Marsa Alam
Accuracy of locationHIGH (Local level)
Source of Conflict
Type of conflict: 1st level:Biodiversity conservation conflicts
Type of conflict: 2nd level :Mineral ore exploration
Establishment of reserves/national parks
Mineral processing
Tourism facilities (ski resorts, hotels, marinas)
Wetlands and coastal zone management
Specific commodities:Tourism services
Biological resources
Project Details and Actors
Project details:

Tourist agencies advertise as follows: "A few years ago, Marsa Alam was still just a quiet fishing village of South Egypt, but since the construction of the International Airport in 2001, the place attracts more and more divers every year. They come here for pristine reefs and to avoid the crowded dive sites of Sharm El Sheikh and Hurghada in the north of the Red Sea."

Project area:745,000
Type of populationRural
Affected Population:approximately 5,000 (conservative estimate)
Start of the conflict:2003
Relevant government actors:Egyptian Environmental Affairs Authority (EEAA)
Nature Conservation Sector (NCS)
Red Sea Governorate
Marsa Alam City Council
International and Finance InstitutionsUnited Nations Development Program (UNDP) from United States of America
Italian DevelopmentCooperation Agency (AICS) from Italy - One of the major donors and project partners for the community development in Marsa Alam.
Global Environment Facility (GEF) from United States of America - GEF is one of the key donors and project partners in Marsa Alam and Egypt's protected areas.
Environmental justice organizations (and other supporters) and their websites, if available:Abou Ghosoun Community Development Association
Conflict and Mobilization
IntensityLOW (some local organising)
Reaction stageMobilization for reparations once impacts have been felt
Groups mobilizing:Indigenous groups or traditional communities
Ethnically/racially discriminated groups
Ababda are indigenous people inhabiting the southern part of Egypt's Eastern Desert between the Nile and Red Sea
Fisher people
Forms of mobilization:Development of alternative proposals
Involvement of national and international NGOs
Land occupation
Objections to the EIA
Official complaint letters and petitions
Appeals/recourse to economic valuation of the environment
Impacts of the project
Environmental ImpactsVisible: Biodiversity loss (wildlife, agro-diversity), Desertification/Drought, Waste overflow, Surface water pollution / Decreasing water (physico-chemical, biological) quality
Potential: Loss of landscape/aesthetic degradation
Socio-economical ImpactsVisible: Increase in Corruption/Co-optation of different actors, Displacement, Loss of livelihood, Loss of traditional knowledge/practices/cultures, Land dispossession, Loss of landscape/sense of place
Project StatusUnder construction
Conflict outcome / response:Corruption
Land demarcation
Negotiated alternative solution
Under negotiation
Development of alternatives:The local community has expressed the need for a community-managed tourist project and some land tenure and management rights.
Do you consider this an environmental justice success? Was environmental justice served?:Not Sure
Briefly explain:Despite very little leverage, and a repressive atmosphere that stifles civil action, the local indigenous community is actively engaged in using all available communication channels with state officials and key actors to express their demands and achieve minimum security against impacts of ongoing development and a degree of participation.
Sources and Materials
Links to general newspaper articles, blogs or other websites

News article about Red Sea Governor instructions for demands by Abu Ghosoun Community Development Association to be met, published on 4 October 2017 [Arabic]
[click to view]

Related media links to videos, campaigns, social network

The official tourism agency view
[click to view]

Life and Tradition of the Ababda Nomads, Jolanda E.M.F. Bold-Seldenthuis (The Netherlands).(Collaboration between the Ababda and archeologists, long list of references). 43 pages. Int. J. of Intangible Heritage, 2, 2007.
[click to view]

Other documents

Ababda, from a tourist leaflet
[click to view]

From G.L.Andersen et al, J. of Arid Environments, 106, 2014,
[click to view]

Meta information
Last update13/08/2018
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