Tourism development versus nature conservation in Wadi El Gemal Protected Area along the Red Sea, Egypt

The conflict is latent and intractable as it reflects the legal chaos in Egypt, particularly in relation to natural resources management and development.


 Wadi el Gemal Protected Area (WGPA) was established in 2003 as a very large marine and terrestrial protectorate in the Southern Red Sea, located 325 km south of Hurghada. The WGPA fits the National Park (IUCN Category II) criteria as it is of substantial size, encompasses a combination of marine/terrestrial ecosystem not significantly altered by man and largely in pristine natural condition, has outstanding landscape features, and is managed in a way that may contribute to local economy through promoting educational and sustainable tourism in the sense that will not minimize effectiveness of the conservation efforts in the park (Baha El Din, 2003). However, although sustainable tourism development is stated as one objective of its management plan and despite the magnificent ecotourism potential in the park,  the park is not developed for ecotourism till now.

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Basic Data
NameTourism development versus nature conservation in Wadi El Gemal Protected Area along the Red Sea, Egypt
ProvinceThe National Park is located 325 km south of Hurghada
SiteThe Egyptian Red Sea
Accuracy of LocationMEDIUM regional level
Source of Conflict
Type of Conflict (1st level)Tourism Recreation
Type of Conflict (2nd level)Establishment of reserves/national parks
Specific CommoditiesTourism services
Project Details and Actors
Project Details Wadi el Gemal Protected Area (WGPA) was established in 2003 as a marine and terrestrial protectorate in the Southern Red Sea, located 325 km south of Hurghada. It has an area of over 6,000 sq kms, terrestrial and maritime. However, although sustainable tourism development is stated as one objective of its management plan and despite the magnificent ecotourism potential in the park, the park is not developed for ecotourism till now. Bedouins commuity

inhabits the national park. Tourists must pay a fee to enterr the WGPA.

According to a IUCN blog entry written in 2016 by a member of a "public-private partnership" (1) interested in eco-tourism," Egypt has developed an effective protected area system with significant investments in the development of staff capacity and protected area information, plans and infrastructure. The prevailing tourism model, particularly in the national parks, are mass tourism activities (e.g. bus tours in the park) that do not create substantial income for the local communities living in and around the park, nor contribute to the protection of the park’s biodiversity. Wadi el Gemal national Park is the third largest national park in the Arabian Desert and was officially declared a national park in 2003, including an area of 4,770 km2 of land and 2,000 km2 of marine waters. Due to its delta, its mountainous landscape, its 120 km of Red Sea coastline as well as its extensive coral reefs, it counts as one of the most beautiful national parks in Egypt. Wadi el Gemal is the home of about 7,000 Bedouins from the Ababda tribe which mostly live on shepherding camels, sheep and goats. Tourism activities do not significantly contribute to their income. The park’s tourism infrastructure is poorly developed, and locally produced sustainable ecotourism products are not offered. The park hardly generates any income and faces growing environmental problems such as increasing waste disposals in the park’s region and on the coastline. Also, any visitor information system is completely missing within the park, thus visitors and even locals are not aware that they are visiting a fragile protected area. Especially untouched nature and marine biodiversity are the main attractions for the hotels and resorts in Wadi el Gemal National Park and the surrounding Marsa Alam area.

It was crucial to advocate for a well-maintained Wadi el Gemal National Park offering unique authentic local tourism products would be an “USP “(unique selling proposition) for the region, attracting a different, nature and culture oriented target group, replacing cheap all-inclusive mass tourism.

To reach that target, a public-private-partnership (PPP) project ( ‘July 2014 – July 2016’ between Wadi el Gemal National Park, Gorgonia Beach Resort in Marsa Alam, Egypt ( and DEG - KFW Development Bank to develop the ecotourism business in the area and promote the Park as an ecotourism destination for international tourists. "
Project Area (in hectares)600,000
Type of PopulationRural
Potential Affected Population7,000 (Ababda tribe)
Start Date2003
Relevant government actorsThe Egyptian Environmental Affairs Agency

The Tourism Development Authority
International and Financial InstitutionsInternational Union for the Conservation of Nature (IUCN )
The Conflict and the Mobilization
Intensity of Conflict (at highest level)LATENT (no visible organising at the moment)
When did the mobilization beginLATENT (no visible resistance)
Groups MobilizingIndigenous groups or traditional communities
Local government/political parties
Recreational users
Wadi El Gemal is home to about 7,000 indigenous people from the Ababda tribe.
Forms of MobilizationDevelopment of alternative proposals
Lawsuits, court cases, judicial activism
Appeals/recourse to economic valuation of the environment
Environmental ImpactsPotential: Biodiversity loss (wildlife, agro-diversity)
OtherThe conflict is reflected in out of action tourism development plans and legal disputes/ lawsuits that are filed by the EEAA against the TDA. Rich coral reefs.
OtherLand disputes disabled development plans
Project StatusStopped
Pathways for conflict outcome / responseInstitutional changes
Land demarcation
Court decision (failure for environmental justice)
Court decision (undecided)
New legislation
New Environmental Impact Assessment/Study
Withdrawal of company/investment
Development of AlternativesThe potential solution of the conflict requires reconstructing or reshaping the nature of the ‘‘relationship’’ between the EEAA and the TDA. it According to Moneer (2015) a conciliation between the two authorities means that the “independent agency approach,” as previously advanced by the EEAA, should be less important as a cooperative approach to the management of the WGPA is to be stressed. According to Moneer (2015), the conflicting visions, which pitted nature conservation against development (tourism), are the main stumbling blocks to forging a commitment to collaboration between the two authorities.

Once a shared vision – the promotion of ecotourism as a tool for both nature conservation and economic development - is established, a rethinking of the cooperative arrangements between the two authorities could result. These cooperative arrangements are required to support the horizontal integration of the resources necessary to achieve the shared vision. In this regard, the EEAA pinpointed an issue that was key to the successful containment of the inherent conflict over ecotourism development in Wadi el Gemal – that being, the desire to sustain the quality and ecological integrity of the resources base in the WGPA (Moneer, 2015).

The TDA also showed concern for the ecological sustainability of the area, although for different reasons. The TDA’s reasons related to their desire to maintain the quality of the ecotourism experience itself. In this regard, the TDA highlighted that the quality of the ecotourism experience is not only based on the beauty and integrity of the natural resources, but also on the level of interaction with nature, and the expectations and experiences of the ecotourists themselves. The last two factors are discussed in other studies, for example, Boyd and Butler (1996).

According to the results Moneer's (2015) study, monitoring, information sharing and law enforcement are the three main policy tools that were defined as important in promoting integration and partnership between the two agencies, in order to achieve and maintain the sustainable management of the WGPA
Do you consider this as a success?Not Sure
Why? Explain briefly.If the legal chaos in Egypt is settled and if the two authorities that are responsible for the management and development of natural resources are managed to work in cooperation and shared vision, this will contribute to environmental justice
Sources and Materials

TDA, 2003. Land Use Management Plan .South Mersa Alam, Red Sea Coast, Egypt. Red Sea Sustainable Tourism Initiative. Task Order No.807.TDA.Cairo.

TDA, 2004. Ecotourism development in the southern Red Sea region. Cairo.

Tabet, L., Fanning, L., 2012. Integrated coastal zone management under authoritarian rule: An evaluation framework of coastal governance in Egypt. Ocean and coastal management, 61, 1-9.

Baha Eldin, S. 1998. Towards establishing a network plan for protected areas. Draft consultative draft. Nature Conservation Sector/ EEAA. Cairo.

Khallaf, Cherine Mamdouh, The Index of Ecotourism Impacts The Case of Wadi El Gemal Protected Area in Egypt (December 16, 2009). Available at SSRN:

Richter, T., Steiner, C., 2007. Sectoral transformations in neo-patrimonial rentier states: Tourism development and state policy in Egypt. GIGA Working Papers N 61. GIGA German Institute of Global and Area Studies / Leibniz-Institut für Globale und Regionale Studien, Hamburg, Germany.

Moneer, A., 2015. Understanding and moving towards resolution of environmental conflicts: Framing and reframing of environmental conflicts in Wadi el Gemal Protected Area/Egypt. PhD theis, Freiburg University,Germany.


(1) IUCN. Public Private Partnership for Ecotourism Development in Wadi el Gemal National Park in Egypt. 4 Aug 2016 . Mahmoud Sarhan (CEESP member)
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Legal pluralism in WGPA
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Meta Information
ContributorDr. Aziza Moneer. Suez Canal University, [email protected]
Last update24/07/2018