Egyptian authorities are trying to create a new tourist resort in a western desert oasis by selling land there for give-away prices to both local and foreign investors.
After drawing tourists to its pharaonic monuments along the Nile Valley and more recently to its Red Sea resorts, the tourism ministry is trying to develop the Kharga Oasis, deep in the southwestern desert.
The oasis, about 500 kilometers (300 miles) from Cairo, has all the natural assets — cleanness, quiet, and desert landscapes — to produce a new tourist magnet, ministry officials said during a conference last week in Kharga.
Tourism Minister Mamduh Al-Beltagui has urged investors to put their money in the region. The governorate of the New Valley, where Kharga is located, has only 200,000 residents for an area that accounts for 36 percent of the surface of the country, or one million square kilometers (400,000 square miles).
Nearly 92 percent of Egypt's 65 million people live in a narrow green and fertile strip on both banks of the Nile, which represents only five percent of the country's surface area.
To encourage investors to build hotels and other resorts, the government decided to sell desert lots outside the oasis administrative area for one pound (25 cents) per square meter (10.76 square feet). This symbolic price, offered to both Egyptian and foreign investors, includes the infrastructure for water and electricity.
The government has invested 16.5 billion pounds ($4.3 billion) in 20 years in the governorate, governor Selmi Selim said. "The number of tourists visiting the region hit 122,000 people in the region in the year 2000, with an increase of 40,000 over the preceding year," Selim said.
The oases of Dakhla, Kharga and Farafra are the largest of the New Valley governorate, inhabited by a mix of local people and Egyptians who migrated from the Upper Nile valley in 1959.
A local government official told AFP on condition of anonymity that the governorate lacks water, despite official information indicating large underground sources. He added that a detailed study is needed to confirm such information and that only oil firms, with their sophisticated geological survey equipment, are able to conduct such a probe.
Beltagui stressed the region has two airports as well as a road network linking it to other tourist resorts, especially the pharaonic temple city of Luxor, around 245 kilometers (150 miles) east of Kharga.
A Kharga tourism official said the governorate has some 120 historic sites covering the following eras: prehistoric, pharaonic, early Coptic Christian, Greco-Roman, Persian and Islamic.
The chief attractions are the temple of Amun at Hibis, which dates back to the Persian era, and the Coptic necropolis of Al-Baqawat, which dates back to the third century AD. — (AFP, Kharga Oasis)
by Assaad Abboud
© Agence France Presse 2001
© 2001 Mena Report (www.menareport.com)