Hundreds of people flocked to Alexandria’s beaches after Prime Minister Mustafa Madbouli announced on 22 May that they would be reopened with precautionary measures as part of plans to restore normal life in the wake of the coronavirus crisis.
The new measures include the reopening of all private and public beaches in a decision that many have been longing for after almost a year and a half of waiting.
The reopening of beaches comes as a relief for many beachgoers not only in Egypt but also across the Arab world who regard the Mediterranean city of Alexandria as one of their favourite resort destinations. It also comes as a blessing to beach managers, salespersons, sailors, concession-stand operators and many others businesses that rely on beach tourism in summer.
Smiles were everywhere in Alexandria this week, from the youngest to the oldest employees working on the beaches and from the youngest to the oldest beachgoers. “We are extremely happy that finally we can do our jobs again. I cannot believe I am standing on the beach again after such a long time. We have been suffocated in our homes for more than a year now,” said Ibrahim Imam, the Aflaton beach manager in the Miami district of Alexandria.
The pearl of the Mediterranean has regained its full glory with the opening of its sandy beaches, such as Mandara, Bianky and Miami
Imam, who has been working for more than 20 years on the beaches, cannot imagine himself doing any other job than serving his long-awaited guests. Under current measures, beach managers like Imam already abide by strict measures imposed by the government to reopen the beaches. Umbrellas are placed at least four metres apart, for example.
“We do not let anyone on the beach without making sure that they are wearing masks first and that they are adhering to social-distancing, using disinfectants, and testing their temperatures,” he said.
“We are not only here to provide beachgoers with umbrellas and a sun-lounger like many people think. We are also here to ensure the cleanliness of the beaches and bathrooms and to make sure that everything is properly disinfected. We are here to entertain guests with sports activities as well, even if they are simple ones like playing racket ball and volley ball and managing matches in teams.”
“We might spend up to 15 hours working to satisfy our guests, and in fact nowadays we work more to abide by the rules that govern beach access,” Imam added.
He said that sometimes guests violate Covid-19 rules by putting a number of umbrellas together so that groups of friends can be closer. Some people might also argue about wearing masks, he said.
Beaches might seem to be just entertaining places where people can relax and sunbathe. But to Imam and many others, they are sources of income. “The beaches seem to have attracted most of our guests,” said Riad Hemeida, a yacht broker and sales person located in Miami who was trying to get people to book a yacht tour to explore the stunning coastline of the Mediterranean city.
“People have been longing for the beaches and the water, and so they have forgotten all about other activities like yacht tours, hiking, sailing, and so on, he said.
But he hopes that in the coming weeks, more guests will take one of the three tours he offers of the wonderful scenery of Alexandria. “People often don’t realise that this is a full-blown industry that gives a living to many people inside and outside Alexandria,” he said.
MAGIC OF ALEXANDRIA
“We are also waiting for the one-day trips that help the Alexandria economy to flourish. We as salespersons benefit a lot from visitors who come from across Egypt for a day in Alexandria,” he added, saying that last year had been very difficult owing to beach closures due to the Covid-19 pandemic.
He would like to invest in the place he works at and develop more things at Miami beach. “Look at this bay,” he said, pointing at the Miami bay. “It would be great to have a restaurant offshore on a large yacht. The Gabal Al-Kor island could also be turned into a main tourist attraction in Alexandria with some creative ideas and officials who would listen to us,” he added.
Alexandria, the pearl of the Mediterranean Sea, has been known for centuries for its long sandy beaches, glistening water, and sweeping views of the city.
It remains one of the most attractive destinations for people who come from different parts of the country to enjoy this perfect location.
Ahmed Mosaad, a confectioner, had come all the way from Mansoura with his family to enjoy the Mandara beach, a free beach recently opened by the Alexandria governorate. “As soon as we heard of the beach’s reopening, we managed to take a four-day holiday to come to this joyful place,” Mosaad said.
Mosaad and his family were greatly affected by Covid-19 this year as he lost two of his relatives. “I was hesitant to come to the beach, as there might be some people not adhering to the precautionary measures, but I found that I could not simply lock myself and my children inside the house,” he said.
“And experts say that socially distanced outdoor activities are much safer than indoor ones, and this is the only way we can re-engage with the world. My children’s happiness is priceless after all,” he added.
Mahmoud, a 14-year-old who was sitting with his younger cousins building sandcastles while others were flying a giant kite, said that “after a very tiring exam period and chaotic online learning, which I hate, this is the best family getaway I could have.”
Mahmoud and most of the other children were enjoying recreational activities organised by the beach administration, such as the kids’ areas, the tanoura (whirling dervishes dance) show, and the creative handcrafts.
“This is the first time I have really enjoyed everything on the beach, especially the cleanliness of the toilets which we all suffered from before and the new activities they have created for kids and adolescents,” Mahmoud said.
The Mandara free beach is one of three administered and managed by the Alexandria governorate. In a televised interview, Mohamed Al-Sherif, the Alexandria governor, said that there were patrols across Alexandria to follow up the precautionary and preventive measures taken by the government.
“We follow-up compliance, with the closing hours of the beaches now at up to 12am. The Mandara beach is open to anyone who can walk in just by submitting an identity card. We provide umbrellas and chairs and so on. We have 66 beaches along the Alexandria coastline, and there are seven other beaches with only a LE5 entry fee,” Al-Sherif said.
The governorate advises all Alexandrians and guests to abide by all the precautionary measures taken by the government to stop the spread of Covid-19. It encourages social-distancing, staggering the use of shared spaces, encouraging handwashing, avoiding crowds, wearing masks in crowded areas, with these things being posted on signs on every beach.
THE GOOD OLD DAYS
The beaches in Alexandria extend for 50km along the coast from Abu Qir in the east to Agami in the west. Such an extended coastline creates a wide range of beaches that suit people of different classes, ages, and tastes.
No matter how much people today might enjoy the North Coast or the Red Sea resorts, they often return to two landmark beaches in Alexandria, the Mamoura Beach and the Bianky beach (known as Paradise beach) at Agami.
The Mamoura beach is one of the oldest beaches in Alexandria and is characterised by a cobblestone walk that used to be private but is now pubic. “We come at least once to the Mamoura beach as a family every year, where we revive the old days,” said Ahmed Mohamed, a consultant engineer in his mid-50s.
“Out of all the places and the beaches I have visited inside and outside Egypt, I will always have a special place for Mamoura. It is the place I love to return to. The beach is wide and spacious and so it isn’t crowded. There is a lot of greenery, and our chalet is super spacious. Then there is the city of Alexandria, where everything is to hand,” he added.
Lina Essam shares the same feelings and memories as Mohamed, but this time towards Bianky beach or the so-called Paradise beach at Agami. “Agami was not just a special place to enjoy the sun and the water in the past. It was a whole society where everyone knew each other. You could get from one street to another walking or on a bicycle,” Essam said.
“All the neighbourhood shared the same parties, the same lifestyle, the same outdoor activities, and this is what makes the best memories.”
Today, Agami has been losing out to illegal contractors and ugly buildings. “I cannot walk in the streets today because of all the garbage and tok-toks filling the place with chaos. Yes, I am happy that the beaches have been reopened, but I am sad as well that Agami has become a place for dumping rubbish. It lost its identity in 2011. Many families left, and the few of us who remained have been struggling against the chaos.”
At the other end of the city in the Abu Qir district, a family of five were crossing the street while carrying chairs, fishing rods, rackets, and a large umbrella.
Digging the beach umbrella into the sand far from the other beachgoers, the family began enjoying their long-awaited time together. “We went to the Miami and Abu Haif beaches, but they were closed due to the limited number of seats available. So, we decided to come here to Abu Qir where my two sons love fishing,” said Nabila Mahmoud, 62, the mother of three.
“The beaches are relatively uncrowded, but as an older woman I would rather find an empty space and enjoy my own time without caring too much about masks. The prices here are not bad either. We paid LE18 for three adults and nothing for the child,” she said.
Though the Abu Qir public beach offers chairs and umbrellas, Mahmoud’s family preferred to get their own supplies to avoid catching the virus or contacting any other person.
“Some people are taking the precautionary measures too far, but I guess being cautious is necessary, while at the same time being able to get back to normal and take care of our mental health. This is important too,” she added.
*A version of this article appears in print in the 10 June, 2021 edition of Al-Ahram Weekly