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South Sinai: Transforming St Catherine’s Monastery

The Great Transfiguration project to develop South Sinai promises to upgrade St Catherine’s into a leading destination for religious, environmental, and therapeutic tourism

Mahmoud Bakr , Tuesday 13 Jul 2021
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The government recently launched the Great Transfiguration project, a national scheme comprising a set of 14 plans for the development of South Sinai, reports Mahmoud Bakr.

The project focuses on the area of Mount Sinai behind the St Catherine’s Monastery, the place where God appeared to Moses and gave him the Ten Commandments according to the Old Testament of the Bible.

The project has long been demanded by investors and Sinai residents with the aim of achieving the optimum use of St Catherine’s natural resources and the legacy of an area full of religious sites but that has been in desperate need of infrastructure and utility networks.

The Great Transfiguration is being implemented by the Central Agency for Urbanisation, an affiliate of the Ministry of Housing, Utilities, and Urban Communities, with the joint cooperation of the ministries of tourism and environment. It includes plans to reuse underground water and establish a road network linking the touristic destinations of South Sinai, such as Dahab and Sharm El-Sheikh.

“The project is funded by the New Urban Communities Authority based on the directives of President Abdel-Fattah Al-Sisi to develop the area of St Catherine’s that enjoys a high historical and spiritual value. The city, the Land of Peace nature reserve, was the meeting point of the three monotheistic religions of Judaism, Christianity, and Islam,” said Assem Al-Gazzar, the minister of housing.

The Great Transfiguration project includes upgrading the existing ecolodge and constructing a new one, establishing a Peace Park, building a hotel on the mountain, opening a new visitors’ centre and administrative complex, and developing the touristic area and the heritage centre in the city, Al-Gazzar said.

It will also focus on upgrading the residential area of the local Bedouin and building a new residential compound, developing the Valley of the Monastery, and constructing a new road and utilities network with safety measures against floods.

There will also be a spiritual sanctuary in the mountains surrounding the Holy Valley. This area will become a premium destination for holistic and therapeutic tourism, in addition to being a mecca for mountain climbers. The project will make available various touristic and entertainment services for visitors, such as golf cars to transport tourists from the parking area to the St Catherine Monastery, one of the world’s most ancient Christian monasteries.

There will also be bazaars selling Sinai products and medical herbs, Al-Gazzar said. Besides developing the St Catherine’s Airport and operating daily flights between Cairo and St Catherine’s, the project will see thermal cameras installed on top of the mountains to be linked to checkpoints to detect movements remotely, he added.

He said that many ministries and authorities are collaborating to finish the project on time, emphasising the need to promote the scheme internationally and produce audiovisual material showing off the area’s holistic, historical, environmental, and natural wealth.

Minister of Environment Yasmine Fouad said the project was also focused on upgrading the local sewage network and that all factories in the Sinai Peninsula were committed to standards pertaining to the treatment of industrial waste to maintain the quality of the waste network.

She lauded the efforts of the Ministry of Housing to implement the project in the Land of Peace, one of Egypt’s nature reserves, giving directives to facilitate the work of scholars on environmental studies and assessing the environmental effects of the project on the natural surroundings. She added that the project was progressing with the environmental, social, and cultural dimensions of the St Catherine’s area in mind.

The buildings and facilities being constructed as part of the project are fully in line with international environmental standards, she said, with the protection of the natural environment of St Catherine’s being one of its major goals.

Maintaining the environmental and visual character of the natural environment was key to making a place a magnet for spiritual tourism, Fouad concluded.

 *A version of this article appears in print in the 15 July, 2021 edition of Al-Ahram Weekly.

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