Diving After the Arab Spring

Despite Egypt’s ongoing unrest, the Red Sea remains a safe destination for divers.

Diving in Egypt’s Red Sea really only matured in the 1990s, but despite its relative youth it’s a huge industry, and mostly well run. Every year, thousands of divers visit Egypt for both land-based diving, primarily out of Sharm el-Sheik and Hurghada, and for boat diving on day boats or live-aboards. As you’d expect, however, the recent unrest in Egypt has caused much uncertainty. Some nations recommend avoiding all but essential travel to the country, and many travelers have canceled their trips. I, along with a team of intrepid divers, went ahead with a recent excursion, and saw the situation from the inside. One of my main concerns was whether the political unrest had caused the demise of some of the great initiatives in the region, such as HEPCA’s work to preserve reefs and marine parks and the CDWSI’s work to maintain a high standard among dive operators. I am happy to report that, as far as I learned, both of these organizations are still very active, and are continuing work that predates the Arab Spring. It was, however, clear that the industry has taken a hit. Our embarkation marina was much quieter than just a year ago, when the harbor was bustling with boats and activity. A number of sites, including the ever-popular Thistlegorm, were all but deserted. We dove one morning on Thistlegorm by ourselves, something I have never experienced in my many years of diving in Egypt. I also spoke to a few dive professionals who confirmed that visitors are down. The industry is managing, though, as dive tourists are quite faithful compared to land-based tourists. Nonetheless, there was concern about the state of the industry should conditions remain as they are now. On shore we toured Hurghada, where hotels were mostly empty and the restaurants and bars lacked hustle and bustle. Which wasn’t all bad: Most places, even the high-end ones, offered discounts on products and services. And knowing that safety is a major concern for most travelers, I can report that we didn’t experience any issues, despite reports of demonstrations in Cairo and Alexandria during our visit. Our local contacts confirmed that the Red Sea region has seen very little political unrest. The bottom line is that the dive industry is still running, and the work that has been done in environmental protection and maintaining dive industry standards has not stopped. The industry is struggling, though, and if the situation continues, we may see conservation projects fall by the wayside. As someone who has just returned from Egypt, I can only reassure divers that I never felt in danger, and urge divers to see beyond the news reports of what is happening in the main cities, as the Red Sea region is still very calm and stable.