NGO hopes Bedouins will lure visitors to Sinai after Russian plane crash

The NGO deployed Bedouins, known for their hospitality, to guide more than 100 hikers over the trails of the White Canyon

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The crash of a Russian plane in Egypt’s Sinai that many blame on an Islamist militant bomb has scared tourists away from the peninsula. But a small aid organisation is hoping to show a peaceful side of the expanse.

Sinai is Safe connects young Cairenes with the Bedouin of the south Sinai to explore the desert landscape, sandy mountains and wadis worlds away from Egypt’s crowded cities.

“This was the largest turn-out for us yet and the Bedouin team who organised it were absolutely sure it was safe for the event to go ahead,” said Ben Hoffler, author of “Trailblazer’s Sinai: The Trekking Guide”.

The southern interior has always been far safer than North Sinai, where an Islamist militant insurgency is raging.

Getting that message across is vital to rebuilding a tourism industry shattered by political turmoil following a 2011 uprising, and more recently, the crash of the Russian airplane which broke up over the Sinai at the end of October.

Islamic State of Iraq and Syria (ISIS), which claimed responsibility, said it planted a bomb on the plane with 224 passengers and crew.

Last year, 9.9 million tourists visited Egypt, a far cry from the 14.7 million who came in 2010, the year before the Arab Spring revolutions convulsed the Middle East.

The NGO deployed Bedouins, known for their hospitality, to guide more than 100 hikers over a 25 km (15 mile) trek over the trails of the White Canyon And the Closed Canyon.

“I learned about hiking ethics, and the people in the group helped me to cope with the new environment of the wilderness,” said IT software engineer Rita Selim.

Sinai is Safe aims to challenge mainstream perceptions of the area by encouraging Nile Valley residents to explore the untamed wilderness with the Bedouin tribes.

“It’ll take years to undo the damage done to the Sinai. But we have definitely introduced influential Bedouin voices to the debate that weren’t there before and highlighted important regional differences in safety across the Sinai,” said Hoffler.