The Sinai Peninsula is a mythical region, symbolized by its sacred mountain, which was an important pilgrimage site. However, following the consequences of the Suez Crisis (1956) and the aftermath of the Six-Day War (1967), Israel took control of the region and the Sinai became a territory of tension between the two countries. Following the retrocession of the peninsula in the 1980s, the region became a “project area”. Subsequently, a national planning policy of the peninsula was initiated. Indeed, it was necessary to integrate this 60,000km² territory and its 500,000 inhabitants into the geography of a new Egypt. The triangular peninsula was therefore a new territory for experimentation, separated from the country by a physical border, the Suez Canal.
The development of the Sinai region
A plan, the NPDS (National Project for the Development of Sinai), was launched in 1994. The aim was to reclaim, develop and stabilize the territory in the Middle East. To achieve these goals the plan was accompanied by a number of infrastructure development projects. They consist mainly of structures to link the peninsula to the rest of Egypt (Mubarak Peace Bridge across the Suez Canal, inaugurated in 2001) or irrigation canals such as the Salam (peace) canal project. The purpose of these infrastructures was to physically unify the territories, to link them, to pacify them (as the names of the projects indicate). Quickly, the plan had effects in terms of population growth and urbanization. In Arish, a northern town on the border with the Gaza Strip, the population doubled between 1982 and 1996. The territories began to be more and more occupied, it was no longer the empty territories that Israel has conquered twice.
A peninsula under tension
However, the economic growth was strongly stopped in 2004 by the triple attack that Al Qaeda made in Taba. This tragedy ended the development project which was already well damaged by a series of instability in the region. First of all, the Israeli-Palestinian tensions having reached a new critical point in the 2000s, have undermined the cold peace between Egypt and Israel. In addition, the Bedouin populations (who make up a third of the population) have been deprived of their land rights and have always been on the fringes of development projects. An imbalance had also developed between localities that were economically and sanitarily underdeveloped and the 5-star hotels located a few hundred meters away. The tourist boom was therefore greatly undermined and the increase in conflicts and attacks had the consequence of discouraging tourism in the region.
The fragility and instability of the Sinai has put a halt to many investments in the region. Some tourist construction sites were interrupted and the geopolitical context that had allowed the development of the region turned against the government and investors.
The concrete architecture of abandonned Sinai
Between 2002 and 2005, Haubitz + Zoche travelled the Sinai and documented abandoned hotel resorts. These ghost-towns are filled with unfinished hotel structures, isolated in the middle of the desert. Due to the instability of the region and dubious investments, these hotel sites were never completed. They are photographed as the sad consequence of a tourism policy of uncontrolled urban development. This series depicts a form of new archaeology, showing a bygone era, wich is the opposite of the pharaohs architecture.
It’s an architecture of concrete, wishing to assert itself in the Sinai desert. However, the desert regions seem to have dried up the constructions and only the grey skeleton remains. These concrete ruins, almost coming out of a Ballard novel, contrast with the warm colours of the sand and the deep blue of the sky. All the more marking the incongruity of such a construction. The carcasses of these structures give a glimpse of the shape of buildings with multiple and decontextualized architectures. This is not Sinai architecture, it is an aesthetic of tourism and globalization without roots. It is the witness of a civilization that never existed, in a complex abandoned by its inhabitants, the tourists.