AMMAN, Jordan – About 40 Jordanian tourists left Egypt on Thursday back home after they staged a sit-in at the gate of the Taba Heights Port following an “unjustified” decision by authorities there to close down the harbor, according to a source in the tourism sector.
“We managed to bring the Jordanian tourists back home after they had a bad time stranded in Taba,” Amjad Maslamani, president of the Jordan Society of Tourism and Travel Agents (JSTA), told The Jordan Times over the phone.
Three days earlier, the tourists found the port’s gate closed as they were preparing to come back home at the end of their trip to the Egyptian Red Sea resort, Maslamani said.
The Egyptian authorities decided to shut down the port without prior notice, leaving hundreds of Jordanian tourists waiting at the docks for three days, Minister of Tourism and Antiquities Haifa Abu Ghazaleh said.
According to the JSTA, only 60 tourists agreed to use the Israeli port of Eilat to go back home, while the other 40 who stayed in Taba insisted that they would not use Eilat, Abu Ghazaleh added.
Jordan and Israel are bound by a peace treaty, but many Jordanians refuse to deal with Israeli authorities under any circumstances.
However, the Egyptian consul in Aqaba, Yasser Salah, intervened to prevent the situation from escalating and to provide appropriate accommodations for protesters, according to Abu Ghazaleh.
The Egyptian diplomat reached an agreement with the travel agencies to bear the costs, she added, noting that she will follow up on this issue with the head of the Aqaba Special Economic Zone Authority, Issa Ayoub.
According to several travel agencies, the Egyptians closed the port without giving the agencies enough time to arrange the return of tourists already in Taba, adding that the decision also confused their schedules.
“It seems that the Egyptians do not know who was behind such a decision yet,” Abu Ghazaleh told The Jordan Times over the phone.
“Accordingly, we are still unaware who made the decision,” she added.
“I have sent an official letter to Egyptian Minister of Tourism Mounir Fakhry Abdelnour, who was on a visit to Kuwait and will be back in Cairo today [Thursday],” she said, noting that Abdelnour “will get back to me as soon as he is ready with an answer”.
According to Abu Ghazaleh, 250,000 Jordanians and more than one million foreign tourists use the Taba port every year.
Therefore, closing the facility will cause major damage to the tourism industry in both Jordan and Egypt, she said, adding: “This closure of the Taba Heights Port will cause cancellations for a huge number of trips and losses for travel agencies on both sides.”
Orascom Hotels and Development, chaired by the Egyptian business tycoon Samih Sawiris, is the owner of the Taba Heights Port.
According to previous reports, the Egyptian ministry of transport sent a warning in February to Orascom to halt activities that were not authorised under the port licence.
Their licence only permits yachts, entertainment and water sports, but the company allowed commercial ships to enter the port, the reports said.