How the Revolution Changed Dahab
Sina Stieding meets the illustrious Jimmy of Dahab - a successful travel and tourism entrepreneur that once owned countless properties and venues... until the revolution happened.
There isn't a single soul in Dahab that hasn't heard of Jimmy. Jimmy is a slightly crazy man, roaming Dahab on a bike with a cowboy hat. He is also the Manager of Bishbishi Hotel, one of Dahab's most prominent backpacker destinations. A few years ago, however, Jimmy was also owner and manager of numerous other places. Funny Mummy, Penguin Restaurant and other places and travel services were all part of Jimmy's empire, himself a Monofeya native who came to Dahab to live a laid-back beach-side life. But then the revolution came, and the tourists left.
When Jimmy talks about the new fate of Dahab, he becomes very quiet and seems sad which is unlike anything you have seen from him previously. "Dahab used to be the paradise," he tells me when I ask him what the town was like before the revolution. "Everything you wanted to have, you could have here easily: good work, women, money, friends, relationships and business partners." People came to Dahab to get away from their lives and didn't bring their problems. In Jimmy's old Dahab, everybody had found their luck.
In November 2010, Jimmy recalls, Dahab saw an amazing month in profits. Business was going so great, Jimmy was preparing to think bigger. Many foreigners had started to settle in Dahab to get a piece of the cake and were building houses or buying apartments. Only two months later, the country was shaken. "90% of Dahab didn't care what happened in Cairo," Jimmy remembers. Thus far, happenings in Cairo had never had an affect on the diver's oasis so most inhabitants had lost touch with the capital. The revolution, however, had such a dramatic impact that the realisation that Dahab is in fact a part of Egypt quickly started looming.
Those foreigners who had started building new houses stopped their construction, some of them never to be finished. Across town you can see abandoned houses and closed shops. Much like the rest of the country, the tourists also refrained from paying a visit. Backpackers who made up the majority of tourists in Dahab stopped visiting the Red Sea as many health insurance providers stopped covering damages made in Egypt. Additionally, travel warnings caused agencies to suspend their services to Egypt all together. Even from Cairo, most buses go to Sharm El Sheikh these days. Few travel the extra hour to Dahab. A simple weekend trip to Dahab isn't as easy anymore with the countless checkpoints and disruptions on the way there. Hence, Dahab, the tourist magnet, had lost the power to draw people in.
For Jimmy, and many other Dahab entrepreneurs, life changed completely. Slowly but surely, he was forced to let more and more of his businesses go. The red numbers coming on his books caused Jimmy to reorganise his life. Before, Jimmy and his family inhabited a beautiful 5000LE a month house which they are no longer able to afford. Jimmy also started shopping in different places. From 75 employees under his command, Jimmy now has just four.
The only place that remains with Jimmy is Bishbishi Hotel. "I used to spend 12 hours a day on the phone taking reservations, and Bishbishi was always 120% booked," Jimmy says of times before the revolution. "Today, I'm lucky to get to 20%." Jimmy also organises tours for tourists to the adjacent landmarks or the region. Sadly, this isn't enough to bring profit. To the question why he keeps Bishbishi despite the bad business. Jimmy simply replies "It's my love!" Twenty years ago, when he came to Dahab, Bishbishi was the business that made all the others happen. The place became his heart, and initiated his independence and success. Often Jimmy thought about leaving because of his financial troubles but his passion for Bishbishi stop him. "I can't just get a divorce now!"
Jimmy's fate makes it hard to imagine what the rest of Dahab must have gone through. Across the city we find completely abandoned hotel complexes, closed restaurants and sellers desperate for tourists to take some of their goods for the smallest of money. The hub for profit, success and fulfilment Dahab once was has visibly stopped existing. The corniche is deserted and night clubs like Mojito and Nessima, once crowded with tourists from all over the world, now host a maximum of twenty people on weekends. Without knowing what Dahab was like before the revolution, it is evident that lots has changed. And until the tourists come back, people will continue to struggle on a daily basis to make ends meet.