The building of the High Dam in the 1960s and UNESCO’s call to save the temples in the Nubia region from floods – especially the 3,000-year-old Abu Simbel Temple – were the main reasons behind the establishment of the city of Abu Simbel. The city has enjoyed worldwide fame thanks to its stone-carved temples, the largest in the world.
The building of the High Dam in the 1960s and UNESCO’s call to save the temples in the Nubia region from floods – especially the 3,000-year-old Abu Simbel Temple – were the main reasons behind the establishment of the city of Abu Simbel. The city has enjoyed worldwide fame thanks to its stone-carved temples, the largest in the world. The Abu Simbel Temple experiences a unique astronomical phenomenon during which sunrays are vertically reflected on the face of the statue of Ramesses II on February and October 22 of every year.
“Work to retrieve these temples began in 1964 and ended four years later after arduous labor in the desert in which several international and Egyptian companies participated,” says Fathi Taher, 77, a community leader. “The temple was officially inaugurated in September 1968 in a large ceremony attended by more than 3,000 personalities from across the world.”
Over time, the area grew and turned into an independent city in need of economic resources. Since its foundation in the mid-1970s, the city has experienced several successive developments, mainly the launch of the Toshka project in 1997, which created a great economic boom for Abu Simbel because all of the project’s officials, engineers and workers lived in Abu Simbel, only 50 kilometers from Toshka.
Abu Simbel experienced a severe housing crisis during the early stages of the Toshka Project, says Taher, where many houses were put up for rent, leading to a thriving sale of land property and houses. The population of that burgeoning city generally achieved great profits from selling or renting their property. Trading in various kinds of commodities and foodstuffs flourished to meet the growing needs of Toshka Project workers.
To invigorate trade exchanges in the region, the Qustul-Ashkit border crossing between the Egypt and Sudan border was opened two years ago. However, that project has so far not contributed to the hoped-for economic boom because all passengers and truckloads of goods cross Abu Simbel quickly without much benefit.
“The (border) crossing has not been successful because the Sudanese side is not committed to the COMESA agreement and the Arab Common Market convention under which goods should be exported from Egypt to Sudan across the border outlet free of customs duties,” says Galaluddin Ramadan, an investor. “The Sudanese government complicates matters by imposing high taxes and overestimated customs duties on Egyptian exports, which forces Egyptian exporters to only export complementary goods and raw materials needed by Sudanese factories, like iron ores, petrochemical products and empty containers, because these factories enjoy reduced customs duty by the Sudanese government.”
Ramadan argues that the Egyptian authority is committed to the international agreements and it allows custom-free goods from Sudan, mainly camels and seeds, like sesame. He stresses the need to revitalize the border exchanges between Egypt and Sudan and apply reciprocity to help promote bilateral trade.
Director of the Abu Simbel Media Center Hussein Mukhtar says most Sudanese passengers arriving in Egypt through Qustul-Ashkit border point are venders who buy different kinds of goods from Moski and Ataba bazaars in Cairo and resell them in Sudanese markets. Others are patients who visit Cairo for treatment.
“A free zone or at least a large trade center with big warehouses should be built in Abu Simbel, in which all commodities and electrical appliances are available to meet the needs of Sudanese traders,” says Mukhtar. “This would promote trade at Abu Simbel, allowing the city to turn into a real gate of Egypt onto Sudan and other African states like Ethiopia, Uganda, Kenya, Eretria, etc.”
He maintains that the Abu Simbel International Hospital – inaugurated by former President Hosni Mubarak in 2000 at a cost of L.E. 10 million and equipped with state-of-the-art medical equipment – should be equipped with qualified medical personnel to attract Sudanese patients from the Northern State in Sudan who travel hundreds of kilometers to go to Cairo hospitals, especially since this would lead to the construction of many hotels to accommodate patients’ relatives who accompany them during treatment.
Wadi Halfa hotel boom
The northern Sudanese city of Wadi Halfa has benefited from the opening of the Qustul-Ashkit crossing through taking several measures to generate great financial resources. The city’s officials, says Mukhtar, have imposed a fee of SDG 10 for each passenger crossing the border and obliged passengers from either side to stay for at least one night in the city to promote business in its hotels.
He demands similar effective measures to benefit Abu Simbel. He also calls for moving the station for buses operating between Egypt and Sudan from Aswan to Abu Simbel to encourage business in the city.
Mayor of Abu Simbel Mohammad Anwar says a free zone in the city would have a positive effect and spare the population more economic crises. “Tourism and fishing are the two major sources of income for the over 150,000 population of Abu Simbel,” he says. “Residents however have not experienced any improvement in living conditions since the opening of the Qustul-Ashkit border crossing. On the contrary, cargo transport trucks have harmed the city’s infrastructure and roads and caused traffic jams.”
Anwar says work is underway to build a large waiting area for trucks outside Abu Simbel to avoid traffic congestion. In addition, people’s applications for new and diverse investment projects to benefit from the Qustul-Ashkit border crossing more optimally in the future are also being considered.