by Ahmad Y. Majdoubeh | Nov 01, 2012 | 22:14

Over the Eid, I had the opportunity to head south, with family and friends, to Aqaba and Sharm El Sheikh. The weather was simply spectacular: sunny and warm. The area, especially Sharm El Sheikh, was full of tourists both from the region and abroad.

On the way back, we heard and watched scenes of an unprecedented snowstorm that disrupted life and caused heavy damage in France and some other European countries. We also started hearing about the destructive storm, Sandy, that wreaked havoc on much of eastern United States, causing loss of life and disrupting President Barack Obama’s election campaign.

It was a great contrast, but also another reminder of the blessing we have but that is not adequately utilised.

Two particular issues come to mind: solar energy and tourism.

Regarding the former, the government has made it clear that the main cause of the deficit in the budget and the most serious fiscal challenge at present is the energy bill, particularly in the absence of unhindered flow of cheap Egyptian gas and the absence of oil imports at preferential prices.

One, then, automatically wonders why not turn to solar energy, especially since the nuclear-energy project is witnessing opposition and many hurdles internally and externally.

We do have rainy weather, and we do have cold and snowy winter, but overall, it is sunny for the most part of the year.

In the late 1970s there was a great deal of enthusiasm, even euphoria, over the matter — not citizens’ but experts’. At the time, for an article for this newspaper, I interviewed several people from the Royal Scientific Society who not only had plans ready but were working on specific projects. We thought we were on the brink of a breakthrough.

More than 30 years later, we find ourselves still at square one regarding solar energy.

Since energy is such a huge problem for us and since the government is paying billions annually to foot the bill, why not revisit the solar energy option?

One realises, of course, that the matter is more difficult than laypersons think. Experts speak of some real challenges, high among which the cost of storage and the technology to be used for that purpose. Nevertheless, since billions allocated to import energy go down the drain, why not spend some of these on research development and on a serious move towards the solar energy option?

The matter clearly has an economic dimension, as a vibrant economy is based on easy access to energy sources. But it is also a political matter. Citizens are sick and tired of governmental solutions to the energy crises based on price hikes or removal of subsidies.

People, I am sure, will accept mild price hikes and partial removal of subsidies if they are coupled with smart, long-term solutions, such as investment in solar energy.

Regarding tourism, the advantage we have due to our geography and weather are obvious. People from cold countries would highly appreciate being in warm, sunny weather, swimming and sunbathing in months they would not dare go out without heavy clothes.

I visited Europe several times, and even in July, in many countries, one could not swim as it was truly chilly. In our part of the world, especially in Aqaba and the Jordan Valley, one could swim almost all year round.

As such, one cannot but think of making better use of the tourism option. We have already invested in the sector and the industry has been growing at a very good rate, but we need to invest more, and more efficiently. In fact, some of the revenue statistics released concerning Petra alone show a remarkable increase.

However, if one wants to spend a major holiday in Aqaba or the Dead Sea, one has to book months in advance. Additionally, there are limited options in terms what one could actually do beyond swimming and dining.

Sharm El Sheikh, for example, offers much more.

Moreover, the prices and the deals have to be more competitive than they are at present, especially for local and regional tourists.

Here, too, the government should think of some smart solutions to the dire fiscal situation through more projects and creative ideas in the tourism industry.

In order to get the best of the matter, individual governments in our region need not only focus on projects in each country, but on inter-regional projects, so that tourists could have more options, variety and complementarity.

There are clear disadvantages to living in a dry region like ours. Water shortage is high among them. But there are also advantages. Investment in the abundant sun is one such benefit.