Eritrea beckons fun-loving Saudi men

Three years after splitting from Ethiopia, a new nation is making its mark, as Richard Dowden discovers

THE Nobile is not the first thing that catches your eye as you drive across the causeway to the Eritrean port of Massawa. You are more likely to notice the funnels or prows of sunken wrecks sticking out of the bay. Or the battered and rusting tanks which stand at the end of the causeway. Or even the shell holes blasted in the sides of the warehouses.

Yet when you reach the harbour - many of its buildings amazingly rebuilt from the rubble of war nearly five years ago - you suddenly catch sight of the sleek white hull of a magnificent schooner which looks as if it has sailed straight out of an advert for a Caribbean luxury cruise.

Maurizio Pazzelli, the equally elegant captain of the Nobile, sails her regularly to the Dahlak islands, taking a dozen tourists 30 miles to some of the finest scuba diving in the world. The magnificent corals and exotic sea-life owe their survival to the fact that the islands were a Soviet naval base for more than 20 years, closed off to all other visitors. The only inhabitants are a few fishermen and their families who manage to survive the high saline content of the island's scant fresh water.

But Captain Pazzelli is not the only one to see the tourism potential of the islands. An American company, Development Concepts, signed a contract with the Eritrean government last month to develop a huge leisure and pleasure complex on the islands with several hotels, casinos, a marina, golf course and equestrian centre.

The target of the resort - less than 45 minutes' flying time from Mecca - will be wealthy Saudis in search of pleasures forbidden at home. The resort is built round an enclosed bay eight miles across with a marina for more than 100 boats. Alongside a five-star hotel, the holiday village will offer villas at $3,000 a night.

Many wealthy Saudis take their wives and families on holiday with them but confine them to their hotels - often hiring a whole floor for months to avoid exposing them to Western ways. Here there will be a separate, self-contained hotel for women and children, staffed entirely by women ... located some miles from the main resort, the intention clearly being that the men can deposit their wives while they pursue their own interests elsewhere.

The pounds 135m project is the brainchild of a Texan contractor, BK Anderson, who has worked in the region for many years and is close to the new Eritrean government. Work is expected to begin shortly, as the two-mile-long Soviet built airstrip is paved. A power station is already built, and water will be provided by a new desalination plant.

Mr Anderson aims to open for New Year, 1999. The Eritrean government will take 40 per cent of the gross revenue of the resort. In return, it will guarantee the loan for the new infrastructure and provide security. But the project is unlikely to be universally acclaimed. While the ruling Saudi family may turn a blind eye to the project, it is expected to provide ammunition for Islamic fundamentalists as well as attracting criticism from environmentalists.

In the region itself, the plan has been dubbed as "impudent" by some observers. The Eritreans are among the poorest people in the world. Their neighbours, the Saudis, just across the Red Sea, are some of the richest. It is not yet three years since the Eritreans split from Ethiopia after defeating the Ethiopian army in 1991. But the new country has shown a remarkable degree of aggression in asserting its rights in the region, seizing 14 Egyptian fishing boats in its waters last year, and in December seizing one of the Hanish islands further down the Red Sea from Yemen.

While some suggest that Eritrea's motive for taking the islands may be to do with offshore oil and fishing rights, others point out that Yemen recently granted an Italian company the concession to develop the island - as a tourist resort.

8 Richard Dowden is on the staff of the 'Economist'

PROMOTED VIDEO
Have you tried new the Independent Digital Edition apps?
News
ebooksAn evocation of the conflict through the eyes of those who lived through it
Extras
indybest
Travel
Flocking round: Beyoncé, Madame Tussauds' latest waxwork, looking fierce in the park
travelIn a digital age when we have more access than ever to the stars, why are waxworks still pulling in crowds?
Arts and Entertainment
tv
Arts and Entertainment
Judi Dench appeared at the Hay Festival to perform excerpts from Shakespearean plays
tvJudi Dench and Hugh Bonneville join Benedict Cumberbatch in BBC Shakespeare adaptations
Sport
Is this how Mario Balotelli will cruise into Liverpool?
football
News
Ronahi Serhat, a PKK fighter, in the Qandil Mountains in Iraqi Kurdistan
i100
Arts and Entertainment
Poet’s corner: Philip Larkin at the venetian window of his home in 1958
booksOr caring, playful man who lived for others? A new book has the answer
Arts and Entertainment
Exhibition at the Centre Pompidou in Metz - 23 May 2012
art
News
Matthew McConaughey and his son Levi at the game between the Boston Red Sox and the Houston Astros at Fenway Park on August 17, 2014 in Boston, Massachusetts.
advertisingOscar-winner’s Lincoln deal is latest in a lucrative ad production line
Life and Style
Pick of the bunch: Sudi Pigott puts together roasted tomatoes with peppers, aubergines and Labneh cheese for a tomato-inspired vegetarian main dish
food + drink
Arts and Entertainment
Alfred Molina, left, and John Lithgow in a scene from 'Love Is Strange'
film
Independent
Travel Shop
the manor
Up to 70% off luxury travel
on city breaks Find out more
santorini
Up to 70% off luxury travel
on chic beach resorts Find out more
sardina foodie
Up to 70% off luxury travel
on country retreats Find out more
Have you tried new the Independent Digital Edition apps?
Independent Dating
and  

By clicking 'Search' you
are agreeing to our
Terms of Use.

iJobs Job Widget
iJobs General

Junior Quant Analyst - C++, Boost, Data Mining

£25000 - £35000 per annum: Harrington Starr: Junior Quant Analyst - C++, Boost...

Service Desk Analyst- (Desktop Support, Help desk)

£25000 - £35000 per annum: Harrington Starr: Service Desk Analyst- (Desktop Su...

Junior Quant Analyst (Machine Learning, SQL, Brokerage)

£30000 - £50000 per annum: Harrington Starr: Junior Quant Analyst (Machine Lea...

UNIX Application Support Analyst- Support, UNIX, London

£45000 - £55000 per annum: Harrington Starr: UNIX Application Support Analyst-...

Day In a Page

Air strikes? Talk of God? Obama is following the jihadists’ script

Air strikes? Talk of God? Obama is following the jihadists’ script

The President came the nearest he has come yet to rivalling George W Bush’s gormless reaction to 9/11 , says Robert Fisk
Ebola outbreak: Billy Graham’s son declares righteous war on the virus

Billy Graham’s son declares righteous war on Ebola

A Christian charity’s efforts to save missionaries trapped in Africa by the crisis have been justifiably praised. But doubts remain about its evangelical motives
Jeremy Clarkson 'does not see a problem' with his racist language on Top Gear, says BBC

Not even Jeremy Clarkson is bigger than the BBC, says TV boss

Corporation’s head of television confirms ‘Top Gear’ host was warned about racist language
Nick Clegg the movie: Channel 4 to air Coalition drama showing Lib Dem leader's rise

Nick Clegg the movie

Channel 4 to air Coalition drama showing Lib Dem leader's rise
Philip Larkin: Misogynist, racist, miserable? Or caring, playful man who lived for others?

Philip Larkin: What will survive of him?

Larkin's reputation has taken a knocking. But a new book by James Booth argues that the poet was affectionate, witty, entertaining and kind, as hitherto unseen letters, sketches and 'selfies' reveal
Madame Tussauds has shown off its Beyoncé waxwork in Regent's Park - but why is the tourist attraction still pulling in the crowds?

Waxing lyrical

Madame Tussauds has shown off its Beyoncé waxwork in Regent's Park - but why is the tourist attraction still pulling in the crowds?
Texas forensic astronomer finally pinpoints the exact birth of impressionism

Revealed (to the minute)

The precise time when impressionism was born
From slow-roasted to sugar-cured: how to make the most of the British tomato season

Make the most of British tomatoes

The British crop is at its tastiest and most abundant. Sudi Pigott shares her favourite recipes
10 best men's skincare products

Face it: 10 best men's skincare products

Oscar Quine cleanses, tones and moisturises to find skin-savers blokes will be proud to display on the bathroom shelf
Malky Mackay allegations: Malky Mackay, Iain Moody and another grim day for English football

Mackay, Moody and another grim day for English football

The latest shocking claims do nothing to dispel the image that some in the game on these shores exist in a time warp, laments Sam Wallace
La Liga analysis: Will Barcelona's hopes go out of the window?

Will Barcelona's hopes go out of the window?

Pete Jenson starts his preview of the Spanish season, which begins on Saturday, by explaining how Fifa’s transfer ban will affect the Catalans
Middle East crisis: We know all too much about the cruelty of Isis – but all too little about who they are

We know all too much about the cruelty of Isis – but all too little about who they are

Now Obama has seen the next US reporter to be threatened with beheading, will he blink, asks Robert Fisk
Neanderthals lived alongside humans for centuries, latest study shows

Final resting place of our Neanderthal neighbours revealed

Bones dated to 40,000 years ago show species may have died out in Belgium species co-existed
Scottish independence: The new Scots who hold fate of the UK in their hands

The new Scots who hold fate of the UK in their hands

Scotland’s immigrants are as passionate about the future of their adopted nation as anyone else
Britain's ugliest buildings: Which monstrosities should be nominated for the Dead Prize?

Blight club: Britain's ugliest buildings

Following the architect Cameron Sinclair's introduction of the Dead Prize, an award for ugly buildings, John Rentoul reflects on some of the biggest blots on the UK landscape