Egypt’s Sinai region, once known for its thriving tourism, has in recent years become synonymous with danger and tragedy. The sparsely populated stretch of desert between the Red Sea and the Mediterranean Sea shares a border with Israel, and tourists once flocked to the area where luxury resorts, holiday packages and plenty of natural beauty offered holiday-makers a virtual paradise.
Yet even before a Russian airplane crashed in the region on Oct. 31, killing all 224 people aboard, Sinai had been struggling to attract tourists. The ripple effects and subsequent instability of the 2011 Arab Spring and, more recently, the rise of ISIS have translated into plummeting numbers of visitors. (Earlier this year, a series of attacks by jihadists affiliated with ISIS in North Sinai, has led to even more instability in the area. Many governments have warnings against non-essential travel to the region.)
The result has been devastating to the local economy, which relied heavily on the tourism industry. Though Sharm el-Sheikh, a resort city on the southern tip of the peninsula, still sees tourists, the rest of the region has suffered. Much of the landscape is now dotted with the carcasses of unfinished hotels, all but abandoned by investors amid the tourism drought.
It was as tourists that Andrea and Magda, the married photographer duo, first visited the Sinai region. Staying not far from the town of Taba, along the eastern coast, they saw firsthand the importance of tourism to the region. Yet later, Andrea says, “we found out that many of the places we used to go were closing more and more every year.” So the pair decided to return, spending nine months capturing the startling downturn of the region.
The decline of tourism wasn’t the only thing that had changed since they had last visited the area. The increased militarization of the region meant that “there were a lot of restrictions on us,” says Magda. The photographers were subjected to aggressive questioning from guards at every checkpoint, a sharp pivot from how tourists to the region are received. As Andrea says, “When you’re there as a tourist it’s fine. As soon as you want to go not as a tourist, there are problems.”
Despite the increased security forces, there are no signs that stability will return to the Sinai region anytime soon. Without it, tourists aren’t likely to return either.
Sinai Park by Andrea and Magda is on show at the Maison Europeenne de la Photographie in Paris, from Nov. 12, 2015 until Jan. 17, 2016.
Andrea and Magda are a duo of photographers from France and Italy.
Mikko Takkunen, who edited this photo essay, is the International Photo Editor at TIME.com. Follow him on Twitter @photojournalism.
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