On the waterfront

Another Middle East megaproject trundles on, this time the $10-billion Marsa Zayed (‘Zayed Harbour’) development in Jordan’s Red Sea resort city of Aqaba.

For years Aqaba’s beaches played second fiddle to its port – which, during the 1990s, was the gateway for goods trucked to and from sanctions-bound Iraq. Since the creation of the low-tax Aqaba Special Economic Zone in 2001, investment (and, specifically, leisure and tourism investment) has skyrocketed.

I’m rather fond of Aqaba. It smells a bit, but (as I write in my ‘Rough Guide to Jordan’) it’s got a long history – and it feels like it doesn’t have anything to prove, which makes a change from the Gulf.

But ever since the municipality cut down almost all the beachfront palm trees in the 1960s, there’s been a slightly cock-eyed idea of progress in Aqaba. Marsa Zayed involves razing a low-income residential district in the city centre and moving its population to the outskirts. I look at the artist’s impressions of the marina, and my heart sinks.

Jordan only has 26km of Red Sea coastline. Are “high-rise residential towers” directly on the waterfront really the best use of it?