Where Have All the Divers Gone? as Ever, Political Turmoil in Specific Areas of the Middle East Has Thrown Tourism across the Entire Region into Disarray

Article excerpt

Many would say the physical beauty of the Middle East region is already too much of a well-kept secret. The attractions of some small pockets are, however, better known than others. And, thanks to vigorous marketing and enthusiastic personal recommendation, the Red Sea resort of Aqaba was one of the regional success stories, enjoying modest but steadily increasing success, thanks to the attractions of its water sports facilities, particularly the scuba diving.

Now, dive operators in the Jordanian Red Sea destination are asking -- as they have been for over a year -- where have all the divers gone? The ongoing Israeli-Palestinian conflict initially scared off many foreigners and then the 11 September attacks in the United States compounded the problem.

But Aqaba dive operators say, despite the trouble their neighbours are having, their own destination -- and indeed all of Jordan -- has remained calm. There is, they insist, no reason for divers to shun the scenic seaside community that dates back to the 13th century and played host to TE Lawrence, better known as Lawrence of Arabia.

"If a bullet is fired in Iraq, people think it's in Aqaba," laments Mohammed Al Momany, manager of the Red Sea Dive Centre.

"We're paying here for what's happening elsewhere," adds Ahmed Qatawneh, manager of the nearby Aqaba International Dive Centre.

"Here, it's calm. You can sleep on the beach and nobody will harm you. Tourists are scared because of the media. The problem is the press and its coverage elf regional conflicts."

Qatawneh started diving in 1964 as a frogman with the Jordanian navy and opened his business four years ago. He used to average two or three divers a day, mostly European but some Japanese. That has recently fallen to about seven a month.

Visiting British and American naval ships also used to deliver diving clients, but no American naval vessel has visited Aqaba since the attack on the USS Cole in Yemen in 2000.

The scarcity of divers was quickly noticed by one German diver visiting Qatawneh's shop in late January. …