Drive anywhere towards the west in Jeddah and you will eventually reach the corniche. Beyond the winding corniche to the west lies the eastern fringe of the Red Sea whose blue waters gently lap the rocky shores.
If you do reach the corniche and turn on either side of the road, you will revel in the natural and the remarkable beauty of our coastline. In fact, a lot of the local citizenry did that is until recent times. There is also an area just south of the coast guard station that displayed miniature houses depicting old Jeddah.
Families would settle down on the concrete shores taking in the soothing sights, while children of all ages played unconcerned. Health-conscious adults and teens could be seen burning calories as they undertook brisk walks. Street vendors offering an array of goods from chickpeas to Wall’s ice cream would be busy hawking their goods.
Fishing off the rusted piers scattered along this area offered sportsmen of all nationalities a fighting chance. Groups of male adults may indulge in a game of cards, while others would prepare a sumptuous barbecue for their companions. This was after all a gathering for all people of all tastes.
A few short years ago, one could not fail to notice a barricade of plywood and fibreglass curtains obstructing the sea view. Signs in Arabic indicated that the area was undergoing a slow transformation under the patronage of the municipality. The outcome has led to some conveniences for the public and a lot of food and entertainment venues that dot the coastline.
Some local residents are not overly amused. Aisha, a successful businesswoman, was protesting about the buildings and the commercial outlets that have obstructed the views from this area of the corniche.
She saw it as indeed a nuisance, especially as she drove by this area daily on her way to work. The serenity of the coastline that she had come to treasure was now but a faded dream. She wondered why the beauty of the natural coastline was blocked by concrete structures.
With a few minor changes to the way we do things, and with little extra investment in the right places, it can be made a more fun place for even budget-conscious tourist to visit.
Another Saudi volunteered that to enjoy some of the services, residents better get used to paying for them.
That just didn’t sit well with Aisha. “Pay for it?” she retorted very forcefully.
“And why should I pay for something so natural, so beautiful, that I get to enjoy every day for free. Does a Nepali pay to view the Himalayas? Or a Canadian the Niagara Falls? Or an Englishman the white cliffs of Dover? And besides, don’t we already have an excess of rundown amusement centres in the area.
“We do not need any more restaurants or fast food outlets in that area. The corniche would end up being littered with trash and a sanctuary for rats. And besides, what about those families who could not afford to pay for the privilege of taking in the scenery or paying for over-priced food? Must they be forced to shell out the last few remaining riyals out of their pockets just to pad the pockets of the privileged few? The uninhibited greed of these businessmen must not be allowed to remain unchecked.”
It is unfortunate that there is very little of the coastline that is available to a city fast approaching the millions in double figures. And with a tightening economy, a trip to the sea and fresh air suits most family budgets.
Granted there are billion-dollar projects in the offing, all set to transform the Red Sea city into a tourist extravaganza. But to enjoy such leisure and facilities would come at a price, something most families today would have to skilfully grapple with among other expenses.
The city of Jeddah is blessed with milder weather during the hot months than in many cities on the Arabian Peninsula. Planned right, it could see itself as a competitor to Dubai. With a few minor changes to the way we do things, and with little extra investment in the right places, it can be made a more fun place for even budget-conscious tourist to visit.
The municipality should exercise more wisdom and better judgement in the interest of its inhabitants. All it’s folks. Give the city back to its people.
— Tariq A. Al Maeena is a Saudi socio-political commentator. He lives in Jeddah, Saudi Arabia. Twitter: @talmaeena