Sunday,15 July, 2018
Current issue | Issue 1238, (19 - 25 March 2015)
Sunday,15 July, 2018
Issue 1238, (19 - 25 March 2015)

Ahram Weekly

A tragedy unfolds

Salah Sallam, head of the National Council for Human Rights (NCHR) fact-finding mission to Sinai, talks about human rights in the troubled peninsula. Interviewed by Ahmed Eleiba

Al-Ahram Weekly

Why was it important to produce a report of this kind?

This is a report that seeks to examine the situation in Sinai on the security, political, geographic and economic levels. The security situation is known, economic conditions less so. The sad fact is they have fallen off the radar. They have dropped below zero. Earlier development projects such as Al-Salam Canal have fallen by the wayside.

From a security standpoint Sinai is Egypt’s greatest concern. People have been evicted from their homes without being offered any alternative place to live or sufficient compensation.


Was there coordination between the NCHR and the government?

The NCHR is a government organisation but it is independent. We did not need permits, but we contacted officials in the Interior Ministry and in Sinai in search of information.

Our aim, though, was not to meet with officials but with the inhabitants of Sinai to see for ourselves what was happening on the ground. There is a tragedy happening, especially in the north. I do not shy away from calling it a tragedy.


If the recommendations reached in your report are acted on will this tragedy be remedied?

I would say 90 per cent of the worst elements of the tragedy could be remedied if the report is acted on.


Do you expect this to happen?

I don’t know. People in Sinai are fed up with constant talk about developing the Sinai. They have heard it for too long and nothing has happened. Such is their disillusionment with all the promises that now they view it as an unattainable dream.


It’s never going to happen, they say. Now all we want is security and food.

To what extent have extremist ideas spread among the people of Sinai, especially the Bedouin communities in El-Sheikh Zuweid and Rafah?

The spread of such ideas is the result of the security vacuum. If there was a similar vacuum in Marsa Matrouh, on the western border, the situation would have been similar. To the security vacuum we must add the existence of a hostile neighbour, Israel, which clearly has an interest in what is happening in the Sinai.

But Israel says that its interests are served by the Egyptian army’s actions against the terrorists.

It can say what it wants. It is inconceivable that Mossad has not been involved in Sinai, and I do not rule out that it has a hand in what is happening there. Governments say one thing, their intelligence agencies do another. To close your eyes to this is naive.


The report refers to roadblocks set up by terrorists in the border area. But do they really exist?

Yes. How was Lieutenant [Omar] Al-Desouqi abducted? He was stopped at a roadblock. We saw them for ourselves more than once. We barely managed to escape and that was thanks to a very competent driver who was on the lookout for these blocks.


What is your assessment of military operations in Sinai?

I am not a military expert and we are not involved in such an assessment.

I mean their impact on civilians.

The report deals with the subject. There are people who have lost family members. In their testimonies they say that they do not know from which direction the shots came from. There are victims of the security operations.


Describe what is happening with the evacuees from Rafah. Is it still chaotic?

I think chaos and lack of respect for the people prevailed during the first phase of the evacuation. In the second phase things improved after President Al-Sisi issued instructions to officials there not to offend the people, to compensate them and convey his greetings to them.


Was the decision to create a buffer zone a sound one?

It is not my concern to evaluate the soundness of the decision. What I will say is that moving people needs to be done systematically, safely and in a way that guarantees them a dignified life.


You went to Al-Mahdiya, a village known to be a jihadist stronghold. What did you find there?

We went to the village with the aim of assessing the quality of life of its inhabitants. The problems they face are similar to those faced by people elsewhere in Sinai. We did not ask them about their relationship with the jihadists. It was not part of our mandate.


Do you think the fruits of the economic conference held in Sharm El-Sheikh will be felt in Sinai?

They must be. Sinai is a precious part of Egypt. Every tree, every building that promotes the development of Sinai is important. The Sinai we hope for needs people from all parts of Egypt to make it their home. It needs a lot.


Have you submitted the report to the relevant government agencies?

Of course.

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