Wednesday,22 August, 2018
Current issue | Issue 1238, (19 - 25 March 2015)
Wednesday,22 August, 2018
Issue 1238, (19 - 25 March 2015)

Ahram Weekly

Development, development, development

Ahmed Eleiba reviews the NCHR’s report on human rights in Sinai

Al-Ahram Weekly

The Egyptian National Council for Human Rights (NCHR) report on conditions in Sinai draws an explicit link between development and improving the lives of local inhabitants. As one of the report’s headings reads: “No development without human rights and no human rights without development.”

The report was compiled by a fact-finding mission that visited northern, southern and central Sinai between 22 and 26 January. It opens with background information on security, economic and social conditions in northern Sinai.

The NCHR’s north Sinai fact-finding team met with officials and local inhabitants along the border and in areas that have been placed under curfew. It interviewed residents forced to leave their homes because of the violence or the construction of a buffer zone along the Sinai-Gaza border.

Mohamed Khoweiter Abu Khoweiter, originally from Al-Sheikh Zuweid, told the fact-finding team that he had been forced to leave his home in Al-Sheikh Zuweid before being able to make alternative arrangements.

He also reports that when he went to the governorate headquarters to collect the promised compensation he was sent away empty-handed. He now lives in a primitive wooden shack, where the fact-finding mission conducted the interview.

Abu Salem Alyan, from the Rafah border zone, complained to the team of the high cost of living in the area where he has moved. He said that while his new accommodation did have a water supply it was too saline. Alyan told the fact-finding mission that he had left his home out of fear for the safety of his children but wanted nothing more than to return.

Soleiman Salim and Howeishal Salim, from Al-Musamma, echoed the complaints of other interviewees. Their circumstances, however, are aggravated by the impossibility of securing day work as labourers under current conditions.

Others interviewed by the fact-finding team withheld their names out of fear that, once they lodged their grievances, they would be treated as being enemies of the state.

On its way to the border areas, and after displaying their identity cards at army checkpoints, the fact-finding mission spotted a roadblock manned by terrorists. The mission ran through the roadblock and was pursued, only to run into another barrier.

According to the report: “After travelling a considerable distance on the main road, about 200 metres ahead we saw a roadblock manned by jihadists who were stopping passing vehicles. We passed through quickly and when some of those manning the roadblock saw this they sent one of their vehicles after us, but we outdistanced them.

“We turned down another road but when we saw a second roadblock we turned back. On the way back we passed through the villages of Al-Mahdiya, Tamit and Wifaq. We spoke with some of the inhabitants of the villages, who refused to mention their names. They told us that their day-to-day lives were extremely difficult.”

The report records the grievances of families displaced from the border region, and summarises: “Clear government neglect, the lack of nearby schools, the absence of any health care, constant fear of eviction by the owners of the land to which they have moved and a desperate desire to return to their original homes.”

It continued, “At the very least, they want some financial compensation, temporary accommodation for themselves and their families and exemption from the usual administrative procedures necessary to transfer their children to the nearest schools.”

Two sections of the report are devoted to central and south Sinai, where the fact-finding mission met with residents of Ras Sudr, Abu Zenima, Al-Tor, Abu Rudeis, Sharm Al-Sheikh and Dahab.

The majority of complaints from the south of the peninsula focussed on problems related to infrastructure — inadequate water and sewage systems, hospitals and schools.

Many also complained of the impact of events in northern Sinai on tourism and how this is reflected in unemployment, which has risen sharply, and about delays in implementing development projects that the government has already promised.

The fact-finding mission noted that the petroleum sector in south Sinai does not employ bedouins, and that economic life in general is characterised by “an abnormal stagnation.”

The collapse in tourism has had a huge impact. Stores and hotels have been forced to lay off staff because they are unable to afford to cover basic running costs.

Other interviewees noted that there were extensive tracts of cultivable land in the area of Sahl el-Qa’ that remain unused. Farmers who were working complained of the absence of any marketing facilities that would allow them to sell their crops.

Tribal elders suggested increasing the number of mashyakhas (administrative divisions headed by tribal sheikhs), of which there are only 30 in south Sinai. This, they argued, would help mend rifts in Sinai society and also assist with tackling the security situation, since the local inhabitants know all the areas that might serve as extremist hideouts.

Elders added that the selection of mashayekh heads needed to be improved since the process has become tainted with nepotism and favoritism.

In Nuweiba the fact-finding team met with tribal leader Sheikh Mohamed Sabih, who drew a picture of conditions in the city and complained of marginalisation by government agencies.

It should be noted that in the report’s section on north Sinai the displaced persons interviewed by the fact-finding team were from the poorer segments of society.

Many were forced to flee from areas where their lives were at risk and lacked the resources to find alternative shelter for themselves and their families. Government agencies offered little if any help and they found themselves reduced to miserable circumstances, despite attempts by NGOs to offer support.

The report does not address the efficacy of military actions in improving the security situation but assesses them in terms of how they impact in the lives of the inhabitants in north Sinai. Nor does it attempt to assess the relationship between extremist groups and local populations.

In central and south Sinai the vast majority of complaints focus on infrastructure, a lack of transparency in choosing tribal elders, the economic consequences of the collapse of tourism and hiring practices that exclude the members of Sinai tribes.

The NCHR Sinai fact-finding report concludes with several recommendations. It urges the government to provide moral and material compensation to the families of people killed or wounded in security operations and to assist displaced families find housing in other areas of Sinai.

It asks the Ministry of Education to facilitate the enrolment in schools of the children of displaced families and government authorities to employ more Sinai inhabitants in the civil service rather than moving employees to the peninsula. The report also recommends a review of the duration of curfews and closer security coordination with tribal elders.

Most importantly, the report underlines the urgent need for a comprehensive, phased development process in Sinai.

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