Tuesday,21 May, 2019
Current issue | Issue 1440, (25 April - 1 May 2019)
Tuesday,21 May, 2019
Issue 1440, (25 April - 1 May 2019)

Ahram Weekly

Two-stage war in Sinai

Today is the 37th anniversary of the liberation of Sinai from Israeli occupation, with much having been done since to develop the Peninsula, writes Samir Sobhi 

In Sinai, one of the holiest places in Egypt, a war is now being waged on two main fronts: to combat terrorism and to develop the Peninsula. Sinai’s holy character stems from its religious history, since the Prophet Abraham crossed it and so did the Holy Family as they fled into Egypt from Herod’s persecution.

In Sinai, God also spoke to Prophet Musa (Moses) and handed him the Ten Commandments.

Throughout the ages, Sinai has witnessed the strength of Egypt’s army and the ability of the Egyptian state to turn it into an inexhaustible source of treasures. Today, as part of efforts to uproot terrorism, the Armed Forces are building a model village, called Al-Goufa, in central Sinai. It will be the nucleus for a new urban community in the area, and the North Sinai governorate, the Sinai Development and Urbanisation Authority, and a number of NGOs are taking part in the project.

The head of the East of Suez Counter-Terrorism Authority and the North Sinai governor opened the first phase of the project last November. It includes 30 model Bedouin houses equipped with electrical appliances and furniture in a village that has all the necessary facilities and services.

Work on the second phase of the project is now ongoing, with each comprising the construction of 70 Bedouin houses, each of some 200 square metres.

A new Al-Gadie guest house has been finished, with its main hall able to accommodate 80 people on social occasions. During the inauguration ceremony, the leases of the new furnished houses were delivered to beneficiaries.

Efforts to develop Sinai in parallel with the ongoing military operations against terrorism were reviewed. The North Sinai governor praised the cooperation between the Armed Forces and NGOs in the area that had resulted in the implementation of several development projects and the upgrading of services and utilities with the aim of providing better living standards for Sinai residents.

Sinai has been the theatre of two wars. Following the 30 June Revolution, Egypt declared war on terrorism that was being carried out in Sinai by terrorists and extremists. However, it has also declared another battle, this time to complete the urbanisation of Sinai. Terrorism has been eradicated from Sinai with the help of the army, the police and local residents, and stability has been restored. The time is now ripe to develop Sinai further and to build its future.

This year is the year of the urbanisation of Sinai from the eastern bank of the Suez Canal to the international borders. The plans are mainly related to upgrading infrastructure, including roads, services, water, electricity and the new Bedouin houses. They will be followed by further land reclamation, the construction of new industrial zones, and the development of central Sinai, which is still in need of geological surveys.

Presidential Decree 17 for 2018 set up a working committee assigned with developing Sinai. The committee is headed by Ibrahim Mahlab, presidential adviser on national and strategic projects.

Today, there is the North Sinai Agricultural Development Project that aims to reclaim some 400,000 feddans of land at a total cost of about LE7 billion. Around five million cubic metres of treated water will be taken from the Bahr Al-Bakar plant to irrigate the land. 

Such mega-projects will be the nucleus for the comprehensive development of Sinai. And they include the building of villages to settle the population. Five villages at Al-Tina south of Al-Qantara City are now under construction. Some 125,000 feddans of land have already been planted with sugar cane and other crops. Factories for sugar production and olive oil refining are due to be constructed.

Sinai is not all of a piece, geographically speaking. The northern part from Al-Arish to the Suez Canal is largely desert. The middle part is a great plateau forming nearly half of the Peninsula’s area and set among chains of limestone mountains. In the south of Sinai, red granite mountains can be found.

Increasing the population of Sinai is an important target of the government’s development plans, with the increase expected to reach one million. The development of animal husbandry will lead to increases in the population, and pasture and other agricultural land will be an additional pull factor. Bringing in farmers from the Delta, Upper Egypt and the over-populated governorates to Sinai will also be helpful. Many Sinai residents already have familial connections with people in the Sharqiya, Dakahliya and Qalyubiya governorates.

The question now is how to benefit Sinai inhabitants by building dams to store flood waters that can be used to irrigate a further two million feddans of land. The maps are there, the satellite photographs are ready, the technical committees are available and the labour is on hand. 

What is now needed? The answer is Egyptian investors and capital.

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