Last weekend, on 25 April, Egypt commemorated Sinai Liberation Day, an occasion that also served to remind us of the considerable developmental efforts the government has dedicated to Sinai since the 30 June 2013 Revolution. The government is determined not to repeat the mistakes of previous governments whose developmental efforts focused on the geographical centre at the expense of peripheries. It has therefore focused attention on the provinces, especially those in Upper Egypt and Sinai, with hopes of transforming them into areas attractive to both people and investment. Development of Sinai has the additional aims of combating terrorism and generating communities that contribute to bolstering Egyptian national security in its broader aspects.
Sinai has already undergone a huge transformation during the past six years thanks to the new quality of attention it has received since 2014. The first priority was infrastructure, the cornerstone for drawing investment. New cities and industrial zones received a good share of such efforts which aspire to build a better life for Egyptians living in Sinai. This applies, in particular, to North Sinai where the Egyptian army has been engaged in a comprehensive and successful operation to eliminate the terrorism that threatened people’s lives and welfare. This campaign has been carried out in full coordination with local governing bodies to ensure the provision of basic foodstuffs, healthcare, social services and other essential needs.
The national budget offers one way to gauge the transformation of Sinai, whether through short-term spending through the Ministry of Finance to enable government agencies to perform their daily job of providing basic services to the people, or through mid and long term investments undertaken by the Ministry of Planning in order to create the economic environment Sinai needs in the future.
Huge resources, exceeding LE 600 billion, have been pumped into Sinai, sowing the seeds of a radical transformation. These seeds are tangible in infrastructural developments: the networks of roads and tunnels passing beneath the Suez Canal, linking different parts of the peninsula with the Delta, Nile Valley and other parts of the country; the water desalination plants to serve various developmental purposes and make it possible to invite larger numbers of residents; the renewable energy plants to serve and nurture the growth of diverse economic activities in industry, tourism and agriculture; and, of course, the new schools, hospitals and other such facilities to safeguard the health and build the minds of the people of Sinai. After all, the people are both the engine and the aim of all development efforts.
The numerous projects to build, expand and raise the capacities of schools, educational administrations and staffs in Sinai testify to the high priority the government has given to public education in the peninsula. For example, the number of pre-university level classrooms has increased from 4,793 in 2016 to 5,021 in 2019, which is a higher classroom growth rate than in Cairo.
Figures related to the health sector are on par with or higher than those in other parts of the country. The armed forces have already constructed major public hospitals in Al-Arish and Sharm El-Sheikh and, in anticipation of a growing population in Sinai, the National Sinai Development Plan aims to increase the number of hospital beds to 6,000 through the construction of 54 public hospitals operated by the Ministry of Health and another 23 private sector hospitals.
Contrary to claims in some inaccurate and misleading reports abroad, the government aims to narrow the developmental disparity between Sinai and the Nile Valley and the Delta. It wants to end that vicious cycle that has long kept Sinai down as one of the poorest regions in the country. This cycle begins with a relatively sparse population that offers only a small market, which does not encourage investment. The lack of prospects of economic growth and employment, in turn, drives Sinai inhabitants to the Nile Valley and Delta, which reinforces the cycle and aggravates the disparity. Through many measures to stimulate and develop productive sectors, taking advantage of the many resources Sinai has to offer, the government hopes to attract investment and create opportunities that will not only serve as incentives to the people of Sinai to remain in Sinai, but also to attract new inhabitants away from Egypt’s overcrowded urban centres elsewhere.
*A version of this article appears in print in the 30 April, 2020 edition of Al-Ahram Weekly