Sinai used to be a land of equal opportunity, a place where people went to start a new life, to get away from the crowded Nile Valley, to escape the tensions of big cities, to avoid the country's widespread joblessness and to try something new. For some, moving to Sinai was a way to connect with the country of their origin. It was a place where expatriates enjoyed retirement, and children of mixed marriages felt at home. No more!
As of two months ago, Sinai is off limits for investors with dual nationalities, and also for Egyptians who have one foreign parent. Forget that Sinai was already a beleaguered territory, a place about which tourists think twice before visiting, because of political tensions involving Hamas and Israel, murderous attacks by freelance jihadists, and random abductions by disgruntled Bedouins.
The recent assault on Sinai came from a much higher authority: the government of Hisham Qandil.
In mid-September, the current government issued executive regulations requiring Egyptians with dual nationalities to sell their homes, lands, and businesses within six month. That is to say, by next April Sinai will be rid of, not the Jihadists, not Israeli threats, not its multiple financial woes, but rid of hundreds of Egyptian families. Sinai may also lose billions of dollars as a result of the rush to sell property in an already depressed market.
The government's decision, which received little or no coverage in the media, has caused widespread panic among investors in Sinai. Hundreds of lawsuits are likely to be filed against the government within weeks, according to business sources in Dahab and Sharm El Sheikh.
The text of Article 8 of the Executive Regulations for Law 14 for the Comprehensive Development of the Sinai Peninsula, which caused all the turmoil, appeared in the Official Gazette (issue 210) on 13 September 2012. Here is a translation of this text:
"An Egyptian who has obtained another nationality and kept his Egyptian nationality has to sell his property, be it land or buildings, in the Sinai Peninsula to Egyptians who hold solely the Egyptian nationality and whose parents are both Egyptian within six months of implementing these executive regulations. If the six months elapse without the property thus sold, the ownership of the property shall devolve to the state in return for the payment of equivalent (compensation) price to the owner. The (compensation) price is to be decided by a committee of experts the formation and task of which is to be determined in a decision to be issued by the minister of justice."
What this means is that hundreds of Egyptian families of dual nationality, people who have lived in Sinai for twenty or thirty years, people who own small and large businesses, whose children were most likely born in Sinai, will have to sell their land, their homes, their businesses at any price they can get, within the next four months.
The executive regulations were issued in September, but the Sinai local community didn't learn about them until two weeks ago and only by chance. There have been no notifications, no official letters, not even a distant whisper, before the axe fell.
Who, I wonder, has the money to buy this property worth billions of dollars? And what kind of financial and emotional damage is being inflicted on those Egyptian families whose only sin was to trust in their country's ability to respect ownership?
It is ironic that these ruinous executive regulations were affiliated with a law promising to create "comprehensive development" in Sinai. How we went from comprehensive development to comprehensive ruination, or callous bigotry, I don't know.
Mind you, even the Bedouin, the true natives of Sinai, will have trouble complying with the law. They may be the descendants of tribes who have lived in Sinai since Moses walked the earth, but they will run into serious difficulties with these new regulations. Some of them only recently obtained official identity papers. Some were born to parents with no identity records. Some are married to citizens of other countries. And some acquired additional citizenships when they fled Sinai during the years of Israeli occupation.
So with one stroke of the pen, our cabinet has managed to antagonize everyone and wreck the future of hundreds of families. With one stroke of the pen, families that had successful businesses, families that kept spending out of their savings in the past two years just to stay afloat, are at once humiliated and bankrupted.
Who exactly is to gain?
The Bedouin are not going to gain. The foreigners who come to Sinai to feel at home in a cosmopolitan community will be scared off-. The property prices in Sinai are likely to go down the drain. The government, which claims interest in "comprehensive development" in Sinai, cannot possibly gain. No one is going to gain. It is a disaster all around.
The damage has been done; there's no two ways about it.
The best we can hope for right now is that the government of Hisham Qandil will do itself and us a favour and revoke these outrageous regulations as fast as possible. Perhaps then we'll lose only half of the investors instead of all. Perhaps then we'll avoid an avalanche of punitive lawsuits that will drown the country in a legal whirlpool of unspeakable dimensions. Perhaps then we'll restore to fellow Egyptians, mixed parenthood and multiple passports notwithstanding, some of the confidence they have lost.