A new Rafah

Ahmed Al-Deeb , Tuesday 25 Jun 2024

Egypt plans to transform Rafah into a centre of innovation and investment, reports Ahmed Al-Deeb

Hajj toll


The Rafah crossing has been at the heart of events since Israel began its relentless war on the Gaza Strip. Egypt’s gateway to the east is the only crossing connecting Egypt and Palestine and has long been a vital lifeline for Gazans, facilitating the entry of humanitarian aid and the transfer of hundreds of patients to Egyptian hospitals.

Historically, the Rafah crossing — a crucial link between Africa and Asia and a pivotal trade route between East and West since the Middle Ages — has endured decades of security tensions and conflicts.

Following the 25 January 2011 Revolution, terrorist organisations such as Islamic State and the extremist Hamas movement made Rafah a centre of their operations. The violence continued to surge under the rule of the Muslim Brotherhood which actively facilitated terrorist and extremist activities in Rafah and other parts of North Sinai.

When the 30 June 2013 Revolution overthrew Brotherhood rule, Egypt faced a relentless wave of terrorist operations. The Brotherhood and its allies launched an existential war targeting civilians and destroying religious, judicial, and security institutions in an ultimately doomed attempt to incite fear and chaos.

The Palestinian-Israeli conflict and other regional tensions contributed to the heavy security challenges centred on Rafah. Fortunately, Egypt’s campaign against terrorism in Sinai managed to eliminate extremist groups and cut off sources of terrorist financing, leaving Rafah and the north coast of North Sinai a safe area.

Egypt now has an ambitious vision to transform Rafah into a safe, smart city. The plan focuses on innovation and sustainable development and includes building high-speed communication networks and smart transportation systems. The goal is to leverage Rafah’s strategically important geographical location and turn the city into a major investment hub and population centre.

The state plans to improve energy networks, using renewable energy technologies such as solar power to provide a sustainable supply of electricity and reduce dependence on non-renewable energy sources, and improve road and traffic infrastructure to allow for the introduction of smart transportation systems, including smart buses and electric cars.

Efforts are underway to digitise government services in Rafah. Moving government functions onto digital platforms will make it easier for citizens to access services, obtain official documents, and pay bills.

The education system will benefit from the introduction of digital content and distance learning platforms and virtual clinics will provide online healthcare services, including remote medical consultations and electronic prescriptions. Technology will also be used to monitor public health and enable early disease detection.

Recognising that development plays a crucial role in creating an environment resistant to extremist ideologies, the government has allocated LE10 billion to the development of Rafah. Several initiatives have been launched to improve the living conditions of people, with a focus on empowering women and youth and improving health and education. They include the Karama and Takaful (Solidarity and Dignity) and Hayah Karima (Decent Life) programmes and major water, sanitation, agriculture, and land reclamation projects.

As part of the strategy, North Sinai governorate has begun the development of New Rafah, creating modern residential complexes that will provide 10,000 housing units and 400 Bedouin houses ranging in size from 120 to 300 square metres.

* A version of this article appears in print in the 27 June, 2024 edition of Al-Ahram Weekly

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