Arish is the capital of Egypt's North Sinai governorate, as well as the largest city in the whole Sinai. It lies on Mediterranean coast, about 350 km northeast of Cairo and 45 km west of the Egypt-Gaza border.
Map of Arish
Over the last decade, Arish was the victim of a number of terrorist attacks by groups that arose after the January Revolution in 2011. Between 2011 and 2013, the Ansar Beit Al-Maqdis terrorist group carried out attacks on the Egyptian-Israeli border, including several against the gas pipeline between the two countries.
After 2013, they began attacking Egyptian military and security forces not only in Sinai but also in Egypt’s mainland. In November 2014, they swore allegiance to the Islamic State (IS) terrorist group and changed their name to Wilayat Sinai.
The group carried out attacks against the Egyptian army, security forces and civilians, taking the lives of thousands of people. In October 2015, they claimed responsibility for the downing of a Russian airliner over the Sinai that killed all 224 people aboard. They also attacked Al-Rawdah mosque in the city of Bir Al-Abed, killing more than 300 people in November 2017.
The aftermath of an attack on a police station in Arish in 2015
Beginning in 2014, the Egyptian government carried out massive security operations, alongside tribal leaders, to defeat the these groups and uproot them from Sinai, including Arish.
The operations took place in three major phases, the first beginning in October 2014.
The second phase began in September 2015 following a major attack by Wilayat Sinai and included The Martyr’s Right operation, which at the time was the largest and most comprehensive of its kind.
The third phase began in February 2018 when the Egyptian army launched Operation Sinai 2018, that aimed to “purge the country of terrorists.”
However, the government’s strategy to defeat terrorism did not just rely on winning battlefield victories.
Instead, they adopted a multi-faceted approach meant to dry up the financial, organization and ideological wells of terrorism.
Egypt placed a premium on global cooperation, sharing its expertise with regional and international organizations to dry up funding for terrorism in accordance with UN resolutions. They also worked regionally, through their membership in the Arab League, the African Union and the Organization of Islamic Cooperation.
At the ideological level, Egypt’s vision for counter-terrorism is based in the view that all terrorist groups, despite their differences, are of equal threat and that their ideas are based in an ideology of violence.
To combat extremist ideology and promote a moderate religious discourse, Egypt enlisted the help of Al-Azhar, the world’s leading Sunni Islamic institution, and Dar Al-Ifta, the state institution in charge of issuing religious edicts. These played a key role at the national, regional and international level in dismantling the ideological foundations of the terrorist groups.
The strategy was also supported by a long-term vision of political, social and economic development in the Sinai. The purpose of such projects are not just to provide infrastructure, but social empowerment.
Arish Port development
One such project, scheduled for completion in the first quarter of 2024, is the transformation of the previously small Port of Arish into an international port.
The development works include the construction of berths, a breakwater, circulation yards and internal roads, as well as the improvement of the port’s buildings, walls and gates.
Upon completion, the port will be able to receive modern, large-tonnage ships. The port will also be able to handle white and black cement, as well as other important trade goods destined for foreign markets from Sinai including sand, salt and marble.
The port will provide a number of direct and indirect job opportunities in the governorate, and advance the development of the rest of Sinai as well.
Upgrades to the Arish Hospital have improved medical services in the city, raising them to the level enjoyed elsewhere in Egypt.
These upgrades include modernization of the building; an upgraded reception department; magnetic resonance imaging; cardiac catheterization; the establishment of a department of obstetrics and gynecology, burn treatment, and chemotherapy. In addition, the hospital has been provided with up-to-date medical equipment to enhance the efficiency of its operating theaters.
Housing, energy and water
This was accompanied by housing projects to provide the people of Sinai with decent housing after years of suffering the destruction of terrorism.
A power station in the Masaid neighborhood generates electricity, not only for the city of Arish, but for other regions in the governorate. It has an initial operating capacity of 350 MW and will eventually produce 700 MW.
Meanwhile, a desalination plant with capacity of 300,000 cubic metres per day provides clean water for 1.5 million people.
On the social level, The University of Arish, which includes 11 faculties, serves 7,300 students from the governorate.
A theatre house has been opened in the city’s cultural centre, where plays are performed. Meanwhile, concerts take place on the city’s beach.
During my visit to Arish in June as a member of the NCHR, I was fascinated to attend the Domino Championship with the participation of 200 male and female players from different governorates, including 100 male and female players from Sinai. The championship qualifies for the world tournament, which will be held in Macedonia and the United States at the end of this year.
Also during my visit, I was able to witness different games being joyously played on the beach and attend a play at the fully booked theatre.
Everywhere I went, the people of Arish were filled with the fascination of a return to a normal social life and evenings in a secure city.