The Governor of North Sinai General Abdel-Fattah Harhour speaks to Ahmed Eleiba, Al-Ahram Weekly’s correspondent, about government efforts to maintain essential services to the residents of the governorate and continue development projects at a time of war against terrorism
Ahram Weekly (AW): What is the level of cooperation between the governorate and other government agencies and the Armed Forces in the framework of Comprehensive Operation Sinai (COS) 2018?
Governor Abdel-Fattah Harhour (GAH): The word “comprehensive” in the codename of the operation in Sinai signifies that all government agencies and institutions have a part to play. This is being put into practice.
The operation was carefully planned, taking into account lessons learned from earlier operations such as Martyr’s Right.
All government agencies and institutions have been brought on board and there is tight coordination between them to ensure optimal results.
Every possible measure has been taken to keep civilians apart from terrorists. Steps have been taken to facilitate the movement of civilian traffic on the roads, to distribute and secure food supplies by creating a large stockpile of basic items that will last several months.
As the operation was set in motion the needs of the civilian population of North Sinai was uppermost in the planners’ minds.
AW: But how are essential services and supplies for civilians being maintained?
GAH: During the operation’s preparation stage the same attention was paid to the management of logistics and supplies for the civilian population as to logistics and the supply of troops engaged in the war against terrorism.
In Rafah, Sheikh Zuweid and other cities in the governorate a system of mobile food outlets was put into place to deliver fresh vegetables, pulses, meat, poultry and other foodstuffs.
Produce is shipped from the Armed Forces’ administrative bases in East Qantara and Arish.
Some 37.5 tonnes of vegetables, meat and other products are supplied to Arish.
Since the operation began the governorate has ensured that essential services — healthcare, electricity, water, waste disposal, natural gas and telephone services — have continued undisrupted.
The only exception has been schools which had to close to prevent children from being targeted by terrorists.
Public transport has continued, and there are now 10 buses available free-of-charge to the public in Arish.
A further three buses have been made available for kidney dialysis patients in the city, and dedicated transport is available for government employees.
The prime minister’s office has in addition approved 10 more buses for Arish and its environs, including Beir Al-Abd.
AW: Has a date been set for schools to reopen?
GAH: Not yet. A committee has been formed to examine the problems faced by pupils. We are considering the possibility of holding exams in the summer for primary students.
The matter is still under study. More difficult is what to do about secondary school exams, which are uniform nationwide.
Possible solutions are still being reviewed.
(AW): Sinai’s citizens are enduring the hardships which have accompanied COS 2018 in the hope that the restoration of security will bring prospects for a better future. What is your view on this?
The assistant secretary-general of the governorate took part in a meeting of the National Agency for the Development of Sinai and asked all relevant ministries to produce detailed plans of the tasks they need to undertake, including timeframes for implementation.
The ministers of culture and waqf (religious endowments) and representatives of the ministries of education and housing were present at the meeting.
It is essential that after the operation ends the people of Sinai feel the benefits of security and stability and the fruits of development.
There is an important intermediary step between the comprehensive process of fighting terrorism and the beginning of the development process. There needs to be a phase of “consolation”.
People who suffered, or who endured shortages during the operation, need to be comforted and reassured. There is a social and psychological dimension to the process which must be addressed.
AW: What about development projects that have already been approved and are being implemented in tandem with COS 2018?
GAH: The North Sinai governorate consists of six administrative centres and 85 villages.
It has a population of 450,000, of which 220,000 live in Arish.
The numerous development and investment projects in North Sinai fall under two general headings.
The first includes the governorate’s own plans for roads, electricity, environmental upgrades and security. Budgets have been allocated and we are pursuing our goals as far as possible given the limitations inevitably placed by security circumstances.
But what we can do in Beir Al-Abd is clearly not the same as in Sheikh Zuweid.
Under the second heading come projects being carried out by various ministries.
The social housing projects being undertaken by the Ministry of Housing are a good example.
It has already built 2,700 units and further 900 units are currently being constructed in Arish, 48 in Beir Al-Abd, 32 in Al-Hassana and another 32 in Nakhl.
In addition, 300 Bedouin homes will be built.
AW: So, a strategic plan for Sinai development in the post-COS 2018 period exists?
GAH: It is being worked on and constantly developed. Most important is the development of human resources.
People here must come to love life again. For too long they have not been able to experience life as it should be lived.
It is essential to change the way people think. What’s the point of having a factory that employs 1,000 people who have strange ideas? We must remedy the roots.
This applies as much to the people who came to Sinai from the Nile Valley and Delta as to those who were born here.
We had imagined they would change Sinai society whereas what happened is they changed to accommodate to society here. This requires a national project.
The human factor is the building block of development. I have asked the ministers of culture, youth and sport and education to visit. It is something I often bring up with the authorities.
AW: Have your appeals to take part in the comprehensive development process needed in Sinai received a positive response from ministries?
GAH: Certainly. The proof is to be found in the recommendations made by the Sinai Reconstruction Committee, headed by former prime minister Ibrahim Mehleb, and the meeting attended by ministers where it was agreed representatives would present their ministries’ plans.
Each ministry was asked to present a working plan or proposals for human development, covering how to eliminate the psychological effects of terrorism in North Sinai and promote ideological development and social assimilation.
*This story was first published in Al-Ahram Weekly
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