Defend and populate Sinai

Gamal Essam El-Din , Tuesday 31 Oct 2023

Economic development and increasing the number of Sinai residents is vital to Egypt’s national security.

Madbouli at the Rafah crossing
Madbouli at the Rafah crossing


Amid growing speculation that Israel plans to force Palestinians from Gaza to Sinai, Prime Minister Mustafa Madbouli paid a visit to the peninsula on 31 October. 

Madbouli said the visit, during which he reviewed a number of development topics, was intended to underline the centrality of Sinai to Egypt’s national security.

Madbouli arrived in Arish city, the capital of North Sinai, where he attended a ceremony alongside tribal leaders, cabinet ministers, politicians, MPs, actors, and media professionals at the headquarters of Battalion 101, the military unit whose fight to rid the peninsula of terrorist organisations and extremist groups was the subject of a recent Ramadan TV serial.

Madbouli also visited the Rafah border crossing where he saw dozens of trucks passing into Gaza to deliver humanitarian supplies, and laid the foundation stone for a number of new housing communities in North Sinai. 

Against a backdrop of talk about Israeli plans to resettle Palestinians in North Sinai, President Abdel-Fattah Al-Sisi stressed to US President Joe Biden in a telephone call on Sunday that “Egypt has not and will never allow the displacement of Palestinians from Gaza to Sinai.”

Madbouli echoed Al-Sisi’s remarks during his address at the ceremony in Arish.

“We are ready to sacrifice our souls to defend Sinai against all forms of aggression,” he said. “History has shown time and again that attempts to conquer Egypt come from the east. The Hyksos, Hittites, Romans, and Greeks all used Sinai to invade our country.”

“Thousands of Egyptians sacrificed their lives in the wars of 1956, 1967, and 1973 to defend Sinai. Now we must keep Sinai safe, by reconstructing and populating it.”  

Since President Al-Sisi came to office in 2014, Madbouli continued, the government has prioritised development of the peninsula and a strategic decision was taken to pursue development simultaneously with fighting terrorism.

Madbouli noted that the first stage of developing Sinai had focused on infrastructure projects and since 2014 more than LE600 billion had been spent on developing Sinai. North Sinai alone has been allocated LE290 billion to implement more than 1,000 projects, only because “we were able to win our battle against terrorist groups and clear all land from explosives and landmines.”

Madbouli said LE363 billion has been allocated to implement 302 projects in the second stage of development, of which LE115 billion will be spent to build new housing units and communities in North Sinai and LE2.5 billion to construct 13 tourist projects.

“The only thing that can protect a place is for it to be developed and inhabited,” he said.

According to Madbouli, the second stage of development in Sinai will also include cultivating additional 290,000 feddans in the north and centre of the peninsula, building a railway line that will terminate at Taba, and spending LE20 billion to turn Arish port and airport into an international logistics and trade hub.

“Madbouli’s visit is another message to the world in general, and to the Israelis in particular, is that Sinai is a red line and Egypt will never allow the displacement of Palestinians to the peninsula,” Ahmed Abaza, head of parliament’s Arab Affairs Committee, told Al-Ahram Weekly.

Abaza described Sinai as Egypt’s eastern gate. The strategic peninsula linking Africa, Asia, and Europe offers industrial, mining, tourism and agricultural opportunities and, Abaza added, is now ready to host foreign investments now the army and security forces have rid the land of terrorist groups.

According to the Central Agency for Public Mobilisation and Statistics (CAPMAS), 450,528 people live in North Sinai and 111,108 people in the governorate of South Sinai. The peninsula comprises 61,000 square kilometres, or six per cent of Egypt’s total land area.

The Comprehensive National Plan to Change Life in Sinai — the Land of Turquoise, a recent report by the cabinet’s Information and Decision Support Centre, sheds light on government’s efforts to develop Sinai, highlighting efforts to build a robust industrial infrastructure to attract investments to the peninsula. Infrastructure projects include roads, bridges, drinking water stations, sanitation, agriculture, irrigation, education, and transportation.

The report also noted how cultivated land in Sinai had increased by 500,000 feddans in the last nine years, mostly around the Al-Salam canal.

Planning Minister Hala Al-Said told the House of Representatives last June that government allocations in FY 2023-24 for the development of North Sinai governorate amounted to LE290 billion.

Al-Said said the service sector accounted for 55 per cent of government investments directed to North Sinai, followed by the construction sector at 10.5 per cent and agriculture and land reclamation schemes at 6.4 per cent. 

During the current fiscal year planned development programmes include land reclamation projects, the completion of 13 agricultural clusters in cooperation with the Saudi Fund for Development, and the completion of a public irrigation network. There are also plans to construct new drinking water stations and extend drinking water delivery services.

The FY 2023-24 development plan encompasses new desalination plants in Tur, Ras Sedr, Abu Zenima, Dahab, and Nuweiba, and the building of a ground reservoir in Dahab with a capacity of 5,000 m3. Plans are also underway to construct a major water storage tank in Sharm El-Sheikh and develop drinking water and sanitation facilities at the three branches of King Salman University in Ras Sedr, Tur, and Sharm El-Sheikh, complete the Tur Medical Complex, develop a network of hospitals and rehabilitate and equip general and technical schools across South Sinai. 

“The development of Sinai is the best way to attract Egyptians living in the densely populated Delta-Nile governorates to move to the peninsula and this will have a positive impact on the political, economic and security levels there,” says Abaza.

“The fact the peninsula is under-populated is what pushed the Israelis to call for resettling Palestinians from Gaza in Sinai.”

Abaza believes large development allocations directed to Sinai are a step in the right direction, turning the area from a breeding ground of crises into one of prosperity and stability. 

“We are still at the beginning of the journey and the road ahead is full of challenges but the country’s leadership has the political will to link Sinai to the motherland and facilitate investment and trade across the peninsula.” 

* A version of this article appears in print in the 2 November, 2023 edition of Al-Ahram Weekly

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