This was a day to celebrate indeed, and perhaps the strongest blow to terrorist organisations who sought to turn this treasured part of the country into their horrific playground.
Prime Minister Mustafa Madbouli summed up the achievements made all over Sinai in the term “the second crossing”, the first being the one made following our victory in the 1973 War, defying all expectations and proving to the whole world that Egypt would never give up its territory or leave it under foreign occupation.
What adds to the significance of the “second crossing” even more is that it took place under extremely difficult and exceptional circumstances. Terrorist organisations linked to both IS and Al-Qaeda had exploited the chaos that followed the 25 January 2011 Revolution to amass their fighters there, attacking not only army and police posts, but workers seeking to build new roads, schools, hospitals and government offices providing basic services.
Al-Sisi made a firm choice not to halt development in Sinai under such security circumstances. He was fully aware that one of the key goals of terrorist organisations was to kill hope and convince Sinai residents that the central government was marginalising them. That’s why it was important to remain steadfast, fighting terrorism and continuing to give the people of Sinai their right to development and services.
As Al-Sisi said on Sunday, providing security in Sinai and restoring order was top priority, “because without security, there can’t be any development.” In this context, the president expressed his gratitude for the suffering endured by the people of Sinai all through the past nine years. Curfews were imposed for several years, and movement between parts of Sinai, and from Sinai to the rest of Egypt was arduous. Electricity and internet services were constantly interrupted as the army and police fought their heroic war against the terrorists.
Considering that a top goal for terrorists was to isolate Sinai, one of the government’s priorities was to ensure a strong connection between the mainland and the peninsula. For decades, there was only one tunnel and two bridges linking the two sides. In nearly no time, and with strong determination and persistence, the Egyptian army built five more tunnels and five advanced bridges to bolster up access to its Asian gateway.
Second came massive power projects. The government plan was to turn Sinai into an attraction for industrial and agricultural investment. This cannot happen without electricity, as well as costly water desalination projects and an extended network of well-built roads and bridges that link different parts of Sinai, north to south and east to west.
Developing urban centres with new, modern housing projects, building new communities and improving basic health and education services also all took part alongside other infrastructure projects. Moreover, to feed the growing need for agricultural products, the government has already managed to reclaim more than 400,000 acres of desert land, providing them with water and machinery.
All these projects came at a high cost. President Al-Sisi said $40-50 billion were invested over the past nine years in Sinai, and premier Madbouli estimated that EGP 600 billion were spent in the same period. Delays would have resulted in even higher costs, and added to the suffering of Sinai residents and their sense that they were deprived of their equal share of development.
As the president noted, the war against terrorism is not fought with weapons and security measures alone. An important aspect of this war is to refute the endless stream of rumours and false claims circulated by terrorist groups to weaken confidence in the Egyptian state and its ability to meet the needs of its people.
The latest example the president jokingly referred to was a fake recording made up of edited sentences from previous speeches of his that circulated widely on the social media, claiming that he was planning to “selling” the Suez Canal to foreign investors for a trillion dollars, which the vast majority had already recognised as bogus. People who had made so many sacrifices to restore the stability and ensure the stability of the country could not possibly go on to compromise its territories or resources. And already those sacrifices have borne fruit in both the north and south of Sinai – Al Arish and Sharm El-Sheikh, respectively – which looks and feels markedly different. Now that the threat of terrorism is at bay, there is more to look forward to there.
* A version of this article appears in print in the 2 March, 2023 edition of Al-Ahram Weekly