Egyptian political analysts criticized the government’s longstanding discriminatory practices against the Sinai Peninsula and its residents and called for implementing a series of post-revolution reforms in this strategic yet overlooked region in northeastern Egypt.
The Sinai Peninsula has been marginalized since the establishment of the modern Egyptian state, said political analyst and former chairman of the al-Ahram association, which issues Egypt’s most widely circulated daily official newspaper, Abdel Moneim Said.
“Sinai was left undeveloped for a long time and this is what made easier it for Israel to occupy it in 1956 and 1967,” he told Al Arabiya.
Even after its full liberation in 1982, Said added, the peninsula remained neglected and after the January 25 Revolution, the security situation in Sinai became very unstable as not enough effort was made by the state to protect it.
“This led Islamist militant groups like Hamas and al-Qaeda to flourish there and as a result several incidents like the bombing of gas pipelines, kidnapping of tourists, and armed robberies took place.”
The marginalization of Sinai, Said explained, was aggravated when the state constantly accused the Bedouin population living there of being unpatriotic and of not having any sense of belonging to Egypt.
“The Bedouin of Sinai suffered a lot under Israeli occupation from 1967 till 1973.”
Their patriotism, Said added, was apparent when the late Israeli Chief of Staff and Defense Minister Moshe Dayan offered to give them an independent state under the auspices of Israel, the United States and Europe and they refused.
“They insisted on remaining part of Egypt despite all the temptation that came with Israel’s offer. They also formed militant groups to fight the Israeli occupation and were behind several heroic acts that cost Tel Aviv a lot.”
In addition to questioning their patriotism, Said said, the Bedouin of Sinai were not treated as first-class citizens after the liberation for they were not allowed to own land there and were thus unable to get loans from banks.
The only way out of this crisis, he said, is through first allowing Sinai Bedouin to own land and to connect the al-Salam Canal, which starts from the Suez Canal, to the peninsula.
“The state should also start building universities and factories in Sinai as well as make the best use to its mineral wealth by starting projects in which residents can be employed.”
Said noted that government should also allow Egyptians from Upper Egypt to relocate to Sinai as part of a plan to populate the peninsula.
“Populating Sinai will constitute an obstacle in Israel’s way in case it thinks of infiltrating or attacking the peninsula.”
Former lawmaker and member of the liberal Wafd Party Salah al-Sayegh said the former regime did not respond to proposals that aimed at developing Sinai.
“In the previous parliament, I submitted a proposal about the establishment a national technology megaproject in Sinai and which could offer more than half a million job opportunities and attract an estimated amount of $18 billion in investments,” he told Al Arabiya.
The proposal, Sayegh added, was not taken seriously even though such a facility was bound to allow Egypt to be Israel’s rival in the region as far as information technology was concerned.
“Egypt also possessed all the resources and expertise required to make this project successful,” he said.
Like Said, Sayegh stressed the necessity of allowing the Bedouin to own land and to cultivate it using water from the al-Salam canal.
“This way several agricultural projects can be implemented in the peninsula.”
Sayegh also supported the relocation scenario and said that around five million Egyptians should be invited and encouraged to move to Sinai.
“In addition, residents of Sinai should work in tourism because it doesn’t make sense that all these tourist destinations are established on their land and they are not hired to work in them.”
For Gamal Zahran, head of the Department of Political Science at the Suez Canal University, it is important to redefine the relationship between Sinai and the rest of Egypt.
“I suggest that the governorates of South Sinai and North Sinai be merged in one to be administered by a military governor who served there for a while and is familiar with its problems and has good relations with its people.”
This governor, Zahran added, should have deputies in the north, south, and center of the peninsula to have all its needs covered and should be provided with a helicopter to be able to move fast across its different parts.
Zahran pointed out that the state needs to realize how strategic Sinai is in order to give it the attention it deserves.
“Sinai is on the border with Israel and its development will make any potential aggression almost impossible. Urbanization and dense population will make it very difficult and costly for Israel to launch an attack on Sinai,” he concluded.”
(Translated from Arabic by Sonia Farid)