Middle East

January 8, 2013

The Sinai Dilemma

“The world is a fine place and worth fighting for” (Ernest Hemingway)

Throughout history, the Sinai Peninsula has served as a bridge between Africa and Asia. This same region was, according to biblical tradition, where Moses received his Ten Commandments from God. In the Quran Sinai is mentioned twice. And, since the Suez Canal was built in 1882, Sinai has become a much more important place for world powers. From the end of the Second World War, this region has been the battlefield of many wars between Israel and Egypt. After the Camp David Accords were signed in 1979, Egypt regained the region from Israel in 1982. Over the last thirty years the Sinai Peninsula has been neglected by the government. Apart from the tourist resorts built on the costal areas, the region remains unchanged since the Israeli withdrawal in 1982. Since 2004, terrorism has risen exponentially in the region. On the 5th of August 2012 sixteen Egyptian soldiers lost their lives in a terrorist attack against a military base in northern Sinai. In order to understand this region’s problem, it is vital to look at it through socio-economic and military dimensions.

The Sinai population can be characterized by its own distinctive culture as well as its strong tribal organization. Between 1967 and 1982 Sinai was under Israeli control and since then there has been a feeling of distrust and discrimination by the government towards this minority. Under the Mubarak regime, the Bedouin population of Sinai were not allowed to form a political party or own any of the lands that they lived on. In addition, there is a lack of access to services enjoyed by the rest of Egyptians such as healthcare and access to clean water. Furthermore, there have been complaints by the Bedouin people that they have been marginalized by the government who even refuses to issue ID cards for them.

Over the years, the Bedouin people were left out of development in the tourism industry as well as the mineral resources sector. Additionally, companies which operated in this region mostly hired both manual labourers and corporate employees from the Nile Valley. With the huge revenues from the tourism industry, $ 11.6 Billion in 2009, Sinai’s main projects such as Al Salam Canal (which was supposed to be completed to carry water to dry areas) was never finished as promised.

Today, Sinai Bedouins are considered to be much poorer than their Nile Valley compatriots due to unemployment and increasing poverty. This has left many Bedouins with no option but to engage in the smuggling business, which includes weapons, drugs, fuel, as well as human trafficking. Just last September the Egyptian government announced that it would allow foreign investment in this region but investors will only be permitted to hold a maximum ownership of 45%.  Ironic as sounds, due to distrust, local banks aren’t allowed to provide any loans which in itself hinders any investment opportunities.

Since the Israeli withdrawal in 1979, the Sinai region has remained demilitarized due to the Camp David Peace Accords. In August 2011, the Egyptian Army launched “Operation Eagle” in order to confront the terrorists who had previously attacked both the police and military bases. During 2012, the operation name changed to “Operation Sinai”; nevertheless there was scepticism on the scope of the military involvement in the region due to the vagueness of the operation mission as well as the lack of information about the operation itself. Due to this ongoing operation in Sinai tourism has been negatively affected in this area.

The situation in the Sinai has been best summarized by Mossad Abu Fajr, a local blogger and poet who in 2010 wrote: “We drink torture, discrimination, deportation and despotism minute by minute, so that some of us felt that humiliation, just like blood, runs in our veins…The greatest sheikh of our tribe is sent by the police informer to buy him cigarettes from the kiosk in front of the police station…And as to us, we have become like circus acrobats between the ropes, playing with National Security to get protection from State Security. Those who did not find their place with National Security played with State Security to be protected against the Bedouin Affairs Department …”.

The situation in Sinai raises a number of questions about the dim future of this region, but most importantly when will the government end this neglect?

About the Author

Tarek Heleka
Tarek Heleka is from Egypt. He is a graduate of Webster University in London with a BA in Management, Political Science and Human Rights. His main areas of interest are diplomacy, Middle East issues, as well as U.S foreign policy. Tarek is also the co-founder and former President of the Regent’s College Middle East society. He currently lives in Canada, where he is enrolled in a Postgraduate program at Seneca College.

One Comment

  1. Tarek

    amazing article

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