Invest in the Sinai or lose it

by Samuel Abbott

The Sinai liberation day that occurred last week is now just a propaganda day to talk about the development of the Peninsula, like in political campaigns these projects are spoken about and talked up. Yet in reality the Sinai sees nothing of these proposed investments and developments. The reality is that the population of Sinai still faces hardship in obtaining water, proper medical treatment and a good education. The infrastructure is in dire need of development projects as well as the roads which are in very poor shape and an electrical grid that is feeble. So when these populist speeches and promises of investing billions to re-develop the Sinai Peninsula are constantly used as rhetoric and only stay that way, of course the local population will be angry.

This is not just a recent occurrence; these promises have been made for years to the residents of the Sinai. In 2010 the Salam Canal project offered hope, only for the project to be transformed into an impervious dam, which deprived the lands and crops of water. The building of the Ismailia-Rafah railway was suddenly halted for several months in 2011 and thieves stole the iron tracks, without anyone stopping them.

The absent of any real development, job opportunities and infrastructure – not to mention the discrimination the Bedouin population face – is the cause of the illegal occupations and industries flourish among the Sinai Bedouin clans. It is also a large indication to why jihadist propaganda is flourishing in the region, the population is extremely resentful to the government and due to the weapons smuggling routes from Libya, Sudan and Gaza it is exceedingly easy to get your hands on cheap weapons. Resentment, weapons and a security vacuum after Mubarak was ousted in 2011 is the main cause of the high number of attacks since then.

The attacks continue in the Sinai, as today there were two suicide attacks in el-Tor today attacking a military checkpoint and a tourist bus that carried workers. One soldier was killed and nine other people were injured.

To stop the growing extremism the Egyptian government needs to start taking the Sinai Peninsula seriously, and treat the region and its population as part of Egypt. With this attitude and a considerable investment to re-develop the area is their best chance of stopping the growing insurgency. As people will feel less aggrieved, they will not turn to illegal occupations if they can get proper work, and this will all help in decreasing the support for the Jihadist groups in the region and making it much harder for them to operate, which will mean they will be easier to stop.  However the likelihood of this kind of project or attitude happening is virtually zero.