- Emphasis mine:
- The Clearing of North Sinai for the Palestinians?
North Sinai: Creating a new Egypt in Sisi’s image
In the heart of Al-Arish, the capital of the North Sinai Governorate, Metito is building a desalination plant at the cost of $96 million.
The water group, which is headquartered in the UAE, says the plant will provide enough water for 750,000 people. But as construction rolls ahead, local residents are asking exactly who this drinking water is for. North Sinai only has 400,000 residents. There used to be 500,000 but a fifth of them have been displaced – mainly from Rafah and Sheikh Zuweid – as the Egyptian government pursues a systematic policy to rid the area of locals.
Ninety per cent of farms have been razed in the area; villages have been destroyed and 3,000 houses crushed to the ground to create Egypt’s buffer zone with Gaza. Residents have also been forced out south of Al-Arish where the airport is being expanded and are now bracing themselves for a third round after the Egyptian president issued an official decree to confiscate houses, residential buildings and land surrounding Al-Arish port.
Read: Security presence in Al-Arish worse than height of Operation Sinai
Much of this displacement took place under “Operation Sinai”, a purge on the impoverished northern peninsula launched in early 2018. Under the pretext it was fighting a war on terror, authorities searched residents’ houses, demolished them and sealed off several towns.
The military campaign wound down seven months later but the punitive measures have remained in place, in various degrees of intensity, since then. Over the past three weeks a fresh security campaign has gathered pace. Security forces have bulldozed houses, prevented people mourning at funerals and installed security cameras on people’s houses, reports Mada Masr, in response to a number of terror attacks on checkpoints in late June.
It’s hard to really understand what’s happening in Sinai since the Egyptian regime has imposed a media blackout there whilst simultaneously pushing the narrative that the army’s efforts in Sinai are successful and heroic. Over recent weeks a number of social media accounts that provided vital information have been shut down and suspended. “It goes so far that you cannot even trust your neighbour,” says Ahmed. “Nobody would dare to talk to the press, an official or a stranger.”
The Egyptian government insists it is making Sinai more accessible from the Egyptian mainland as it completes four tunnels under the Suez Canal to connect it to the peninsula. But locals tell a different story. A local truck driver recently complained about the new fees at the Suez Tunnel – for private cars the price has jumped up to 20 Egyptian pounds ($1.2) from two Egyptian pounds ($0.2) and for trucks and buses from 80 Egyptian pounds ($4.9) to 200 Egyptian pounds ($12). “They don’t want anyone to come to Sinai,” he said.
The big question – what is the ultimate goal for Sinai? – should be considered in the context of the country as a whole. Many areas are undergoing similar cycles of displacement and gentrification, or the expulsion of the poor so that rich investors can enjoy their land.
Then there’s Trump’s “deal of the century”, under which Egypt is said to be handing over a portion of the Sinai Peninsula to the Palestinians: “Most Sinawis still believe that a Palestinian state in Sinai is the goal,” says Ahmed.
On the ground, there is no doubt that the systematic, ongoing displacement of North Sinai has had harrowing effects on the people there. Prior to Metito’s plant, people in North Sinai dug their own wells and used personal generators to water the fields. The vegetables and fruit they produced were some of the best in the country, in particular their olives and olive oil products.
“It is really painful that people who worked their entire lives to ‘make the desert green’ are being forced to leave their land and with their fields destroyed,” says Ahmed. “It is hard to believe that any kind of development in Sinai will benefit the original population.”