Sinai’s development gains momentum with greater involvement by Arab countries

Egypt’s development programme for Sinai requires $15 billion; $9.7 billion has been raised so far, mostly in donations from other Arab countries.
Sunday 22/07/2018
Ambitious plans. An Egyptian labourer walks at construction site.  (AFP)
Ambitious plans. An Egyptian labourer walks at construction site. (AFP)

CAIRO - Kuwait has donated $165 million to support the development of Egypt’s Sinai Peninsula. The Kuwaiti government earlier gave $1.5 billion towards Sinai development, funds Egypt desperately needs to bridge a funding gap in the national programme to develop the peninsula.

The $165 million donation, announced July 16, will be used to initiate projects, including improvement of water quality, Egyptian Minister of Investment and International Cooperation Sahar Nasr said.

“It will also be used in making the necessary infrastructure for a number of important projects in Sinai,” Nasr said.

Kuwait is the latest Arab Gulf country to contribute to Sinai development. In March 2016, Saudi Arabia donated $1.5 billion for Sinai development. The following month, the United Arab Emirates offered $4 billion in financial support to Egypt, including $2 billion for development projects, many of which were in Sinai.

Such support, analysts said, was necessary if Egypt wants to ensure security and stability across the Sinai Peninsula.

Egypt’s development programme for Sinai requires $15 billion; $9.7 billion has been raised so far, mostly in donations from other Arab countries.

Egypt’s plans for Sinai Peninsula development come amid growing Arab fears that unrest in the area could affect navigation in the Suez Canal and the Red Sea, important passageways for petroleum from the Gulf to international markets, analysts said.

“The situation in Sinai always affects navigation in the canal,” said retired army General Gamal Eddine Mazloum. “Unrest in Sinai can hamper navigation in the canal, a doomsday scenario for Egypt and countries whose trade passes through the canal.”

Egypt is focusing on Sinai development while the Egyptian Army is fighting to uproot extremism in the restive area. Egypt began Operation Sinai in February to defeat the Islamic State (ISIS).

Cairo said the operation has crippled ISIS’s combat ability and reduced its numbers. Analysts speculate ISIS found it easy to operate out of the Sinai Peninsula because of a lack of development and disenchantment of the local community.

Sinai remained without development since its liberation from Israeli occupation in the 1973 Yom Kippur War. Mainly inhabited by nomadic Bedouins, the north-eastern territory — almost two times the sizes of Israel, Lebanon, the Gaza Strip and the occupied West Bank combined — lacked many basic services for its 400,000 residents.

Some of Sinai’s residents complained about discrimination in public-sector jobs and the ability to enter military and police colleges.

Such tough conditions gave jihadist movements an opportunity to win Sinai residents to their side, security analysts said.

Attacks by terrorist groups turned some areas of North Sinai into forbidden territory for Christians and those linked to the army or state institutions.

The Sinai development programme aims to assist military efforts to eradicate terrorism and extremism from the Egyptian peninsula. The plan includes construction of a huge number of flats, the cultivation of massive land areas and the completion of infrastructure projects.

The Ministry of Investment and International Cooperation is negotiating with the World Bank for funding for the Sinai development plan, Nasr said.

“Development is an indispensable weapon against terrorism,” Nasr said. “You cannot eradicate terrorism in an area that suffers deprivation.”

“Development is at the heart of this aspired stability,” said Saad al-Zunt, the head of the Strategic Studies Centre, a local think-tank. “This stability is also paramount for security in the Suez Canal and the Red Sea.”