Who will rule Sinai? (JERUSALEM POST OP-ED) By ZVI MAZEL - The writer is a former ambassador to Egypt 05/10/12)
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Cancelling the sale of Egyptian gas to Israel has not made much
difference to the security situation in the Sinai peninsula.
According to reports in the daily Al-Masry Al-Youm, there have been
more than 50 attacks against police installations since the beginning
of the revolution – as well as 14 successful sabotage operations
against the pipeline bringing Egyptian gas to Israel and an assault
on the command post controlling the pipeline carried out a few days
before the cancellation.
The government is trying to put together a master plan to improve the
lot of the mostly Beduin population. However many years will be
needed to implement these worthy goals. Palestinian terrorist
organizations – some affiliated with al- Qaida – are not waiting.
They are busy infiltrating Beduin society, setting up local cells to
smuggle arms to the Gaza strip and attack Egyptian security forces.
So far the response of the Cairo authorities has been muted, leaving
army and police helpless against the relentless onslaught.
Egyptian media reported that seven police station in central and
northern Sinai were closed last week because they could not be
defended; only four are left, all in the El Arish area. In the past
few days security forces have arrested a group of Libyans – including
an army officer – and two terrorists of the Izzadin Kassam
organization who had crossed illegally from Gaza through the tunnels.
During the same week two policemen were killed and three wounded west
of El Arish; in Rafah masked men opened fire on policemen, killing
one and wounding two. Over the weekend two soldiers were killed and
half a dozen captured (they were later released). General Abdel Wahab
Mabrouk, governor of northern Sinai, announced the formation of a
special unit to impose order. His official car was stolen and a dozen
civilian cars were taken at gun point in his governorate.
On a more positive note, security forces managed to repel attempts to
sabotage the monument to Israeli dead erected in Sheikh Zweid. Last
year there were talks on setting up special Beduin units, drawing on
their intimate knowledge of the area. Their salaries would be a
welcome addition and they would have the added incentive of
protecting their villages and their families.
However it was apparently dropped; creating armed groups of Beduin
with no adequate army supervision being deemed too risky. People in
the El Arish area are complaining that police forces are merely
protecting their own installations and the roads leading to them,
while other roads are left at the mercy of marauding terrorists.
Al-Masry Al-Youm quotes a security source as saying that Sinai is out
of control though strenuous efforts are made to restore
order “particularly since Israel is saying that Egypt is more
dangerous than Iran,” adding that they were deeply worried by the
growing strength of Islamic terror groups. Another source complained
that they were still waiting for the go-ahead for a comprehensive
assault on the jihadists. Instead, he said, the government turned to
Hamas and asked the organization to better control the tunnels!
While the SCAF appears reluctant to act, there is growing political
interest in the peninsula. A delegation from the defense and national
security commission of the parliament toured northern Sinai to study
security and economic issues as well as the smuggling tunnels and
attacks on the gas pipeline. They held talks with Beduin chiefs who
expressed a wish to see the peace treaty with Israel re-opened.
Apparently what they wanted was to limit the demilitarization of
eastern Sinai in order to bring a great number of troops and to set
up armed Beduin units (as seen above) – both measures being forbidden
under the treaty. The committee is yet to publish its report though
there can be no doubt that its members understood very well that this
a situation which threatens the security of the whole of Egypt.
Since most of them belong to the Muslim Brotherhood or the Salafist
parties, they will have to reconcile their hatred toward Israel with
the need to restore order in the peninsula, put an end to smuggling
and improve economic conditions.
Several presidential candidates also visited the region, among them
Amr Moussa and Mohammed Morsi (the Brotherhood candidate). Both
promised to improve the lot of the Beduin. Morsi also declared in
Sharm e-Sheikh that Egypt under his leadership would strive to
conquer Jerusalem (meaning destroying Israel).
Hamdeein Sabahi, candidate for the neo-Nasserite party Karame which
calls for ending the peace treaty, also came, though he had received
death threats. His car was met by angry protesters in northern Sinai
and he had to turn back. Sabahi is a known opponent of an Islamic
takeover and that – and not his stance towards Israel – was probably
the reason for the hostile reception.
PRIME MINISTER Kamal Ganzouri, worried about the deteriorating
situation, held a special meeting on April 15 attended by the
ministers of planning, construction, and transportation as well as
the governors of northern and southern Sinai.
The minister for planning subsequently gave a press conference to
detail the comprehensive program aimed at giving better living
conditions to the Beduin: halving the debts incurred by the farmers,
setting up an authority for the development of Sinai, distributing
lands to the farmers, reclaiming them and ensuring the water supply;
creating an industrial zone, developing the port and the airport of
El Arish, developing the Taba marina, building railways, creating a
university in northern Sinai, increasing electricity supply.
More recently the minister for transportation added that in view of
the strategic importance of the region, the government was planning
to build two new points of land transit between the peninsula and the
Nile valley: a tunnel for motor vehicles south of Port Said and one
for the railway under the Suez canal. The cost for these two projects
alone, according to the minister, will be $5 billion, which he hopes
to raise through international and Arab organizations.
At the same time the government promised to amend land regulations so
that Beduin could register some of their lands in their names,
provided they undertook not to sell them to foreigners – meaning
Israelis, Egyptians being convinced that Israel intends to take over
Prisoners condemned for their participation in the terrorist attacks
on Taba and Sharm e-Sheikh having already served half of their
sentence would be set free; new trials would be awarded to those
condemned to life imprisonment or to death. That, at least, can be
done fairly quickly.
Egypt cannot finance the staggering amounts needed to implement its
ambitious program. Therefore the above is more a declaration of
intent to keep the Beduin happy than something which will be
happening soon. However, the army announced on April 25, which
commemorates the return of Sinai to Egyptian sovereignty under the
peace treaty, that it would contribute 400 million Egyptian pounds
(some $56m. at the present rate) to the realization of some of the
projects to demonstrate its commitment to the region.
Nothing can be accomplished before order is restored but given the
ongoing power struggles in Cairo, no progress can be made in that
direction until there is a new constitution, a new president and the
army is back in its barracks. Israel is all for an accelerated
development of the region which would strengthen Beduin society and
help it resist the encroachment of elements of radical Islam.
(© 1995-2011, The Jerusalem Post 05/10/12)
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