Comprehensive Operation Sinai 2018: paving the way for sustainable development in the peninsula

Dec 31, 2018

In February, the Egyptian Armed Forces and the Interior Ministry launched the Comprehensive Operation Sinai (COS) 2018, following Al-Rawda mosque attack of late November 2017, the deadliest of its kind Egypt’s modern history. The COS aims to counter-terrorism by militant groups operating in Northern and Central Sinai and pave the way for the development in this long-neglected and marginalized area of Egypt. Until this day, the operation continues to target any criminal activities that affect Egypt’s national security and stability not only in Sinai but also in the Delta, Nile Valley and Western Desert.

Since its launch, the COS 2018 adopted the strategy of “cutting the heads” of terrorist organizations – a long-term impact strategy that causes a significant demolition of terror structures in Sinai by reducing its capabilities. In July, the Egyptian forces managed to kill the Sinai province commander, Mohamed Abdel Latif Abu Jazr, who was a member of Hamas’ Ezzeddin Qaasam brigades before he joined a group run by Adel-Latif Moussa which opposes Hamas and is closer to the jihadist Salafist trend and later he joined the Islamic State (IS). This was the second high-level assassination in IS ranks in Sinai after the killing of IS leader Nasser Abu Zaqoul on April 18, by the Third Field Army in Central Sinai. In addition to these major successes the Egyptian forces continue to hunt down terrorists in every area of the peninsula to secure complete control over it and to protect the Egyptian society from the dangers posed by terrorism, extremism and organized crime. The COS 2018 also included disabling explosive devices, discovering caves, tunnels and hideouts used by militants as well as destroying vehicles and motorcycles used by these groups. Moreover, the operation conveys clear political and military messages to regional parties which promote and finance terrorist organizations operating on the Egyptian lands.

Sinai’s development is the foundation of security:

300 days after the launch of COS 2018, and as it progresses, life in Sinai appears to be returning to normal. Markets and stores are buzzing with activity and all schools, universities, youth and sports centers as well as cultural facilities are normally operating as the restrictions on such activities that were imposed during the initial stages of COS 2018 have been gradually lifted.  Meanwhile, there can be more focus on the development of Sinai which has always been a priority of the government since the June 30 Revolution.

“The situation in our city is much better than it was a year ago,” said Om Ahmed, a saleswoman who works at the main market in Al-Arish city, one of the most vital cities in North Sinai. Another saleswoman told Egypt Forward that “the buying and selling is going normally. People come to the market everyday to buy their needs without any hassle as the streets returned as safe as they were before. Terrorism can never beat us.” Ahmed Sileem, a fisherman, also confirmed that the situation in Al-Arish city has improved since the launch of the COS 2018, “Eight months ago, we were not able to open our shops and we could not buy our needs, but now the situation has improved by more than 70 percent,” he added.

While Ahmed Abu Ziad, a Palestinian who has been living in Al-Arish city for more than 40 years said, “Despite all the hard circumstances that we have been through during the last few months, life has started to get back to normal with the presence of the police and the armed forces. I would never leave Egypt and would never leave Al-Arish, it is one of the greatest places on earth.” At the main gas station in the city, the residents confirmed to Egypt Forward that fuel is available regularly in the city and at a good price. In addition the province established a system to overcome congestion at the gas stations and facilitate the process by dedicating specific days for each car type including taxies and private cars.

As of November, a number of development and service projects were launched in North Sinai, mainly benefiting the victims of the Al-Rawda mosque terrorist attack and their families. All ministries and state institutions contributed and collaborated to reconstruct and serve the area. The projects included building and reconstructing schools and more than 54 houses, job creation projects through fisheries and microfinance projects at a cost of LE five million. Major General, Mohammed Abdulla Fadil Shousha, former governor of North Sinai, told Egypt Forward that Sinai is becoming more stable and more secure. “Thanks to the efforts of the armed forces, the police and the people of Sinai, life returned to normal. A few days ago we commemorated the victims of Al-Rawda mosque terrorist attack and we were keen to confirm that development is the key principle to fighting terrorism and the basis of security as directed by the President,” said Shousha.  “People are more determined than ever to uproot terrorism,” he added.

Adding to various governmental actors, the Armed Forces also play a crucial role in the development of Sinai through civilian-military development brigades that efficiently coordinate to rebuild Sinai in conjunction with the military operations to rid the peninsula of terrorism. The Armed forces participation in the development of Sinai adds value at the logistical level through the army’s diverse expertise – in addition to security consideration which is why it is important for the army to be closely involved. Also, the army’s contribution to development efforts eases pressure on the national budget. The strong state institutions cooperate in the production of ideas, planning, utilization and development of technologies and funding the development process in a comprehensive framework.

Earlier this year, President Abdel Fatah al-Sisi, launched the “National Strategy for the Development of Sinai”, which is aligned with the Strategic National Plan for Urban Development 2052 and the Strategy of Sustainable Development 2030. Contributors to funding the Sinai development strategy include; the World Bank, the Saudi Fund for Development, the Kuwaiti Fund for Arab Economic Development and the Arab Fund for Economic and Social Development. The plan reflects a comprehensive framework of cooperation between government institutions, the armed forces and civil society in a triangular relationship: the developmental state that thinks and designs, the army that supervises and manages the task of translating these plans into action and the civilian sector which implements under the oversight of the state and the supervision of the army.

The Sinai development plan includes many projects which would put Sinai on the track for comprehensive development. It covers a wide range of sectors including industry, agriculture, mining, tourism and infrastructure. Ibrahim Mehleb, Sisi’s advisor for national and strategic projects and former prime minister, announced in April that a project to develop Sinai peninsula should be completed by 2022 at a cost of some LE275 billion. Mehleb described the project as a “project for national security” and said it includes plans for a comprehensive network of roads, residential and industrial developments, four water desalination plants, hospitals and sewage networks. Examples of these projects include, the hydraulic project to transport water into Sinai through a system of ducts that pass below the Suez Canal and the mega-irritation project that aim to put 100,000 of acres of land in Sinai under cultivation, requiring the construction of an infrastructure capable of daily pumping 1.4 million cubic meters of water to the peninsula. The infrastructure projects in Sinai link the peninsula to the Nile valley to make Sinai a natural extension of the Egyptian mainland. These include the Nasr floating bridge, the first floating bridge of its kind, linking the banks of the Suez Canal between Port Said and Port Fouad to facilitate the transportation needs of the residents of these twin cities.

Comprehensive development is about more than urban planning and expansion. In addition to conventional urban development and the economic and security dimensions of projects, education, health and culture must also be factored in. To date, on the level of education, the government constructed 47 new schools, an Al-Azhar affiliated academy, 400 classrooms and established vocational training centers. In addition, 187 literacy classes were opened; accommodating 1,650 students in the East Qantara Zone, a project that is being carried out in collaboration with the General Authority for Literacy and Adult Education. In Port Said, three public libraries and three cultural palaces,  cultural entertainment center are being developed to promote cultural awareness among the residents of Port Said. The cultural entertainment center is expected to feature assembly rooms, theatres and other entertainment facilities. Another unique cultural project is the “Bedouin Home” project, which focuses on the culture of indigenous Sinai tribes.”Through the “Bedouin Home” project, each individual receives a house and a fully equipped ten acres, six bee hives and a greenhouse. This project will attract more people from the Delta area to move to Sinai where they can introduce this Bedouin area to agriculture know how and practice,” said Shousha.

With regard to health, four new central hospitals were constructed and eight health centers were upgraded in addition to two hospitals in Arish and Sheikh Zuweid respectively. Sinai development interventions also included the renovation of 10 emergency care centers and the construction of four new once and building a pharmaceutical repositories in Arish. Shousha, also explained that “there is a protocol of cooperation between Al-Azhar university, Cairo university and Zagazig university to provide the province of North Sinai with 14 university professors every week to help enhance the medical response in the governorate.”

The government, army and civil sector triangle are also closely involved in agricultural development and land reclamation. A total of 13,680 acres have been reclaimed and made ready for cultivation in Bir Al-Abd and 350 greenhouses have been made available to Bedouin farmers in North Sinai. Development projects in Sinai also included digging 27 new water wells in Rafah and desalinization plant in Tor, while a  filtration plant is under construction in New Ismailia and work is in progress to expand the Arish water station.  As far as industry is concerned, the infrastructure water, sewerage, electricity, lighting and roads was completed for new industrial zones in Bir Al-Abd and Central Sinai. And 10 factories are planned to process marble in Sidr Al-Hitan and Abu Zeneima in the near future. Shousha, also confirmed that Sinai’s minerals can be invested for more than 100 years. “Our main goal in mining is to utilize all the available raw materials and to produce products ready for direct use or export,” he said.

Sinai is also witnessing the construction of new cities, including New Ismailia and New Rafah, that will form the hub for a major societal re-engineering in Sinai. For example, the “Salam Misr” city is destined to become the new economic capital east of Port Said and will play a pivotal role in weaving Sinai into the larger Egyptian national fabric and making it more attractive to investors at home and abroad. In the process, it will strengthen the security of Egypt’s eastern borders. Moreover, the city is planned to be a pioneering smart village. The old Ismailia capital is also planned to be transformed into a free zone with economic laws and regulations tailored to furnish an environment conducive to business and to promoting the advancement of the local community. Furthermore, Shousha explained that “the government invested more than LE 450 million in social housing in North Sinai and the housing units prices are now similar to the prices in other governorates.”

Furthermore, as part of the South Sinai regional development program (SSRDP), the government is working closely with the European Union (EU) to build the first advanced center for people with disabilities in the city of Tor South Sinai governorate. The center is expected to provide job opportunities with a 70 percent share of these opportunities for people of disabilities. The program also includes projects related to infrastructure, studies and equipment as well as projects that aim to protect the cultural and natural resources in Sinai and to enhance the living conditions of local communities in the peninsula.