Within the coming few days a presidential decree is to be issued to amend Sinai Development Act number 14 for the year 2012, which Prime Minister Hisham Qandil’s cabinet approved in its last meeting, state-run Al-Ahram reported Saturday.
According to Al-Ahram’s report, the presidential amendment stipulates the establishment of a National Authority for the Development of Sinai Peninsula (NADSP), which is to be affiliated with the Egyptian cabinet. The head of the northern Sinai-based NADSP is to be appointed by the prime minister, on the nomination of the minister of defence.
The new amendment also stipulates the approval of the security apparatuses, represented by the Ministries of Defence, Interior as well as the General intelligence Agency, before granting any land or property ownership to squatters who’ve used the land for agricultural or housing purposes. Furthermore, NADSP will monitor any foreign funds or grants directed to any Sinai-based project.
These amendments come after Qandil announced at the beginning of September that a new economic authority for the development of the Sinai peninsula is to be established, and endorsed EGP 1.2 billion in investments financed by the current fiscal year’s budget, the armed forces, and foreign parties.
Foreigners remain prohibited from owning land in Sinai. The new law grants usage rights to foreigners, allowing them to invest in Sinai with a maximum stake of 45 per cent in any Sinai-based project via concession contracts from the government.
Salah El-Buluk, a Sinai activist and also a member of the Sinai Development Authority, told Daily News Egypt that there is absolutely no intention to develop the Sinai Peninsula; “it is not a matter of legislation or establishing new Sinai development bodies, the real problem stems from the absence of real will to engender genuine economic and social development in the Sinai Peninsula,” El-Buluk explained.
El-Buluk wondered what would be made if these presidential amendments were to come into effect, “the previous regime was tied by security arrangements with outside parties. In other words, foreign parties were the ones deciding the fate of development in Sinai,” El-Buluk added, noting that the situation has not differed from before the 25 January revolution.
The government has spent countless days in deliberations, according to the Sinai activist,with no real action to tackle the main problems that curtail development in Sinai, which is the disregard of Bedouins’ right to ownership of land.
Owing to its strategic location on the Egyptian-Israeli border, the Sinai Peninsula has been historically viewed as a mere vital security area. Foreign investors are banned from owning land, and even land ownership by Egyptians is firmly controlled.
“One has to get the approval of up to 16 authorities including military, intelligence and many executive bodies in order to do anything in Sinai,” Shiekh Khalid Arafat, a Bedouin ex-soldier and activist, told Daily News Egypt.
These restrictions, according to Sheikh Khalid, reflect the government’s lack of confidence in Sinai’s Bedouin population. “We refuse this law, and we refuse this kind of suppression,” Sheikh Khalid stated. Concurring with El-Buluk, Sheikh Khalid asserted that the situation has not changed much from before the 25 January uprising, noting that there are many misconceptions of Sinai Bedouins.
Development of the Sinai Peninsula began to be discussed, right after the ouster of the previous regime. It gained greater profile after the attack on a border guard post on 5 August, leaving 16 Egyptian soldiers dead and 35 wounded. The Egyptian government asserted its commitment at the time to the development of Sinai and the alleviation of the hardships inflicted upon Sinai’s population.
Initially, the Development of Sinai Act was proposed by former PM, Kamal El-Ganzouri, it targeted boosting investments in the Sinai Peninsula as a means to create more job opportunities for its inhabitants.
“Right of ownership is one of the main obstacles standing against the development of Sinai,” former minister of electricity and energy, Hassan Younis, told the constitutional committee last March.