Representatives of the armed forces met with a number of South Sinai elders on Saturday for ongoing talks on security and development in the region.
According to the military’s spokesperson, Colonel Ahmed Mohamed Ali, the meetings are a part of an ongoing dialogue held between the military and Sinai residents “on various issues of interest to both sides” aimed at establishing genuine relationships between them.
Last week in Cairo the army met with 210 North Sinai tribal elders, tribal sheikhs and the president of the Sinai Mujahideen Organisation, Sheikh Abdullah Jihama. Present at the meeting was the Commander-in-Chief of the Armed Forces and Minister of Defence, Abdul Fatah al-Sisi, who discussed the transfer of land ownership to Sinai residents.
Jihama said after last week’s meeting that Fatah Al-Sisi had promised to hand over a 200km space between Tabah and Rafah to the people of Sinai, while also preparing a study to review the state of uninhabited territories located within five km of all residential blocks.
Fattah Al-Sisi also said Egyptians currently in possession of agricultural, residential or commercial land within the five km range would be granted full ownership rights, while at the same time forbidding foreigners from owning, exploiting or renting land within that area.
The ongoing dialogue is an attempt by the government to secure the support of tribes in the Sinai who, under former president Hosni Mubarak, were largely neglected in favour of developing the tourism industry.
As part of the 1979 peace treaty with Israel, the Sinai Peninsula was demilitarised and became difficult to police due to the vastness of the land and Egypt’s inability to place a significant amount of forces in the area.
Under Mubarak, tourism began to flourish along the coast lines but kidnappings and attacks on convoys and border posts by gunmen became more common.
In 2011 as a result of the security vacuum caused by the revolution, attacks on the Egypt-Israel pipeline increased. In 2012 an attack on the Rafah border crossing by gunmen killed 16 Egyptian soldiers during Iftar led President Mohamed Morsy to retaliate by vowing to re-secure the Sinai, in an offensive known as “Operation Eagle.”
Since Morsy announced Operation Eagle the army went on the offensive and began tracking down militants and destroying smuggling tunnels connected to the Gaza Strip. The military believes there are thousands of militants in the Sinai Peninsula.