State body seeking to end Sinai marginalization to begin work, says minister

A national body that seeks the development of the remote Sinai Peninsula is to begin its work next week, the electricity minister told Parliament Sunday, state TV reported.

Electricity Minister Hassan Younis said land on the peninsula would only be allocated for Egyptians and companies with at least 55 percent Egyptian ownership, so as to preserve national security.

Parliament had been discussing development projects in Sinai.

On Saturday, Prime Minister Kamal al-Ganzouri appointed former intelligence general Shawky Rashwan as head of the National Authority for the Development of the Sinai Peninsula.

For decades, the peninsula has been a remote area neglected by the central government, which invests only in its tourism sector. Its population, mostly composed of Bedouin tribes, has complained of discrimination and ill treatment by security forces.

In 2007, the International Crisis Group warned the Egyptian government about marginalizing the peninsula, and recommended that the government should "eliminate all criteria and procedures that discriminate against the local population."

“Sinai should have been developed decades ago,” Younis told a parliamentary committee, adding that the entire peninsula has already been linked to the national electricity grid so energy can be provided for all projects there, whether in agriculture, industry or mining. “This cost us LE6 billion,” MENA quoted Younis as telling the MPs.

He also said solar energy is abundant in Sinai but is costly to produce. “We are forming an alternative energy fund to offset the gap between the [government production cost] of a solar energy kilowatt and its selling price,” he explained. “The Cabinet is discussing this [issue], for the fund to start next week.”

A solar energy kilowatt is sold for an average of LE0.12, while it costs LE1.50 for the government to produce.

Since the beginning of the uprising that toppled President Hosni Mubarak last year, security in the peninsula has deteriorated significantly, with the interim military government sending troops into the area to try to bring it back under control.

Three major security problems have surfaced since then: tourist kidnappings, cross-border infiltrations and attacks on the natural gas pipeline running to Israel and Jordan. African migrants are frequently smuggled into Israel by gangs operating in the area.

Egypt’s de facto ruler, Field Marshal Hussein Tantawi, visited Sinai in April, promising the people there that the armed forces would allocate LE250 million toward implementing urgent development projects in the peninsula.

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