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The making of an economic entity
Published in Al-Ahram Weekly on 07 - 10 - 2004

Amira Ibrahim looks at the optimistic plans for South Sinai's development
Twenty-five years did not catalyse as much development as would have been expected in the Sinai Peninsula. Yet, as South Sinai Governor Mustafa Afifi told Al-Ahram Weekly, "one should not lament what has not been done." Instead, Afifi, an ex-military commander who led many a battle against Israeli troops in Sinai, is optimistic about the possibilities of achieving targeted development plans, hopefully even before scheduled deadlines.
In 1979, following the signing of the peace agreement with Israel, a presidential decree split the Sinai peninsula into two main governorates, one in the south and the other in the north. South Sinai spans 30,000 square kilometres and has 600km of coastline.
The 20,000 Bedouins who live in scattered locales over such a wide landmass have historically -- because of their small numbers and diverse locations -- made ambitious plans to develop the area difficult. In fact, Afifi said more people had to move to South Sinai in order for development plans to be carried out properly. A national plan to develop the governorate actually aims to settle half a million people there by the year 2017, at a cost of some LE60 billion. The total population targeted to eventually settle in the Sinai Peninsula is 3.5 million.
Currently, the govenorate's population stands at 112,000. "The labour force, however," Afifi said, "is estimated at 400,000. They mainly work in tourism, while the industry and oil sectors are also getting bigger."
The plan also includes "pumping LE120 billion in both government and private sector investments. Figures show that investments estimated at LE33 billion have already been made, 60 per cent of which were carried out by the private sector," Afifi said.
"More than 300,000 job vacancies will be available by 2010," he said, bringing South Sinai's total work force to 700,000.
Although infrastructure has been developed to meet rising demands, the availability of drinking water, for one, appears to need urgent improvement, despite government investments totalling over LE1.3 billion. "Five months ago, the Cabinet approved a two-phase project to handle the problem," Afifi said. "The first phase should take three years and cost LE340 million."
There is also a pipeline carrying Nile water to South Sinai from Suez, but it provides limited quantities.
Afifi said water was also "a problem in St Catherine, but we are studying a LE65 million project to extend an 850km water line to the city."
Tourism development, meanwhile, has been progressing at full force, with investments estimated at LE23.3 billion in 2003. "Between 1997 and 2003, 285 tourist projects were established, creating 113,364 jobs," Afifi said. "311 projects are under construction, expecting to make an additional 117,918 jobs available."
The success of South Sinai's burgeoning tourism industry has been internationally highlighted several times. The area's premier resort, Sharm El-Sheikh, has been internationally acclaimed, named one of the world's top four tour sites this year by UNESCO, and was even named "a City of Peace" by the same organisation in 2001.
Afifi said both the army and the petroleum sector have played major roles in providing developmental needs related to the governorate's medical facilities. In addition to a main private hospital in Sharm El-Sheikh, three specialised hospitals for diving-related accidents also operate in Sharm El-Sheikh and Dahab. A military hospital has been established in Al-Tor, and petroleum companies built a top-notch medical facility in Abu Redis to serve employees and their families.
"The armed forces also send medical caravans to remote villages and Bedouin communities that can not obtain medical services," the governor said.
The governorate's cities now also have a unified electricity network, and most Bedouin communities are provided with generators. "The government provided investments estimated at LE1.4 billion to improve and upgrade electricity, particularly in Bedouin communities, as part of the national plan to settle Bedouins," Afifi said.
Other South Sinai investments have included more than LE97 million to improve communication facilities, LE17 million for agriculture, LE23 million for food supplies, and LE151 million for education.
The government has also provided LE204 million in housing investments, to be divided among different categories for government and private sector employees. "We adopted a policy to guarantee companies working to develop the area the land they need to build housing for their employees. The government only builds housing for those who move from the Nile Valley to join governmental bodies," Afifi said.
Transport facilities have long been a government concern as well. "Over the last five years, 2,143 kilometres of roads have been paved, while airports in Sharm El-Sheikh, Al- Tor and Al-Naqab are currently being expanded. By 2010, South Sinai will have five working airports, two of which are international, with the other three serving the petroleum sector and governorate residents." Afifi estimated that nearly LE10 billion had been invested in South Sinai's transport needs.


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