Although it is not the first time Egypt’s security forces have cracked down on residents of the northern Sinai Peninsula — as the remote border governorate has suffered from marginalization since Hosni Mubarak’s reign — the war on terror declared in July 2013 by the Egyptian government has resulted in an even heavier security crackdown, compromising the freedom of movement of Sinai residents from and into the governorate.
In an attempt to end the suffering, Ahmed el-Askary, a member of the Bar Council in northern Sinai presiding over the youth seat, presented Jan. 5 on his Facebook page to the competent authorities and the parliament a proposal to issue security passes for citizens residing in northern Sinai to alleviate their suffering, provided that the card is renewed every six months — a suggestion that he confirmed to Al-Monitor, even though the Facebook post has been removed. Moreover, no authority would be allowed to arrest any citizen holding this card. If a card holder commits a crime, in addition to being tried in court, their card is confiscated and they are denied renewal.
The proposal has caused controversy among those in favor and those against it. “The people of Sinai are so patriotic that they do not need such proposals. The real problem is the security approach and lack of clear vision. Any movement sought by the people of Sinai is subject to scrutiny for two reasons: first, a lack of clear vision in combatting terrorism, which the people of northern Sinai must develop given that security incompetence enabled the latest bombing of al-Matafi checkpoint on Jan. 9. Second, the news spread about police personnel being loyal to terrorist cells,” Alaa al-Kashef, a Sinai-based activist, told Al-Monitor.
Kashef said, “Could the people of Sinai be the suspects, as some propagate, or is there a security defect? The solution to terrorism in Sinai cannot depend on security measures alone.”
According to Kashef, more than 60% of the Sinai population are subject to harm because of arbitrary arrests and restrictions on entering and leaving Sinai, in addition to a negative view of Sinai residents, which is only to the benefit of terrorist organizations controlled by foreign hands.
“During the years when terrorism developed into its current state, statements by security experts assured that killed terrorists from Sinai did not exceed one or two and were likely rejected by their Sinai-based families,” Kashef said.
He noted, “El-Arish is subject to a severe security crackdown and abundant checkpoints. Civilians living in Sinai are suffering the most, as, for instance, they cannot go to Cairo or Qantara city to buy a car battery, a water pump or even any electric appliances. But all the people in northern Sinai endure these conditions for the sake of combatting terrorism.”
Kashef demanded that Sinai residents partake in combatting terrorism and that the hostile view of them is changed. He said that such engagement is “possible if politicians hold talks with the people of Sinai and reopen and establish youth centers.” He added that there was not even a film theater in the entire governorate of northern Sinai, and that the culture hall is closed.
Kashef insisted that the security passes proposal violates the constitution, which prohibits discrimination of citizens and restricts freedom of movement across governorates. He clearly stated that such proposals underestimate the people of Sinai, saying, “The proposal brings to mind the attempts adopted by Israel during its occupation of Sinai during the 1967 defeat, when the people of Sinai heading to governorates west of the Suez Canal’s left bank were asked by occupation forces 'Are you Egyptian or from Sinai?' — so as to separate Sinai from Egypt.”
Member of parliament Rahmi Abd Rabbo Abdul Rahman, who represents the first district of northern Sinai, told Al-Monitor, “The proposal of a security pass for the residents of Sinai has been discussed for years and is now back in the spotlight due to the abundance of security checkpoints; residents of northern Sinai are stopped at each checkpoint to have their names run against records to make sure they were not prosecuted and wanted by any security authority."
Abdul Rahman said that the proposal aims to relieve the burdens of prolonged procedures at checkpoints, as the pass is renewed once every six months. “A citizen is checked during the first issuance of the pass and at the time of renewals, which facilitates movement amid strict security conditions endured by northern Sinai as a result of combatting terrorism,” he noted.
He insisted that this proposal has been presented to the security authorities. However, they refused it without explanation in spite of its importance. It has not yet been submitted to the parliament. “Northern Sinai lawmakers are trying to resubmit it to the security authorities in an attempt to start a debate in Sinai between the tribal sheikhs, the local political forces and local authorities, until it appears in a satisfying way,” Abdul Rahman said.
According to Abdul Rahman, if the social consensus is reached, the proposal will be submitted to parliament. He explained, “The proposal will push toward adopting it as a solution to relieve the burden on the northern Sinai residents and of the security authorities — hence facilitating their mission in combatting terrorism."
The proposal comes at a time when Gen. Ahmed al-Tayel, the security chief of southern Sinai, said in a press statement Jan. 10 that security measures have been beefed up for all travelers crossing the Ahmed Hamdi Tunnel, which connects the Sinai Peninsula with the other governorates as it goes under the Suez Canal.
Tayel said that residents should carry an ID card issued by the authorities in Sinai or a security pass issued by their employer, or they should have proof of employment in Sharm el-Sheikh, in southern Sinai, as this requires them to carry a copy of their police record issued for their employer. “In regard to tourism, Egyptian tourists must show contracts of ownership of apartments or chalets or have the hotel reservation with them,” Tayel stated.
He said that these measures were put in place as of Jan. 1 following coordination between the security directorates of southern Sinai and the Suez governorate to tighten the security grip over the Sinai Peninsula, in order to foil narcotics smuggling and prevent criminal or terrorist groups from infiltrating.
According to Al-Ahram Center for Political and Strategic Studies, the number of terrorist operations in Egypt in 2014-16 reached 1,165. In the last quarter of 2016, 104 terrorist operations took place across the country.