CAIRO — In recent weeks there have been disputes among members of Egypt’s parliament over calls to relocate residents of the North Sinai governorate amid an escalation in the war between the country’s armed forces and extremist groups. Parliamentarians representing Sinai, headed by Salama Al-Roqie, have expressed their opposition to any effort to displace residents of this region.
In an interview with Al-Monitor, Roqie stated that the displacement of Sinai citizens will increase the spread of terrorism, arguing that the presence of citizens in the area prevents unknown people from infiltrating it and carrying out attacks. The lawmaker also highlighted the role of tribes in supporting the armed forces in the war against extremists, saying that the tribes have always been “very cooperative with the Egyptian state in all its wars.”
Below is the text of the interview:
Al-Monitor: Why do you oppose the calls of some parliament members to relocate residents of Sinai?
Roqie: Displacement should only happen during wars or natural disasters. It is not acceptable when citizens are settled in a certain place, whether in Sinai or border regions. The constitution rejects displacement, and it even calls on the state to return the Nubians to their original territories following their displacement. Sinai citizens can deter aggression against Egypt, and history stands witness to that.
Al-Monitor: You have said that expelling Sinai residents will lead to an increase in terrorism. Can you explain why you believe this to be true?
Roqie: Urban wars are the worst due to land elevations, geography and overpopulation. The presence of citizens ensures the absence of strangers. If the people are displaced, the strangers entering Sinai will have freedom to move around. The presence of citizens guarantees that strangers won’t infiltrate Sinai.
Al-Monitor: Parliament member Hamdy Bakheet has called for evacuating Sinai for one year to completely eliminate extremist groups that hide among residents to carry out attacks. What is your response to this?
Roqie: We reject displacement, regardless of its duration. This is not the solution to eradicate terrorism. If terrorist group members blend in with citizens, then they will surely go with them wherever they go. But if the extremists are in mountainous areas, the armed forces can fight them in cooperation with Sinai citizens.
Al-Monitor: Has the state indicated that it is considering such measures?
Roqie: No. There hasn’t been any official statement asserting that the state wants to displace Sinai citizens. There have only been unofficial statements from parliamentarians, public figures or experts.
Al-Monitor: What is the position of Sinai’s tribes on the battle between the Egyptian army and extremist groups in Sinai?
Roqie: The Sinai tribes were very cooperative with the Egyptian state in all its wars, including the 1967 and 1973 wars with Israel. They also provide information to the concerned parties. We refuse to doubt the cooperation of Sinai citizens with the armed forces, because the country’s stability is in our interest.
Al-Monitor: The constitution calls for developing border areas, including Sinai. Has the state made efforts to achieve this?
Roqie: The development cycle was slow in the wake of the liberation of Sinai from the Israeli aggression. The state set a development plan in 1994 and allocated a budget of 75 billion Egyptian pounds [$22 billion at the exchange rate at the time] for it. Egypt succeeded in establishing constitutional infrastructure for North Sinai, but some projects were hampered for many reasons, such as the simultaneous work on major projects, including the Toshka Project. Currently, expansion works are underway in Sharq al-Tafria and roads are being built parallel to the province, in addition to 27 development complexes and several projects to develop Sinai. This shows that the state insists on developing Sinai.
Al-Monitor: Is it feasible for the state to promote development in the midst of a violent battle between the army and terrorist groups?
Roqie: The armed forces are fighting extremist groups in a small area that barely represents 1% of North Sinai. All areas in the province are safe and far from the clashes, which will soon end in favor of the state. Therefore, development is essential to limit unemployment and solve problems that the citizens of North Sinai are facing. It will not be hampered by the terrorist operations that the armed forces are brilliantly fighting.
Al-Monitor: How can parliament help to alleviate the problems facing Sinai residents while supporting the state's efforts to eliminate terrorism there?
Roqie: The government is constitutionally responsible for creating a plan for socio-economic development in border areas and Upper Egypt in cooperation with citizens of these areas through committees or through the parliament to find out their ambitions and desires. This requires a law from the government or parliament to implement the constitution. The parliament will work in this direction, and we will organize delegations to visit the border areas, such as Sinai, to listen to the inhabitants’ problems.
Al-Monitor: When will the parliamentary delegation visit North Sinai, after its visit was delayed for security reasons?
Roqie: The parliament organized delegations to visit all border regions to implement the constitution and research people’s problems and include them in the government’s program. The delegations were supposed to visit Halayeb, Shalatin and Nuba. But the visit was delayed until the security situation stabilizes in North Sinai because the members of the delegation want to visit all the regions in the province to listen to the people’s problems. No specific date was set, but the members of the delegation are willing to go through with it in good time.
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