Egypt’s Sinai Question

Posted in Africa | 30-Jan-07 | Source: International Crisis Group

Cairo/Brussels, 30 January 2007: Terrorism in the Sinai is unlikely to be completely eradicated unless the Egyptian government tackles the underlying political and socio–economic dimensions at the heart of the peninsula’s disquiet.

Egypt’s Sinai Question,* the latest report from the International Crisis Group, examines the region in the wake of five terrorist attacks between October 2004 and April 2006. The Egyptian government’s reaction to the bombings has been essentially confined to the security sphere: tracking down and eliminating the perpetrators but ignoring the deeper causes of discontent.

“The emergence of a terrorist movement where none previously existed is symptomatic of major tensions and conflicts in Sinai and of its problematic relationship to the Egyptian nation–state”, says Hugh Roberts, Crisis Group’s North Africa Director. “These factors must be addressed effectively, if the terrorist movement is to be definitively eliminated”.

Sinai has long been, at best, a semi–detached region. The population is different from that of the rest of the country and does not identify with its Pharaonic heritage. A substantial minority is of Palestinian extraction, extremely conscious of that identity and ties to the populations of Gaza and the West Bank. The rest, labelled “Bedouin”, are very aware of their historic origins in Arabia and belonging to tribes which often have branches in Israel, Palestine and Jordan. Also, Sinai’s geo–political situation – it comprises the whole of Egypt’s frontier with Israel and with the Palestinian enclave of Gaza – makes it of enormous strategic significance to both Egypt and Israel and extremely sensitive to developments in the Israeli–Palestinian conflict.

The government has not sought to integrate Sinai’s population into the nation through a far–sighted program responding to their needs. Instead, it has promoted settlement of Nile Valley migrants, whom it has favoured, while it has done little to encourage participation of Sinai residents in national political life.

Thus, beneath the terrorism problem is a serious and enduring “Sinai question”, which the Egyptian political class has yet to address. Doing so will not be easy. Since it is partly rooted in wider Middle East crises, above all the Israeli–Palestinian conflict, a definitive solution depends on their resolution. But it also requires the full integration and participation of Sinai’s people in national political life.

“While a comprehensive solution to the Sinai question cannot be expected soon, the government can and should alter its discriminatory development strategy”, says Robert Malley, Crisis Group’s Middle East and North Africa Program Director. “A new, properly funded plan, produced in consultation with credible local representatives, could transform attitudes to the state by addressing Sinai’s grievances”.

Contacts: Andrew Stroehlein (Brussels) 32 (0) 2 541 1635
Kimberly Abbott (Washington) 1 202 785 1601

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*Read the full Crisis Group report on our website:

The International Crisis Group (Crisis Group) is an independent, non-profit, non-governmental organisation covering over 50 crisis-affected countries and territories across four continents, working through field-based analysis and high-level advocacy to prevent and resolve deadly conflict.