Cablegate: Security and Development in Northern and Central


DE RUEHEG #2249/01 3410816
P 070816Z DEC 09

S E C R E T CAIRO 002249



E.O. 12958: DECL: 11/22/2019

REF: A. CAIRO 1458 B. CAIRO 763 C. CAIRO 726 D. CAIRO 657 E. CAIRO 163 F. CAIRO 107 G. CAIRO 1889 Classified By: Minister Counselor for Economic and Political Affairs Donald A. Blome for reasons 1.4 (b) and (d).
1.(S) Key Points: -- In a recent four-day visit to northern Sinai, emboffs observed increased Egyptian security presence at entry points into Sinai and in central Sinai. However, residents in El Arish complain that security in northern Sinai is lax and ineffective. -- Despite increased Egyptian efforts to contain it, smuggling continues into Rafah, through tunnels and across the Egypt-Israel border. Sinai contacts tell us this is partly because the area is difficult to patrol and partly because smugglers bribe border officials. -- Prolonged drought and lack of development is forcing nomadic Bedouin in central Sinai to depart the area leaving mostly smugglers and radicalizing the population. -- There is a pronounced cultural divide between the Bedouin population in Sinai and Egyptian officials, and this leads to a lack of understanding and significant communication problems. -- Sinai contacts agreed that local NGOs need to be involved in development activities to build local capacity and ensure success.

2.(S) Comment: The lack of development in central Sinai continues to affect northern Sinai. Numerous Bedouin encampments have sprung up along the main road between Cairo and El Arish. This is the first time we have seen nomadic Bedouin in this area. We also witnessed Bedouin children herding goats to forage in trash dumpsters on the southern outskirts of El Arish city. Development in central Sinai has many challenges not the least of which is that foreigners are prohibited to travel there and access by Egyptians is restricted. Sinai Bedouin refer to themselves as "Arabs" to reinforce their cultural and ancestral roots in the Levant and Arabian Peninsula and to distinguish themselves from "Egyptians" who come from the Nile Valley. The influx of Egyptian workers who fill the best jobs, and the appointment of officials from the Nile Valley in top North Sinai Governorate (NSG) positions is a point of tension. End Comment.

3.(C) Poloff and LES during the recent four-day visit to the Sinai and based on seven visits over the past 12 months observed that the Government of Egypt (GoE) takes a much harsher approach to central Sinai than the Rafah border area (reftels A-F). Military activity has increased in central Sinai in an attempt to gain control over the area. There was a noticeable increase in security at the Mubarak Al Salaam Bridge crossing the Suez Canal into Sinai. Goods were being offloaded from trucks and were checked by security officials. ------------------------------ Security Implementation Uneven ------------------------------

4.(S/NF) XXXXXXXXXXXX told us that food, electrical appliances and other goods from Cairo were no longer reaching El Arish due to increased security at the bridges and tunnels coming from "mainland" Egypt into Sinai because GoE officials were concerned with Gaza smuggling. He said that the amount of goods in the local market had decreased and what was available was either locally produced or were coming from warehouse storage in the peninsula.

5.(S/NF) XXXXXXXXXXXX stated that all families in El Arish have firearms to protect them from the central Sinai Bedouin because Egyptian police and security forces are ineffective. According to the XXXXXXXXXXXX Bedouin from central Sinai routinely steal cars from El Arish to use in smuggling operations. However, he said no cases have been filed because police are afraid to go to the Bedouin areas in central Sinai.

6.(S/NF) XXXXXXXXXXXX said Bedouin control central Sinai because they are better armed than the Egyptian military. He described these Bedouin as "raiders" who are harder, stronger and more independent than the Bedouin in northern Sinai, and said the GoE's security posture is elevated because they represent a legitimate risk. XXXXXXXXXXXX a member of the local council in central Sinai and President of the Bedouin Desert Association, which includes leaders from all nine central Sinai Bedouin tribes, told us that Egyptian security measures in central Sinai were "oppressive" and the policy of random arrests is creating criminals rather than citizens who respect the law. --------------------------------------------- ----------- Goods Moving Through Tunnels, Across Egypt-Israel Border --------------------------------------------- -----------

7.(S/NF) XXXXXXXXXXXX stated that despite increased GoE efforts, goods are moving through tunnels into Gaza as well as across the Egypt-Israel border. He said the tunnels were the easier, less expensive, and less dangerous way to move goods, but using them is becoming more difficult. XXXXXXXXXXXX informed us that some Bedouin have started moving their goods across the Israel border and subsequently into Gaza. He explained that different goods going to Gaza and Israel have different routes. Food and medical supplies go through the tunnels in Rafah into Gaza, arms destined for Gaza move through central Sinai, Drugs, women, and refugees also move through central Sinai, but cross the Egypt-Israel border and into major Israeli cities.

8.(S/NF) XXXXXXXXXXXX said smuggling will be very difficult to stop because there are no other employment options in central Sinai and the Bedouin no longer consider the occupational risk because it has become a fact of life. Additionally, he said corruption among police officials was high because smugglers are offering up to 50,000 Egyptian pounds (USD 9,100) to let a shipment across the border. Atta believes that GoE support for the local Bedouin leaders and sheikhs is the only way to change the perspective of the local population.

9.(S/NF) XXXXXXXXXXXX said the trafficking of contraband through the tunnels and over the Egypt-Israel border originates with Bedouin in central Sinai. He said most Bedouin engage in these activities because they lack other economic opportunities. He encouraged investment in deep (1000 meters) and shallow (20 meters) wells to help support animal husbandry and farming because existing wells have dried up or become too saline. Hamad said that the provision of water to farm one extra feddan (1.03 acres) could provide a living for 40 people. --------------------------------------------- ----------- Bedouin Migrating Due to Drought and Lack of Development --------------------------------------------- -----------

10.(SBU) An American contractor, resident in Sinai said a prolonged drought in central Sinai is forcing nomadic Bedouin from central Sinai to move to El Arish in search of food and water for their families and livestock. He estimated that the Bedouin population in El Arish city has doubled in the past year while the population in central Sinai over the last three years has reduced from approximately 45,000 to 35,000. He said most Bedouin in El Arish work as day laborers.

11.(S/NF) XXXXXXXXXXXX maintained that the lack development in central Sinai is causing people to migrate from central Sinai to cities in northern and southern Sinai. He said that this phenomenon is emptying central Sinai of its law-abiding citizens leading to a more radicalized population. ------------------------------------------- Cultural Divide Between Arabs and Egyptians -------------------------------------------

12.(C) XXXXXXXXXXXX told us "social engineering" was needed to resolve problems between the Bedouin population and Egyptian officials. He said the NSG had instituted a training program for Bedouin to teach them how to use channels including NDP representatives, local and city council members, and tribal sheikhs to help them obtain their "legal rights." XXXXXXXXXXXX both stated that Egyptian officials need to be trained in how to deal with the native Bedouin. XXXXXXXXXXXX has suggested a formal training program for police, military, and government officials on how to deal with the Bedouin, but no program had yet been established.

13.(S/NF) XXXXXXXXXXXX told us that government officials in the Sinai misuse their ability to detain. He said police and military routinely arrest mothers and sisters in order to facilitate the apprehension of Bedouin men. While this practice is acceptable in Cairo, it is viewed as an insult to the honor of a Bedouin for which retribution must be extracted.

14.(S/NF) XXXXXXXXXXXX agreed Bedouin feelings of neglect and marginalization in central Sinai have led to recent protests and conflict (reftel G). Hamad added that the situation will not be resolved until the Bedouin are treated equally, and have job opportunities, security, justice, and legitimate channels to air their grievances. ----------------------------------- Development Must Involve Local NGOs -----------------------------------

15.(SBU) The contacts we talked with see the potential for the USG to help in the development of livelihoods in the Sinai and most were excited about the transportation portion of USAID's Life Sinai program. Dr. Abu Hatab told us that there needs to be a comprehensive program for development in North Sinai that addresses the different needs of the central, coastal, and border regions. However, he asserted that the needs in central Sinai far overshadowed anything needed in the coastal and border areas.

16.(S/NF)XXXXXXXXXXXX encouraged the USG to involve local NGOs, a step critical in creating a sense of ownership, developing local capacity, and ensuring the success of the development projects. They expressed concern that the current use of the Governor's office as a "one-stop shop" could lead to resentment and undermine the effectiveness of the development projects. XXXXXXXXXXXX said local involvement will ensure that development projects benefit the people and will help avoid the perception that development is being "imposed." 17. (C) XXXXXXXXXXXX also encouraged promoting the U.S. role in development assistance because it "instills confidence in the people" and "educates the people that the U.S. cares about them." He said that NSBA followed this model in allocating USAID-funded SME and microcredit loans in the border areas of Rafah and Sheikh Zoweid. He said that 50 percent of his customers now have a favorable impression and local mosques have been promoting the loan program. However, he noted that due to the inability of the GoE and USG to agree on a mechanism for continued funding the loan program in these two border cities was losing steam. 18. (SBU) The contacts we talked with suggested programs that they felt would have the most impact on the Bedouin population. XXXXXXXXXXXX agreed that technical education in computers, English language, and handicrafts is needed to provide livelihoods for Bedouin youth and women. XXXXXXXXXXXX said mobile education and water distribution centers were essential to provide the nomadic Bedouin in central Sinai with needed services. XXXXXXXXXXXX agreed that mobile schools for girls are important because many are forced to drop out due to family restrictions on unaccompanied travel. 19. (S/NF) XXXXXXXXXXXX encouraged developing the medicinal herb and animal products industries for export to create livelihoods that can sustain Bedouin families. (Note: Both mentioned the European market for medicinal herbs and the Arabian Gulf market for camel meat and milk. End Note).XXXXXXXXXXXX asked if the USG could provide a model of development in desert regions. He specifically mentioned Israeli development in the Negev as a potential model. Abu Hatab said that vast mineral resources in central Sinai including cement and marble created opportunities for investment and export. However, XXXXXXXXXXXX told us that the GoE rejected his and other Bedouin leaders' proposal to open a new cement factory in central Sinai. Tueller

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