Egypt to plant a million acres, settle a million citizens in Sinai

Agriculture and population are Egypt’s new tools to combat security woes in the peninsula

Elhanan Miller is the former Arab affairs reporter for The Times of Israel

Bedouin in the Sinai desert in 2006. (photo credit: Yossi Zamir/Flash90)
Bedouin in the Sinai desert in 2006. (photo credit: Yossi Zamir/Flash90)

Egypt has decided to combat the volatile security situation in Sinai by settling 1 million citizens and developing agriculture in the sparsely populated peninsula, establishment daily Al-Ahram reported Sunday.

Agriculture minister Salah Abdul Momen told the daily that his ministry has developed a detailed five-year plan to turn 1 million acres of arid desert in central Sinai into farmland, at a rate of 200,000 acres per year. The plan includes settling some 1 million Egyptians in the new agricultural regions.

The 14.7 million acre (23,000 mi²) peninsula, which Egypt regained through the Camp David peace accords with Israel in 1982, is sparsely populated and economically marginalized. The mountainous center is particularly underdeveloped.

The minister told Al-Ahram that in the coming weeks the government will sign contracts with 150 local and foreign investors who will cover the entire cost of development, estimated at 12 billion Egyptian pounds ($2 billion).

Abdul Momen said that 3,500 acres will be distributed to recent university graduates and small farmers, who will each be given 2 greenhouses for agricultural use.

Another Egyptian official, irrigation minister Muhammad Bahaa A-Din, told the daily that a new underground water reservoir was discovered in the northern part of the Sinai’s western desert, which will supply 320 million cubic meters (84.5 billion gallons) of water yearly, enough to irrigate 70,000 acres during the project’s initial stage.

Minister Abdul Momen told Al-Ahram that implementing the project as quickly as possible would help solve Egypt’s security concerns.

The initiative comes two weeks after Sinai-based terror groups killed 16 uniformed Egyptian security personnel, who were breaking their Ramadan fast with an evening meal, in an attack on their base near the Gaza-Israel-Egypt border. The terrorists then commandeered an Egyptian Army armored personnel vehicle at the base and smashed across the border into Israel at the Kerem Shalom crossing. A mile or so inside Israel, they were blown up by the Israel Air Force.

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