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Egypt plans 17 new villages in North Sinai

El-Arish, November 4, 2010

Egypt expects to finish building 17 villages in North Sinai near new industrial projects by year-end, aiming to integrate tribsemen who have often clashed with authorities, the area's governor said.

The villages are the first of 82 planned in northern and central Sinai, an area near the sensitive Israeli border which is home to 12 Bedouin tribes.

Murad Muwafi, the new governor of North Sinai, told Reuters the government project would help draw the formerly nomadic tribes away from smuggling across the border.

'The villages projects are designed to settle the Bedouin into developed areas, to give them steady livelihoods and help them live within integrated communities,' Muwafi said.

The Bedouin say they have been shut out of jobs in the lucrative tourism industry, mainly in the south of Sinai, and that poverty and neglect have driven many to smuggling through tunnels and human trafficking across the border.

'This will will help end the smuggling of goods through tunnels to Gaza such as food and petrol and the smuggling of migrants across the border,' Muwafi said in an interview last week.

Analysts say urbanising the Bedouin, who live in scattered pockets, may prove a challenge. The developments, they say, may end up attracting Egyptians from outside the Sinai who would provide a counterweight to Bedouin influence in the area.

'The villages may very well be for settling Bedouin but that would not be easy,' Safwat Zayaat, a military expert, said.

'This project offers the government a way to populate Sinai with job-seeking Egyptians from the delta region without seeming to change the demographics of Sinai in ways that may upset the locals or alarm Israel across the border,' Zayaat added.

The villages are near an industrial zone that houses two cement factories and a third would start up by the end of the year, the governor said. It has been built by the armed forces, which have a range of business interests in Egypt.

In June, some frustrated Bedouin threatened Sinai's infrastructure, prompting the government to adopt a less aggressive security strategy, to promise jobs and investment and to free dozens of detained tribesmen.

Egypt has been working to drum up investor interest in Sinai and set up direct flights from Cairo to el-Arish.

Muwafi dismissed the issue of arms smuggling in Sinai, saying weapons found in the region were used by the Bedouin, part of the tribal culture, and were not sent over the border. – Reuters




Tags: Egypt | Villages | Sinai | El-Arish | Bedouin tribes |

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