Keep Us Strong WikiLeaks logo

Currently released so far... 5420 / 251,287


Browse latest releases

Browse by creation date

Browse by origin


Browse by tag


Browse by classification

Community resources

courage is contagious


If you are new to these pages, please read an introduction on the structure of a cable as well as how to discuss them with others. See also the FAQs

Understanding cables
Every cable message consists of three parts:
  • The top box shows each cables unique reference number, when and by whom it originally was sent, and what its initial classification was.
  • The middle box contains the header information that is associated with the cable. It includes information about the receiver(s) as well as a general subject.
  • The bottom box presents the body of the cable. The opening can contain a more specific subject, references to other cables (browse by origin to find them) or additional comment. This is followed by the main contents of the cable: a summary, a collection of specific topics and a comment section.
To understand the justification used for the classification of each cable, please use this WikiSource article as reference.

Discussing cables
If you find meaningful or important information in a cable, please link directly to its unique reference number. Linking to a specific paragraph in the body of a cable is also possible by copying the appropriate link (to be found at theparagraph symbol). Please mark messages for social networking services like Twitter with the hash tags #cablegate and a hash containing the reference ID e.g. #09CAIRO163.
Reference ID Created Released Classification Origin
09CAIRO163 2009-02-01 05:05 2011-02-16 21:09 CONFIDENTIAL Embassy Cairo

DE RUEHEG #0163/01 0320504
P 010504Z FEB 09
C O N F I D E N T I A L CAIRO 000163 
E.O. 12958: DECL: 01/28/2019 
Classified By: Minister Counselor for Economic and Political Affairs William R. Stewart for reasons 1.4 (b) and (d).
1.(C) Summary: Embassy officials met with local political, business, and community leaders in the North Sinai Governorate on January 19-20. Our conversations centered on the leaders' efforts to improve education, develop the agricultural sector, increase the availability of water, and create jobs. These development efforts are complicated because the Sinai Peninsula is a "national security area" due to the sensitive nature of the Egypt's border with Israel and Gaza, and the terrorist attacks in three Sinai resort towns from 2004-2006. We spoke about the lack of peace in the region, and recent Bedouin-government tensions as a result of crackdown on illegal practices such as smuggling drugs and trafficking in arms and humans, which hinder development efforts. We also discussed the leaders' ideas on the way forward for the governorate. End Summary. ------------------------------------------ Development and Jobs Needed in North Sinai ------------------------------------------

2.(C) Norh Sinai Governor Mohammed Abd al-Fadil Shousha tod us that his top priority is economic developmentof the governorate and the creation of jobs, espcially in central Sinai. Fayez Abu Harb, a Bedoun leader and the Member of Parliament that repreents northeastern and central Sinai, praised the Government of Egypt's (GOE) efforts over the past28 years, since the Israeli withdrawal, to developroads, hospitals, health clinics and water delivery. However, he said that more still needs to be done in the region. Abu Harb stated that there is a national project for the development of the Sinai, but the North Sinai Governorate must compete with other governorates for limited funding. Osama Kassas, President of the North Sinai Business Association (NSBA), said that GOE ignored the Sinai for many years, after it was returned to Egypt in the peace treaty with Israel. Only now the GOE is attempting to address the inequality and underdevelopment of the region.

3.(C) Abu Harb stated that one of the biggest challenges is the lack of legitimate job opportunities. The lack of jobs causes people to look for other means to support their families including illegal activities such as theft and smuggling. Abu Harb stated that the capacity for large-scale agriculture projects has diminished because land plots are divided between 4-5 sons as part of the inheritance process. He hopes that there will be new projects focused on creating trade/industrial parks to create "free market" job opportunities. --------------------------------------------- - Central Sinai: A Point of Emphasis and Concern --------------------------------------------- -

4.(C) The central Sinai, including the area around the villages of al-Nakhl and Hassana, which is part of the North Sinai Governorate, is the area of development focus for the GOE. All of the leaders with whom we met referenced problems such as smuggling drugs and trafficking in arms and humans, and the theft of automobiles. Abu Harb told us that in the absence of jobs, the Bedouin rely on these illegal activities to provide for their families. He noted that GOE efforts to restrict these activities have increased tensions. (Note: The central Sinai was the scene of fighting between police and Bedouins in November and early December 2008 that left 3-4 Bedouin dead and resulted in the kidnapping and eventual release of 40 Egyptian police officers. End Note.) Abu Harb told us that the Bedouin traditionally reject government interference in their lives, but when the state obstructs their livelihoods--without providing alternatives--it becomes even a more contentious issue. He opined that the solution lies in economic development, and in the concept of "duties and rights." Abu Harb explained that if the government provides the Bedouin with the "right" to obtain legitimate jobs that can provide for their families, they will see it as their "duty" to take up the jobs, and eschew more nefarious economic activities.

5.(C) Ahmed Orabi, President of the North Sinai branch of the Egyptian Red Crescent, told us that central Sinai differs from the northern part of the peninsula. He stated the area needs immediate attention because the Bedouin population is frustrated that they are unable to sustain a living. As a result they are involved in "illegal smuggling activities and terrorism." Orabi stated that area is a "time bomb," and if legitimate economic opportunities are not created, the area will explode. Likewise, Osama Kassas believes that the solution is economic development. He said the region is "virgin" territory because the area has been isolated and there is a lack of business and development opportunities. Kassas suggests micro-credit and SME development projects that will give the Bedouin a "noble livelihood." He relayed an example of one of his northern Bedouin clients who was smuggling cigarettes to Gaza. The client stopped his smuggling activities after he was given a loan to expand his "legitimate" business by opening cigarette kiosks in the cities of North Sinai. ------------------------------------- Potential in Agricultural Development -------------------------------------

6.(C) All the leaders agreed that focusing on the agricultural sector is the best way to expand the North Sinai economy and provide jobs. Governor Shousha is focused on developing the agricultural industry in the governorate. He stated that "a factory may employ 100 people, but agriculture has unlimited employment potential." Dr. Mohamed Nasr, an Environmental Agricultural Sciences Professor at the El Arish branch of Suez Canal University, and one of only twelve native Bedouins to obtain a PhD, agrees. He told us that the economy in Sinai has always been based on agriculture, and that agricultural investment would capitalize on existing skills. Nasr stated that there are around 300,000 feddans (311,400 acres) in Sinai that can be cultivated. Osama Kassas believes that development should focus on agricultural products such as cantaloupe, tomatoes, olives, and olive oil. He said that agriculture not only capitalizes on the competencies of the local population, but it "provides real opportunities for growth and pride in their work." He opined that existing cement factories do not provide these attributes, as laborers are only seen as "human capital." Dr. Ali El Kassas, an Agricultural Microbiology Professor at the El Arish branch of Suez Canal University advocated for foreign aid and private investment efforts. He told us that helping the small farmer will make the largest impact on people's lives and living standards. He said that past government projects concentrated on large investments, ignored the small, local farmer, and seldom got off the ground due to bureaucratic red tape.

7.(C) Both Dr. Kassas and Dr. Nasr see potential in organic farming because of the pristine nature of the local environment. They said many medicinal herbs are indigenous to the Sinai and would provide an opportunity to expand the agricultural sector. Higher prices for organic goods and medicinal herbs could help to replace the incentive to grow illegal drugs. The professors helped to organize the Association of Organic Farming in March 2008. However, they need more information on how to best aid local farmers in organic methods and certification, and to assess the European markets for organic products. There is also a need to educate Bedouin on the financial potential for organic and medicinal products. However, Dr. Kassas said that advice must come from a "trusted source," given the Bedouin distrust of outsiders. Both mentioned that previous GOE projects employed experts from Ain Shams University in Cairo, but the Bedouin didn't trust them because "they don't know anything about the area." --------------------------------------------- ----- Water Availability Limits Agricultural Development --------------------------------------------- -----

8.(C) Governor Shousha stated that increasing the availability of water is the key to growing the local agriculture sector. According to the Governor, there is currently not enough water to meet the needs of the people of the North Sinai governorate. He said that the al-Salaam Canal, which brings Nile Water to the Sinai, had reached Bir al-Abd in the northwest part of the peninsula. The next phase is supposed to bring water to the center of the peninsula. Abu Harb was not optimistic about the timing of the next phase. Although the next phase could eventually lead to the cultivation of 100,000 feddans (103,800 acres) and create 40,000-50,000 jobs, it "requires billions of Egyptians pounds in funding" because the GOE must install a pumping station for the water. As a result he told us that the project is "delayed." Osama Kassas was even more cynical, noting that it took 28 years for the canal to reach Bir al-Abd.

9.(SBU) Governor Shousha told us that the northeastern part of the peninsula did not need Nile water because there are water wells near Rafah and El Arish. However, he said that these wells were becoming and needed desalination. Dr. Kassas agrees that the quality of water is as big a problem as the quantity. He said the high salinity of most Sinai groundwater made its use in farming difficult. Abu Harb told us that the GOE is looking to dig deep wells in central Sinai to provide water for local development in the villages of al-Nakhl and Hassana. He said the wells will provide water for the cultivation of 4,000 feddans (4,150 acres), but the estimated cost for the project is 5-6 million Egyptian pounds (USD 900,000 to USD 1.1 million). --------------------------------------------- -------- Processing Plants Could Increase Employment, Revenues --------------------------------------------- --------

10.(C) Some leaders noted that although Sinai is home to valuable raw materials and grows quality fruits and vegetables, most of these primary products are refined and processed elsewhere. This reduces the amount of jobs and revenues that the region gains from its products. Osama Kassas stated that local farmers currently export olives to Spain and Italy, where the olives are pressed into oil. He said that some of this oil is returned to Sinai, where locals buy it as "imported olive oil." Kassas told us that processing plants for olive oil, sand glass and fruit and vegetable products would provide increased income and jobs for the local populace. Governor Shousha recommended similar efforts. He said that raw materials such as marble, rock for cement, and sand for glass could be processed locally. Shousha told us that currently Sinai sand is sent to Turkey to be processed into fine glass. ------------------------------ The Role of Aid in Development ------------------------------

11.(SBU) Most local leaders emphasized the need for governmental and non-governmental assistance to develop the region. Governor Shousha told us that he is interested in collaborating with NGOs and aid organizations to develop the agricultural sector. Ahmed Orabi stated that The Red Crescent is coordinating with 15-20 NGOs to conduct a study on Bedouin needs, which it will use to create a "coordinated vision for economic development." Osama Kassas, who worked with USAID to provide financing for small and medium enterprises (SME) and women's micro-businesses, told us that aid funding is critical to improve lives in Sinai because it allows people to start and grow personal businesses. He said that people who participated in his projects not only increased their incomes, but kept their children in school and visited the doctor to maintain their health. Governor Shousha said special attention needs to be paid to the sustainability of development projects. He stated that some projects failed after the funding dried up (NFI). Kassas told us that projects, undertaken by the Swiss, Canadian and German governments, failed due to the "size of the projects and corruption in the implementation." -------------------------------------------- Security Status Hinders Economic Development --------------------------------------------

12.(C) Gamal Selmy, a local National Democratic Party (NDP) councilman, said that while all Egyptian leaders declare the development of Sinai to be important, there is an "inherent contradiction in terms" because they also classify the entire peninsula as a "security zone." Selmy stated that the GOE places security officials in charge of Sinai affairs, and they put too many restrictions on movement and transport of goods, discouraging investment. Sameh Ishaq, a MEPI Grant recipient, and a Fulbright candidate added that placing military and security personnel in charge of the region restricts economic development because the leaders give priority to military and security issues. Osama Kassas echoed these statements. He told us that "security issues trump economic development in the Sinai." Kassas told us that people in the Sinai cannot own land because the government has "imminent domain" due to security concerns. He said this reduces personal incentive and restricts investment.

13.(C) All the leaders expressed their concern over the lack of peace in the region and the recent conflict in Gaza. They told us that the Gaza situation has an effect on the local population, many of whom have Palestinian roots. Abu Harb stated that the lack of peace and stability in Gaza, and the closure of the border also restrict legitimate trade opportunities for goods produced in North Sinai, noting that the 1.5 million people in Gaza could provide a lucrative market for the approximately 300,000 people living in northern Sinai. --------------------------------------------- ------- Educational Development Affected by Lack of Transportation --------------------------------------------- -------------

14.(SBU) On a separate economic development topic, all the leaders expressed their support for developing a better primary education system in Sinai. Governor Shousha said the biggest challenge is the transportation of children and teachers to and from the schools. He told us that the region lacks a transportation system that can collect students in rural areas and take them to school. Shousha stated that parents often have to travel 40-100 kilometers one-way to bring their children to school. This results in the shortening of the school day to 3 hours, and leads to dropouts and no shows. Dr. Nasr told us that teachers often do not show up for school because of the distance they must travel. He said that because of the problems with the primary education system, Sinai Bedouins are not present in large numbers in Egyptian universities. Abu Harb told us that central Sinai would experiment with a "15 days on, 15 days off" program to reduce the amount of travel for both teachers and students.

15.(C) Comment: The North Sinai Governorate is one of the least economically developed regions in Egypt. After the Sinai Peninsula was returned to Egypt in the peace treaty with Israel, the area was largely ignored by the GOE. Three terrorist attacks in the southern Sinai resort towns of Taba, Dahab and Sharm al-Shaykh, between October 2004 and April 2006, brought the increased attention of Egyptian security forces. While some attention is now being paid to the lack of economic opportunities for the local population, economic development, especially in the tourism industry, has favored imported labor from the Nile Valley at the expense of the local Bedouin and Egyptian-born Palestinian populations. There is a need to provide economic opportunities to the local populace. The GOE repeatedly mentions the need for economic development in the region; however, its actions are more focused on security, which limits development efforts. The new governor in North Sinai is reaching out to local Bedouin leaders and is planning to develop areas in central Sinai, the least developed area of the peninsula, and the site of recent troubles between the police and Bedouin. The need to fund education, agricultural projects, and water projects in central Sinai, and desalination of water wells in both northern and central Sinai provides opportunities for the USG to assist in the development and stability of the region. Based on our conversations, it appears the most effective way to promote economic development in the Sinai may be to support numerous smaller projects rather than a few "mega" projects in order to create economic growth and development opportunities throughout a region where the relatively sparse populace is spread out over great distances. SCOBEY