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December 19, 2011

Sinai for New Egypt

Prof. Dr. Mohamed Elmasry

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Egypt's Sinai peninsula has the potential to be a show case in human and resource development for the New Egypt; the post January 25 Revolution's Egypt.

One of the political crimes of Mubarak's regime was to keep Sinai mostly undeveloped for the last 30 years after it was liberated from the Israeli occupation and to leave its population of 500,000 alienated from the rest of country.

Sinai is a triangle piece of land, mostly desert but unique in features. Its area of 60,000 km2 represents over 15% of the total area of the country. It is Egypt’s only land in Asia. It stands at the cross-roads of three continents; a land mass in Asia that is water-connected via the Suez Canal to Africa and via the Mediterranean to Europe.

Sinai’s 1000 km shore line offers a window to two great seas, the Mediterranean and the Red Sea. Its mountainous central-southern area has two peaks of 2300 and 2600 m. One mountain has a great religious significant to Muslims, Christians and Jews; Mount Sinai where God talked to Moses and gave him the Ten Commandments near the Burning Bush.

Sinai includes another site of great religious significance. Stand at the foot of Mount Sinai is the famous St. Catherine Monastery which was built by Emperor Justinian and considered the oldest populated monastery in the world and is currently the home for fifteen monks. Its library is the most ancient in Christianity. Catherine (or Katrin) is an Egyptian Coptic martyr from Alexandria who died in the late 4th century defending her church against the invading Romans.

Human settlements in Sinai date back to 5000 – 7000 BC. Ancient Egyptians used widely Sinai’s turquoise and copper deposits in an advanced technology for their daily life and for their tombs and temples. Sinai was, and still is used as an east-west land route between Asia and North Africa. Sinai provided routes to millions of travellers to the Muslim Holy sites in Jerusalem, Mecca and Medina, especially at the time of Hajj.

Sinai was invaded by ancient Asian tribes and most recently by Britain, France and Israel in 1956 and by Israel again in 1967. It was threatened by the Crusaders and by the Moguls. In all cases Egyptians manage to liberate Sinai from foreign invaders, to end any threats and even to liberate other countries in Asia in the process as was the case of liberating Palestine, Syria and Iraq from the Crusaders and the Moguls.

Sinai is an area of great zoological importance, its fauna is an intriguing assemblage of African, Asian and European and its wildlife is both fascinating and rare. It is the home for many rare animals including the Sinai Leopard.

Sinai has the potential to be the world’s leading example for using alternative energy sources to satisfy its needs. Both solar and wind power generation can be the highest per capita. It has an average of over 10 hours of daily sunlight over the whole year, one of the highest in the world. Its average wind speed per year is over 25 km per hour. Also dams can be built to make use of seasons of heavy rain in hydraulic power generation.

Agriculture and integrated farming, and a fishing industry can provide jobs for millions of workers from the Nile Valley. Sinai can provide the country with its needs in vegetables, fruits, fish, honey and meat and become a world leading exporter of these products. It is ideal for growing wheat, corn, tomatoes, lettuce, apples, oranges, mangos, figs, olives and dates.

It has an average rainfall in the mountainous central-southern region of 300 millimeters, enough to form plenty of underground springs.  It has several unique plants and shrubs which are used to cure many deases, a well-known fact to the local Bedouin community. Its mangrove ecosystem can be studied and duplicated throughout the peninsula and related industries can be established.

The Mediterranean north coast can accommodate a California-style IT silicon oasis dotted with software and hardware design houses and research centers.

The northern city of El-Arish, Sinai’s largest city with some 100,000 inhabitants can be the first to turn into the Great El-Arish Area (GEA) with modern schools, hospitals and universities competing with the best in the region. The city can be a great seaside summer resort with its sandy beaches and great expanse of palm trees. It can also house the world’s largest historical and culture centre for Bedouin and nomadic life.

The South Red Sea shores are suitable for an all-year tourist industry which, with a massive promotion campaign, can become one of the top 10 tourist destinations in the world. It has what it takes; history, sunshine, mild temperature most of the year, sandy beaches, rich coral reefs, mountains and natural protectorates at both land and sea which are second to none. Sothern Sinai can attract millions of tourists while protecting Sinai's natural environment, heritage and culture.

I invite readers interested in the development of Sinai to contribute and/or attend the first international conference on Sinai for New Egypt which will be held in Cairo at The American University of Cairo near Tahrir Square, just before the first anniversary of the January 25th Revolution.

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