“We are not terrorists … we are with the state.” With those words, the people of the port area of Al-Arish in North Sinai appealed to Egyptian regime officials to stop the demolition of their homes and their forcible displacement.
The people’s appeals came after the activation of Abdel Fattah al-Sisi’s decision, issued in July 2019, to transfer ownership of all land in the port area to the Egyptian Ministry of Defence. This move came as an extension of the displacement of tens of thousands of citizens from Rafah, Sheikh Zuweid, and the outskirts of Al-Arish over the past years. During the past few days, people have regularly demonstrated over the port expansion project that has threatened some 4,000 families living in the area with displacement.
Residents published video clips of the protests that they organised in front of their homes, in conjunction with a government committee visit to inspect the area in preparation for the demolition of the houses and the area’s evacuation. The residents said that they have lived in the area for 36 years, and the state has no right to demolish their homes. The people stressed the need for the state to deal with them as Egyptians and not foreigners. They indicated that they have built houses and palaces in that area, and not tin camps, as the state claims. Some residents published pictures of their homes, calling on the government to transfer the expansion area to other areas devoid of residents. Given that the targeted area is the only residential area on the sea coast, and it is possible to replace it with larger areas in other directions close to the port, the army’s eyes fell on the residential area alone.
The Sinai Human Rights Organisation said that in November 2018, committees formed by the government counted the houses surrounding Al-Arish Port, in preparation for their evacuation and the demolition of all civilian objects in the area. This came according to Resolution 330 issued by Al-Sisi, which stipulates the transfer of ownership of all lands in the port area to the Ministry of Defence.
The evacuated area is about 371 acres surrounding Al-Arish Port, which includes residential neighbourhoods and coastal areas. Residents of the area indicate that they own permits for their homes that they have lived in for many years, refusing eviction compensation. Members of the House of Representatives and some legal figures are trying to communicate with government agencies to reconsider the decision. Still, they did not reach a result, according to the organisation’s statement.
In a statement, the Sinai Institute for Human Rights called on the Egyptian government to listen to the residents’ demands “even once.” The statement added that the government must immediately stop the imminent eviction of thousands of families. The residents asked: “How can the state ask us to reconstruct Sinai, and now demolish our homes?” The residents are calling on the House of Representatives to intervene to stop this farce, as they put it, while others addressed al-Sisi, saying, “Do not increase the enemies of the country.” The foundation stated that the government ended the inventory of homes surrounding Al-Arish Port in preparation for evacuating and demolishing all civilian buildings in the area and annexing them to the Ministry of Defence property.
One of the sheikhs of Sinai, Ibrahim Al-Manaie, previously warned against al-Sisi considering Al-Arish Port as an act of public benefit because of “the seriousness of the new republican decision, as it constitutes a cover for the displacement of more people and causes a state of destruction in the areas of Al-Arish.” “The decision is not in the interest of Egyptians in Sinai and is a repeat of what happened with the displacement of residents of Rafah and Sheikh Zuweid, in addition to the residents around Al-Arish Airport,” he stressed.
Al-Manaei stressed “the necessity of creating a popular stance that rejects these policies that are pushing towards the forced displacement of the people; otherwise, all areas of Sinai will face the fate of Rafah in the coming years, within the framework of a plan that has been implemented for years.” He called on government agencies to “listen to the citizens’ demands and take into account the amendments that they put forward during the past months to mitigate the damages to them as a result of the decision, and to reduce the area of destruction that will be caused to the surrounding residential and tourist neighbourhoods.”
Al-Arish Port is one of the Egyptian ports affiliated to the General Authority for Port Said Ports and is located on the Mediterranean coast. The port was established in 1996, after the issuance of a decision to convert it from a fishing port to a commercial port. The Port Said Port Authority prepared the port to receive commercial ships. The port’s activities are summarised in the export of Sinai mining raw materials to the Mediterranean and Black Sea countries and the reception of small fishing vessels and goods.
The Sinai border governorate has suffered from organised displacement operations since 2016 after al-Sisi announced the buffer zone, which is five kilometres long on the border strip between Egypt’s Rafah and the Gaza Strip. Besides, Republican Decree No. 233 of 2016 came into effect, requiring the expropriation of two kilometres along the international roadway to benefit the armed forces. Sinai activists warned that these decisions announced by the state through the Executive Council of North Sinai Governorate should not be implemented. They indicated that this means the evacuation of homes and villages located along the international road, which penetrates 400,000 acres in the city of Al-Arish and the villages and cities within its scope, which ultimately means the demise of these villages from the map.