The first week of Ramadan in North Sinai was difficult for many of the governorate’s residents. An apparent attack on the power grid left Sheikh Zuwayed without power, and several people were caught in the line of fire between militants and the Armed Forces. The opening of the holy month also brought shorter operational hours for Arish’s lone gas station, exacerbating the strain on taxi drivers who are already waiting in long lines.
Sheikh Zuwayed goes dark
A power outage struck Sheikh Zuwayed and its surrounding areas on May 5, marking yet another plunge into darkness for North Sinai residents who have seen their power infrastructure repeatedly attacked by militants.
The outage came after a high-voltage transmission tower connecting Sheikh Zuwayed to the governorate’s capital of Arish was damaged. The tower was located in the village of Qabr Umayr, west of Sheikh Zuwayed, according to the Facebook page “Sheikh Zuwayed and Rafah Electricity News,” which is run by officials in the cities’ electricity sector.
The page also published an image of the electrical tower, which it identified as one of 22 newly constructed transmission towers. The page also drew attention to an object at the base of the tower, indicating that it could be an explosive.
Work to repair the damaged tower began the next day. However, the repair team faced several difficulties.
The first hurdle came when Raed Abu Suleiman, one of the technicians, in the initial repair team, was electrocuted and fell to his death on May 6, a source at the North Sinai electricity station told Mada Masr. The dangers facing the repair team also included threats for “cooperating with security forces,” according to the Facebook page.
Despite the difficulties, the maintenance team was able to partially restore power to the grid, with electricity returning to the city for a few hours per day. The power remained completely offline in the evenings, however, local sources tell Mada Masr.
By Thursday, these blackouts were no longer only confined to the evening hours, extending into the day.
Sheikh Zuwayed’s high-voltage power lines —which cross through villages to the east and south of Sheikh Zuwayed, areas that are considered the most dangerous in North Sinai — have left the town vulnerable to power outages, as the electrical grid faces both targeted militant attacks and collateral damage in clashes between the Islamic State-affiliated Province of Sinai and Egyptian Armed Forces.
During power cuts, residents of Sheikh Zuwayed depend on electric generators, which only work for a few hours a day and are used to operate refrigerators and charge cell phones. Kerosene for lamps is in short supply, as it is now only available in Arish or from black market vendors since most gas stations in the city shut down in 2013.
Some neighborhoods south of Arish also suffered power cuts last Friday, but the power outage only lasted an hour and a half. A source in the electricity company in Arish told Mada Masr that one of the feeding circuits to the network was deactivated for an unknown reason, only to be reactivated shortly afterwards.
The source asserts that the power outage in Arish could have been caused by the aftershocks of explosions and gunfire near electricity lines, an event which has occurred several times before.
In September 2018, the towns of Arish, Rafah and Sheikh Zuwayed all suffered complete power outages that lasted for over a week after three high-voltage towers were destroyed in west Arish. The disruption caused severe financial losses to business owners.
Over the last week, several North Sinai residents were caught in the crossfire of the ongoing conflict between militants and the Armed Forces.
Last Thursday in Sheikh Zuwayed, a child named Ahmed Ramy al-Nahal was shot by an unidentified person. Another child, May Mostafa al-Hamayda, was also shot and killed while standing in the balcony of her residence. According to medical sources, the source of the second bullet also remains unknown.
The following day in the village of Abu Taweela, a young man named Nayef Ouda Abu Rayash was shot in the stomach. According to medical sources, Abu Rayash was transferred to the Arish Public Hospital and remains in critical condition.
An estimated 621 civilians were killed between July 2013 and mid-2017 by stray bullets and shelling from unknown sources, and 1,247 were injured, according to statistics from the North Sinai Social Solidarity Directorate.
Arish: Drivers, fishermen and journalists
The fuel crisis in Arish escalated at the beginning of the month of Ramadan as work hours at Arish’s only gas station were cut to eight hours a day, ending its operations at 5 pm.
Drivers are demanding the gas station add a second shift to ensure enough time for all the drivers to put fuel in their vehicles at least once per day.
Drivers explained to Mada Masr that the long lines are a result of shorter operating hours and low capacity during peak hours. Drivers also cited the stubbornness and inefficiency of officials who are responsible for organizing and securing the station’s operations.
One driver explained to Mada Masr the extent to which the gas shortage affected drivers in the area. Since drivers typically do not rely on other sources of income, many of them have had to resort to selling their personal belongings or gone into debt to support their families, particularly since Operation North Sinai 2018 was launched on February 9 of last year.
Fishermen have also faced immense challenges to their livelihoods due to the ban imposed on fishing on the northern coast of Sinai since the launch of the military operation. A number of boats and fishing vessels have also been confiscated by authorities and docked in the Arish port.
According to Mohamed Atiya, a fisherman in Arish, there are almost 2,000 fishermen in the city, using 250 boats and 20 fishing vessels. All 2,000 have been unemployed for the past year and have suffered drastic financial losses because they haven’t found other work, according to Atiya.
A few months ago, security forces permitted fishing within a designated one-kilometer radius, but this was restricted to buoy fishing from rowboats. According to Atiya, the technique yields a much smaller catch compared to those of larger, motorized fishing vessels.
Journalistic coverage of the plight of those in Arish came under criticism this week, as well, when the North Sinai governorate issued a statement urging citizens to avoid speaking with people posing as journalists using “falsified” Journalists Syndicate paperwork without an official syndicate stamp.
The governorate justified its warning by asserting that those impersonating journalists have extorted authorities and citizens, stating that only syndicate-accredited journalists should be recognized.