Foreign reporters have visited Arish and Bir Al-Abed over the last few days to check on the status of residents in North Sinai, where a major military campaign has been ongoing since February.
Egypt’s State Information Service (SIS) on Sunday said that it accompanied a group of “accredited correspondents of some major news agencies, TV channels, and foreign newspapers,” to visit the two cities.
The initiative aimed to “(help correspondents) to get acquainted with the social and living conditions of the civilians in the wake of the successful military operations launched by the Egyptian Armed Forces to uproot the terrorist hotbeds and terrorist elements,” read a statement.
The SIS said it has allowed reporters to conduct TV, radio, and press interviews with residents of Al-Arish and Bair Al-Abed in the cities’ markets, as well as visiting Arish University and meeting its students and professors, who, according to the statement, “asserted that the situation inside the university is stable and the education process is proceeding well.”
Agence France-Presse (AFP), Sky News Arabia, and Saudi-owned Al Arabiya have published video and written reports on “returning of life to Egypt’s North Sinai.”
AFP said it made its coverage on residents’ situations during an army visit for foreign media. It began its report by describing the availability of foodstuffs, fruits, and vegetables in the cities’ markets, as well as the returning of public transportation to the streets, including shared taxi services.
A senior army official told reporters that, “with the improvement in the security situation, life is starting to go back to more or less normal,” the AFP report read, while another commander asserted that “curbs on freedom of movement were being relaxed” on the weekend “without written authorisation.”
Meanwhile, an Al Arabiya video report titled “this is how North Sinai residents live amid the war on terrorism” claimed that children of the governorate are living a normal life, playing, and practising swimming at one of Arish’s clubs.
“Life of residents seems a little bit normal, despite the ongoing comprehensive military campaign, which started since last February,” said Al Arabiya’s reporter.
Concurrently, Sky News Arabia reported that all cultural, entertainment, and artistic installations reopened their doors to the locals after the “security forces eased its measures.”
Locally, state-owned and private newspapers and their online gates, such as Al-Ahram, Akhbar Al-Yom, Al-Masry Al-Youm, and Youm7, as well as TV shows, booked a space of their coverage over the past days to highlight “the returning of normal life”, services, and educational processes to North Sinai, assuring that Egypt’s army abides by international standards in protecting civilians in North Sinai.
Reports on the situation in North Sinai’s cities are not usually covered in local media. Since the army launched its comprehensive military operation, few media outlets have tackled what is happing there.
Last May, Human Rights Watch claimed that “the Egyptian army has vastly expanded widespread destruction of homes, commercial buildings, and farms in the North Sinai governorate since February.” It added that its recent report is based on remote interviews with witnesses in the governorate.
However, Egyptian military spokesperson Tamer El-Refaie denounced the claims, noting that the HRW report was based on unreliable sources.
Since October 2014, a state of emergency has been imposed in North Sinai. The governorate has been rocked by several terrorist attacks since 2013, targeting hundreds of security personnel, Christians, and even Sufi Muslims, mostly carried out by an Islamic State group branch in North Sinai.