However, apart from the political issue, the construction has significant economic implications, including a risk to profits for the tunnel smugglers from both sides. This point is causing anger against the construction at the Rafah border also among the Bedouin residents of the Sinai, who fear that they will lose an easy source of income they have enjoyed since Hamas came to power.
Egyptian newspaper al-Youm al-Sabe'a has spotlighted this issue and the negative economic implications expected to affect the Sinai Bedouins as a result of the Egyptian project.
According to evidence collected by the newspaper, in recent years thousands of young Egyptians have earned a living directly or indirectly through smuggling into Gaza, a trade valued at a little under a billion dollars.
Residents of Egyptian Rafah wonder at the reports of the Gaza siege, and claim that their situation isn’t much better. Unemployment rates are high and jobs are scarce, which has led thousands to work in jobs connected with the tunnel smuggling.
For example, a young man interviewed by the newspaper claimed that he could earn between 50 and 100 Egyptian pounds (10-20 dollars) per day by smuggling.
Jobs include the smuggling itself, but also various connected tasks, such as looking out for the approach of Egyptian security forces and warning the smugglers if necessary. Rafah residents claim that now, with the expected decline in smuggling, the young people will sit idle in the cafes, or turn to some other illegal trade.
Moreover, property owners in Rafah made a tidy profit from the smuggling. It has been estimated that around 3,000 houses in Rafah have been used as "warehouses" while the tenants have turned into employees of the smugglers just by becoming the managers of these warehouses.
Others who will find their profits decline as a result of the steel installation include the fuel station owners in the Sinai, as well as those working in transportation, meat and fish merchants, and spare parts dealers.
Rafah residents claim that the steel now being put into place by Egyptian engineers will compel President Hosni Mubarak to contend with increasing unemployment and frustration in the Sinai. This may lead Mubarak to open a regulated border crossing at Rafah, something he has opposed till now due to Hamas' insistence on keeping Fatah representatives out.
Doron Peskin is head of research at Info-Prod Research (Middle East) Ltd.