Concern over the trafficking and domestic consumption of Captagon is mounting in Egypt, where authorities have seized millions of the pills over the past five years or so.
A US official with the Drug Enforcement Administration told The National that most of the Captagon pills being consumed in Egypt now come from Lebanon, while trafficking of the synthetic drug has become the primary concern for customs agencies on the country's borders as military campaigns against drug growers in Sinai continue to bear fruit.
"Drugs primarily come from Lebanon, which is considered a production source country,” the official said. “Likewise, Syria is a source for Captagon pill manufacturing.”
Captagon in the Middle East
Since being established in the 1980s, the DEA Cairo office has provided information and support for efforts to counteract drug smuggling in Egypt.
Egypt's customs authorities made several high-profile interceptions of Captagon shipments in recent years as they move to crack down on traffickers aiming to supply growing markets from Cairo to the Gulf.
In January, the Egyptian Ministry of Interior said authorities seized eight million Captagon pills and eight tonnes of hashish worth $39 million in a shipping container at Port Said. The container’s port of origin was Beirut and it was en route to Libya, according to the 2021 World Drug Report from the United Nations Office on Drug and Crime).
In November, Egypt confiscated two separate shipments of Captagon pills and hashish at Damietta port coming from Syria en route to another Arab country. The first shipment included over 3.2 million pills smuggled in a container of canned corn, while the second included 11 million pills hidden inside packages containing water filters.
And in December 2015, large quantities of Captagon pills concealed in school desks bound for Egypt were seized at Beirut airport.
Historically, drug cultivation farms in Sinai grew poppy plants and hashish, mainly used for local consumption.
But the DEA official said the Egyptian military’s campaigns against drug farms in the Sinai “have been very successful, thanks to a joint force including the Anti-Narcotics General Administration, the National Security Sector, air forces and frontier guards”.
Along with the military campaigns targeting drug cultivation, influential religious groups have mobilised against the local producers.
Al Azhar, the highest centre of religious scholarship in Egypt, has co-ordinated with the army and police to organise advocacy missions to South Sinai, to persuade people that drug cultivation is against Islam.
“Al Azhar is a vital institution playing a large role in raising awareness and working with other agencies and local offices,” the official said.
Drug smuggling in the Sinai is “currently at a low level as most of the smuggling is now tobacco and basic food products going through tunnels to enter Gaza”.
The greater concern now is Captagon and other narcotics coming from Lebanon and Syria, he said, “as all borders and points of entry deal with potential smuggling issues”.