Employment in a Bedouin Community: The Case of the Town of Dahab in South Sinai

By Aziz, Heba | Nomadic Peoples, December 2000 | Go to article overview
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Employment in a Bedouin Community: The Case of the Town of Dahab in South Sinai

Aziz, Heba, Nomadic Peoples

Bedouin employment is a controversial concept, especially when discussed with state representatives or with urban sedentary people -- many of whom would disagree on the applicability of the term for Bedouin communities. State officials in various Middle East countries would argue that Bedouin are incapable of working -- an excuse for the alienation of Bedouin from the path of economic and social development in their own communities. When Bedouin are discussed, arguments like Bedouin are unreliable and cannot adhere to fixed working hours and refuse being managed by non-Bedouin may be brought up.

In this article I discuss the issues of employment in a Bedouin community rather than Bedouin employment per se. I think it is hard nowadays to discuss Bedouin employment without considering those who currently share the Bedouin's physical and social space. Bedouin have never been autonomous, but anthropologists have often described their patterns and modes of employment as if they possessed a degree of autonomy, isolation and particularity. The town of Dahab on the Gulf of Aqaba is a vivid example of the way demographic changes influence employment patterns amongst the Bedouin and those who choose to share their space and resources. I will illustrate how the physical and social landscape of the town where tourism is the main economic activity, shaped the patterns of employment amongst the newly shaped local community. I will then discuss how such patterns raised controversial issues in employment and led to the confinement of the Bedouin's economic activities.


The Sinai Peninsula has always been an area of immense political and strategic importance. Israel's belief that occupying the Sinai and having it under control of a military force was essential for its safety and security caused three wars in the modern history of Egypt. First came the war of 1956, then the Six-Day War in 1967 when Israel gained possession of the Sinai and finally the 1973 war when Egypt regained the north-west coast between Suez and Abu Rodeis. As a result of President Sadat's visit to Jerusalem and the signing of the Camp David Treaty, Egypt gradually regained the rest of the Sinai Peninsula. On the 25th April 1982 the whole of Sinai was regained, with the exception of Taba, which was returned in March 1989.

Until 1956 Bedouin life in South Sinai was largely shaped by ecological and social factors. Contact between the Bedouin and the Egyptian State authority was limited. Contacts with urban centers were mainly initiated by Bedouin who traded with, or sought employment in, the cities. Each administration brought its own strategies and policies, which significantly affected the livelihoods of the few Bedouin in the region and of those military and state officials, urban and sedentary communities, tourists and others who interacted with them.

In this article I focus on the period following the regaining of the Sinai by Egypt and on the various social and spatial changes that took place at the time. The Egyptian authorities realised the need to consolidate and secure their presence in the Sinai by introducing an economic and social development plan. The development of tourism along the Gulf of Aqaba became a national interest as well as an economic goal. The Egyptian authorities confirmed their presence and control over Sinai by investing in tourism. This was perceived to have dual benefits. First, it happened at the right time, in the early nineties when the need to diversify Egyptian tourism was great. Second, the growth of tourism reaffirms the presence of the Egyptian authority via a sector that is perceived to possess significant international political weight. Tourism development served as an important tool to promote the presence of the Egyptian authority internationally and to inject in the Sinai a pattern of glamorous modern development.

The idea of diversifying the Egyptian Tourism project from one heavily based on cultural and heritage tourism to recreation and beach tourism became a necessity as of 1993.

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Employment in a Bedouin Community: The Case of the Town of Dahab in South Sinai


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