Academic journal article Nomadic Peoples

At Home in South Sinai

Academic journal article Nomadic Peoples

At Home in South Sinai

Article excerpt

Times have changed from the time of the goats when we would move with them and make clarified butter and yogurt, and everything. Today is no longer like the past. Nowadays a woman sits in her house and does not go out with the goats, or anything else. (1)

The coastline along the Gulf of Aqaba in South Sinai, Egypt, with its beautiful beaches and tropical waters, has in recent years been heavily developed for tourism. I have known members of a tribe there since 1978, when I first started living with a family as a seventeen-year-old anthropology student from an open-walled college. This article illustrates the wide ranging effects that sedentarisation, mass tourism and other changes have had upon their personal lives, with particular attention paid to the women and older girls.


Sinai lies to the east of the Gulf of Suez and has long been a relatively isolated region of Egypt. It is strategically located between the Suez Canal and Israel. Many of my South Sinai Bedouin friends who are thirty years of age and older calculate their ages by using one of the various regional wars as a reference point. The only war in which they were in direct peril was the Arab-Israeli Six-Day War of 1967, when they had remained safe in caves. Sinai was then under Israeli occupation, until 1982, when the Israeli government returned Sinai in full to Egypt per the Camp David Peace Accords. The United Nations Multinational Force of Observers patrols parts of Sinai to prevent a buildup of troops. As a direct result of the peace agreement, the initial plan for the development of Sinai was sponsored by the United States Agency for International Aid (Dames and Moore International 1985), followed by the Egyptian National Project for the Development of Sinai 1994-2017 proposals (Egypt, Ministry of Planning 1994). While some of the goals and specifics of the development change, Heba Aziz' article in this journal details the overall plan. European Union countries fund many of the recent development and environmental aid projects in Sinai.

Sinai, and Egypt in general, does not have the rich oil deposits found in Arabian Gulf countries. The South Sinai coast was earmarked a priority development zone for tourism, and marketed to investors and vacationers as the Egyptian Riviera. The tourists are mostly European, Israeli and Egyptian. They arrive by bus, car, plane or ferry, and can stay in everything from luxury hotels to camping grounds. Tourism as an industry is usually thriving, though violence elsewhere in the region can affect tourism in Sinai as well. It is always dangerous to have an economy based on one mainstay, but this is especially the case for tourism in a still somewhat unstable area. The onslaught of development also threatens the tourist economy by increasingly making the area an undesirable destination for vacationers as well as, of course, an undesirable place for many of the Bedouins to live. The coast has been degraded by the building of, and impact from, numerous hotels, as well as too many divers and snorkelers (Naficy 1998). The large septic tanks placed nearby in wadis (mountain washes or valleys), desalination plants, and the widening of the coastal plain may be considered `best practices' for the development of tourism (Egypt, Tourist Development Authority 1998), but it is still a gross overexploitation of a fragile ecosystem. The coast has also become polluted with garbage, some of which is likely to come from the sea, that various tour guides and articles deplore. While hotel staff may see to it that nearby beaches are cleaned, scuba divers and others sometimes take part in cleanup projects, and a recycling transfer centre opened in late 1998, the overall problem remains. There is also environmental damage inland in places, from strewn garbage to earthmoving operations such as mining.

The Bedouins who held territory on the coast have especially lost control of much of their land, as the Egyptian government sold it to hotel operators. …

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