The Sinai

The Bedouin

WhatsApp Image 2024-03-19 at 11.14.03
WhatsApp Image 2024-03-19 at 11.14.03

The Bedouin are traditionally Arab nomads desert dwellers. They live throughout the Middle East and Arabia. The Bedouin of South Sinai say they originally came from the Arabian Peninsula. They are now usually settled in towns and villages, yet still value their freedom and independence above all else.  Their way of life and culture are remarkably similar to the stories of Abraham, Isaac and Jacob, in the Bible. 

Bedouin Tribes

The Sinai is home to more than 20 Bedouin tribes, each with its own territory. 

The Mezzaina are the dominant tribe around Sharm el Sheikh, Dahab and Neweiba. Some have become relatively prosperous through relating with Israeli, Russian, European and Egyptian tourists. 

The Jebeleya (Mountain) Bedouins are found around St. Catherine’s. For centuries they have guarded the Monastery and migrated up the mountains to their cooler gardens in the hot summers and down to the warmer valleys in the winters. 

Some of the Awlad Said tribe also work with tourists. 

Bedouin Interacting with other Nationalities

The Bedouin in South Sinai had positive interactions with the Israelis during their occupation of the Sinai and later with Western, Russian, and Egyptian tourists. These interactions with the wider world have led to new opportunities for business, jobs, education and healthcare. 

In parts of North Sinai, particularly along the North coast, some Bedouin have developed a reputation for being more insular, Islamic, militant, and opposed to the government. In the past the government has controlled such discontent with a heavy hand and excluded Bedouin from jobs with responsibility and influence. Recently there are attempts for more integration through housing and development projects. Tarabin and Sawarka entrepreneurs have developed lucrative businesses through trading with Gaza through the tunnels. Some have become powerful through drugs, people, and arms smuggling.

Bedouin Traditional Values

Traditionally, Bedouins are known for their simple lifestyle in harmony with their natural environment. They understand, value, and conserve vegetation, trees, animals, and water within the deserts and mountains. Bedouin communities have strict laws and cooperate to prevent overgrazing and the cutting of trees. They are remarkably kind to their animals with whom they live in close proximity. Even when individuals become wealthy from tourism and trade, they often choose to live a traditional lifestyle in traditional households, with their animals and distinct gender roles. 

Bedouin Families

Marriage, children, solidarity, and hospitality within the wider extended family are highly valued among the Bedouin. Marriage difficulties and divorce are unfortunately common. Both women and men can initiate divorce, after which the woman returns to her birth family. 

Children are free to roam where they like, but once past puberty girls are often restricted to the home. In tourist places like Dahab, young girls and older women move in small groups selling handicrafts and tea in public places. 

Bedouin Hospitality

Bedouin love to drink tea and coffee with guests.

Around Dahab and Saint Catherine’s, Bedouin act as guides to the treasures of the Sinai. These are often discovered off the beaten track. They offer generous hospitality within their town and desert homes and are delighted to share their way of life with those who are interested.

Teaching a guest how to make Bedouin Bread

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