Beduines – the original inhabitants of Sinai
Bedu, the Arabic word from which the name bedouin is derived, is a simple, straightforward tag. It means “inhabitant of the desert,” and refers generally to the desert-dwelling nomads of Arabia, the Negev, and the Sinai. For most people, however, the word “bedouin” conjures up a much richer and more evocative image–of lyrical, shifting sands, flowing robes, and the long, loping strides of camels.
Most of the bedouin tribes of the Sinai are descended from peoples who migrated from the Arabian peninsula between the 14th and 18th centuries, making the bedouin themselves relatively recent arrivals in this ancient land. Today, many of the bedouin of the Sinai have traded their traditional existence for the pursuits and the conventions of the modern world, as startling changes over the last two decades have irrevocably altered the nature of life for the bedouin and for the land they inhabit. Nonetheless, bedouin culture still survives in the Sinai, where there is a growing appreciation of its value and its fragility.
Boy from Suwalha tribe
Many Beduines have found a job in the touristical areas, but there are still a lot of beduines that seem work at nothing but smuggling goods and stolen goods into Gaza. The beduines have always carried arms and are notorious for drug smuggling that now they have added arms and are backing terrorists in the Sinai.
Some youth have joined in Jihadi groups supported by the Ikhwan in Gaza others are with El Kaida that have found their way into the Sinai aided by the Ikhwan regime in Egypt.
Presently the Egyptian army is engaged in a war with the Jihadis and the Al kaida groups and are actively closing the smuggling tunnels into and from Gaza.
In all Sinai there are approx. 80.000 Beduines, from which only perhaps 30% have found a touristic related occupation. These beduines are mostly found between the Monastery of St. Catherine and Sharm El Sheikh.
Very eye-catching is the clothing of women.
It is difficult for visitors to get to see them. Mostly they will see men, while Beduin women stay hidden. However, in some cases you might get across a woman wearing the famous veil (Burgaa) or the scarf, which is called “Tarha” in local language.
young woman from Muszeina tribe
Beduines come from places around Sinai such as Palestine, Arabia or Jordan. They settled in Sinai long ago, even though the environment is and was quite tough for living. There is hardly anything else than sand and mountains. Only a closer glance shows that there are some few oasises, plants and animals that allow the Beduines to live a nomadic life as they have always done.
The Bedunine Tribes as of Today
There are about 11-13 tribes to be distinguished in Sinai, depending on how to define clans and tribes. They are mostly living in tents so that they can leave the place again easily. Others are already living in smaller “wall-surrounded areas” where they usually stay.
The boundaries of the Beduines tribes are indistinct. However, they are understood by a long tradition, each area has been known and respected most of the time. In the past tribal raiding was evident, the history of these movements, alliances and eventual extinction in some cases is fascinating.
Aleiqat: This tribe was one of the first that has settled in Sinai (at the time of the Islamic conquest of Egypt). Their territory is now on the west coast of Sinai.
Aquila: This quite small tribe lives on the Mediterranean coast, right between the Sawarka and the Laheiwat.
Awarma (Suwalha): In South Sinai this is one clan of the overall tribe Suwalha.
Awlad Said (Suwalha): In South Sinai this is one clan of the overall tribe Suwalha.
Ayaida: North Sinai, next to the Channel of Suez.
Gebeleya: These are the people of the mountains. As probably only about 1,500 people they have a very small tribal territory around Mt. Sinai. They are not of Arab descent but are descendants of Macedonian people sent by Emperor Justinian to build, protect and serve the Monastery in the sixth century AD.
Haweitat: The Haweitat have their origin in the Hijaz mountains of northern Arabia. They occupy a triangular area southeast of Suez.
with kind support of STK Parks
Laheiwat: This tribe is split into 3 geographical areas: one in South Sinai (east), one at the Mediterranean Sea, and another one right next to the Channel of Suez.
Muszeina Tent in Shar El sheikh
Muszeina: this is the largest tribe in Sinai. These Beduines are living in the most southern part of Sinai and visitors of Sharm El Sheik will most probably see them on their visit to Sinai.
Qararsha (Suwalha): In South Sinai this is one clan of the overall tribe Suwalha.
Tarabin: The Tarabin, who have tribal territories, or dirha, in both North and South Sinai, are of Palestinian origin
Tiyaha: This tribe occupies an enormous territory in central Sinai; they origine – just as the Tarabin – from Palestine
The Suwarka are the most numerous ones, They live in the north of Sinai, at the Mediterranean coast centered on Al Arish.
Dahab tourist resort in Sinai
Unfortunately, with the arrival of tourism in South Sinai, the living conditions of the Beduines have changed dramatically. They have to fight for their land and are in deep discussions with local investors as well as with the Egyptian government.
In southern Sinai, the beautiful tropical coastline of the Gulf of Aqaba has recently experienced major development. The government has routed the area as the Egyptian Riviera in the interest of attracting international tourists and investors. The initial plan for the development of the Sinai was sponsored by the United States Agency for International Aid, as a result of the Camp David Peace Accords.
The indigenous people of South Sinai, the Bedouins, generally did not benefit from employment in the initial construction boom because the wages were too low to make it worth their while. Sudanese and Egyptian workers from other areas were brought in as laborers instead. The Bedouins increasingly moved into tourist industry positions such as cab drivers, tour guides for sight-seeing on camels or in jeeps, managing cafes or campgrounds. However, they soon had severe competition from foreign tour operators, Egyptians from the Nile Valley, and even with each other.
Since the mid-1980s, the Bedouins who held desirable coastal property have lost control of much of their land as it was sold by the Egyptian government to hotel operators. In the summer of 1999, the latest dispossession of land took place when the army bulldozed Bedouin-run tourist campgrounds north of Nuweiba as part of the final phase of hotel development in the sector, overseen by the Tourist Development Agency (TDA). The director of the Tourist Development Agency dismissed Bedouin rights to most of the land, saying that they had not lived on the coast before 1982. Bedouins had been living on the coast, but their traditional semi-nomadic culture has left them vulnerable to such claims. Most of the Sinai Bedouins have been in Sinai since the fourteenth to eighteenth centuries.
Stolen cars ready for smuggling into Gaza
The Bedouin of Sinai Free but dangerous
The chaos may be the governor’s best ally. Hospitals are crowded with the victims of tribal vendettas. Notices tied to lamp-posts record the names of women who have disappeared. Traders load their guns before setting off to do business, for fear of highwaymen.
In the early hours of June 22nd two Egyptian soldiers were shot dead by masked gunmen in a main street of el-Arish. If such lawlessness continues, hopes an adviser to the governor, everyone will be begging for the police to come back and restore order.
Such hopes are, for the time being, forlorn. The Bedouin of Sinai loathe the old order. Talk to an adult male Bedou in North Sinai, and the chances are he will tell you he has been in prison, sometimes in solitary confinement in a cell too small to sit down in. For years Egyptian bureaucrats from the Nile Valley have refused to let the Bedouin register their land. Checkpoints dotting Sinai’s rocky wastelands prevented the Bedouin from reaching their area’s main cash-cows: the peninsula’s tourist resorts, its oil installations and its giant cement factory. The government buildings that the Bedouin ransacked during the revolution are still littered with security files.
Smuggling sheep through a Gaza tunnel
Most Bedouin leaders now prefer to rely on their own people to keep order. For decades, outsiders have manipulated their hierarchies and handpicked their sheikhs; now they are selecting their own. Control over smuggling routes linking Africa to Asia has provided them with enough guns and cash to keep the governor and his heavies away. A businessman robbed of $250,000 found it more sensible to appeal to Bedouin leaders than to the local courts, bereft of police to enforce rulings. “We can’t really arrest anyone any more,” moans the hapless governor.
Few Bedouin say they want to rid Sinai of Egyptian rule altogether, though the more wistful wonder whether Western powers might yet set up a Bedouin dynasty in Sinai as they did with the House of Saud in the Arabian peninsula. The more pragmatic Bedouin want a new contract with the state, including a degree of local autonomy, access to government and army jobs that have long been denied to them, and an amnesty from the sentences passed on them, often in absentia.
A beduine shepherd
The governor has met tribal leaders and freed a few hundred prisoners. Egypt’s justice ministry has signalled its readiness to release others who have served half their terms. Egypt’s post-revolutionary prime minister, Essam Sharaf, has even paid el-Arish a visit, the first holder of his post to do so for years. But Bedouin leaders damned it as a cheap photo opportunity while, away from the cameras, Egyptian generals seemed intent on reviving the old order. “We’re not in the business of legitimising smugglers, terrorists, drug barons and outlaws,” says an intelligence officer.
In frustration, some Bedouin have resorted to sabotage. Within hours of Mr Sharaf’s departure, a bomb blew up an unguarded pipeline that supplies Israel and Jordan with gas. They may yet attack South Sinai’s oil installations and tourist resorts, and perhaps the Egyptian “guests”—workers whom the government settled on Bedouin territory in an effort to cement the state’s grip. Attacks on cars with Nile Valley licence-plates are getting more frequent. The head of a women’s association in Nakhl, an isolated Sinai town, fled back to the main bit of Egypt after 30 years. Bedouin protesters recently cut the road, albeit briefly, between Cairo and the tourist resort of Sharm el-Sheikh.
Tourism In Sinai
The governor denies reports that the vacuum in Sinai’s rocky land, which has around 400,000 inhabitants, has been filled by 400 al-Qaeda men. But he accuses Hamas, the Palestinian Islamist movement, and Hizbullah, the Shia party-cum-militia that holds sway in southern Lebanon, of spotting a chance to stir up trouble. He adds that Salafist groups, who follow the puritanical Saudi model of Islam, have flourished since Hosni Mubarak’s fall. A bomb recently destroyed the walls of Sinai’s main Sufi shrine, but the dome miraculously dropped intact over the tomb.
Jihadis and Al kaida operative terrorists in the Sinai
Seeing threats in every corner, the governor has turned to the secret police, who have survived the uprising remarkably unscathed. By warning that the chaos may spill across the eastern border, he has persuaded Israel to allow 3,000 Egyptian troops into eastern Sinai, which, under the Camp David accords of 1978 that provided for Israel’s withdrawal, is a demilitarised zone.
Egyptian military vehicles now proliferate, though Egyptian soldiers have taken a hands-off approach to the Bedouin for fear of being dragged into a domestic squabble with them. The governor toys with the idea of a heavier crackdown, but it is plain that only a political agreement has a chance of restoring calm and preventing the pesky Bedouin from soliciting outside support, which would make Sinai even more dangerous.
Egyptian Army: Hamas Helping Terrorists in Sinai
The Egyptian army has destroyed over 125 Tunnels
General Ahmad Wasfi, Second Army Commander of the Egyptian army, stated yesterday that Hamas aids global jihadists operating in the Sinai Peninsula.
Pro Morsi Jihadis with Al Kaida flag in Sinai.
Gen. Wasfi announced that four captured Jihadists had revealed to interrogators information about the support and assistance Hamas officials supply to terror organizations, including the planning and execution of attacks against Egyptian soldiers.
Gaza Smuggling tunnel
Hamas quickly denied the General’s allegations, stating, “Egypt is trying to deflect its own internal problems in our direction.