The Bedouins

Bedouins are an Arab semi nomadic group, descended from nomads who have historically inhabited the Arabian and Syrian Deserts. Their territory stretches from the vast deserts of North Africa to the rocky sands of the Middle East.

A widely quoted Bedouin saying is “I against my brother, my brothers and I against my cousins, then my cousins and I against strangers”. This saying signifies a hierarchy of loyalties based on proximity of kinship. Disputes are settled, interests are pursued, and justice and order are maintained by means of this frame. The largest scale of tribal interactions is the tribe as a whole, led by a Sheikh. Camels are traditionally regarded as a ‘gift from God’ as historically they were the main food source and method of transportation for many Bedouins. 

In the late 19th century, many Bedouin transitioned to a semi-nomadic lifestyle influenced by the forced sedentarisation implemented by the Ottoman Empire. Bedouins in Egypt mostly reside in the Sinai peninsula and in the suburbs of Cairo. The past few decades have been difficult for traditional Bedouin culture due to changing surroundings and the establishment of new resort towns on the Red Sea coast. Bedouins in Egypt are facing a number of challenges: erosion of traditional values, unemployment, and various land issues. When the tourist industry started to bloom, local Bedouins increasingly moved into new service positions such as cab drivers, tour guides, campgrounds or cafe managers. The Egyptian Revolution of 2011 brought more freedom to the Sinai Bedouin.

While many Bedouins have abandoned their nomadic and tribal traditions for modern urban lifestyle, they retain traditional Bedouin culture of music, poetry, dances and many other cultural practices. Traditions like camel riding and camping in the deserts are also popular leisure activities for urbanised Bedouins who live within close proximity to deserts or other wilderness areas, such as in Dahab.

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