Who Are Egypt’s Sinai Bedouin?

By  |  5 Comments
Credit: The Bedouin Way

Credit: The Bedouin Way

By Sofian Noor, The Bedouin Way

Egypt’s Sinai Bedouin are often thought of as mysterious by the media and many Egyptians. To tackle this, Sofian Noor, from ‘The Bedouin Way,’ gives an overview of the Sinai Bedouin, written from his perspective. Sofian is from Egypt’s North Sinai and the Sawarka tribe and is a safari guide, driver and cook.

BEING BEDOUIN

The Bedouin are always looking for freedom, respect and food for our families. We are very proud of our culture and we will never let that die.

We have important rituals that we live by every day. For example we wake up early in the morning and light the fire ready for breakfast, tea and coffee. We always end the day the same way.

The Bedouin are resourceful. We can make anything from almost nothing, as this is what we have always had to do living nomadically. We use everything and don’t throw things away. Plastic bottles are sometimes used for cups, candles and containers. Leftover food is given to the animals. Glass vessels are used for tea. Metal cans for water.

bedouin-way-tea-on-fire

Credit: The Bedouin Way

Our houses are not important to us in the Western sense. Instead of spending money on paint, furniture, beautiful curtains or modern kitchen equipment, we place our priority on providing a good welcome for guests. We are proud and happy with our home as long as we have Bedouin seating areas (carpets and cushions on the ground), a good fire that is always lit, coffee and tea. We like things to be simple.

Every tribe has a different dialect and that’s how we can recognise each other and which tribe a person is from.

There are no longer any Christian Bedouin in the Sinai. We are Muslim.

We have our own Bedouin Law, which is highly respected. It is never disregarded or taken lightly.

We love coffee without sugar but tea with sugar (some would say too much!).

HISTORY

Credit: The Bedouin Way

Credit: The Bedouin Way

The Sinai Bedouin are a group of tribes descending from immigrants who arrived from the Arabian Peninsula between the 14th and 18th centuries. However the Bedouin of St Catherine originated from Eastern Europe, travelling there when the monastery was being built between 548 and 565.

There are around 33 tribes across North and South Sinai and we came here with nothing.  There are also Bedouin across Egypt.

Today our lives have changed dramatically due to the modern age of tourism and technology, however we try to maintain our traditions as far as possible to make sure that our way of life is never lost or forgotten.

Our generation is far more interested in politics than our fathers and forefathers. Most Bedouin only really started to talk about politics after the Egyptian Revolution of 2011 when we became affected.

CAMELS, GOATS, SHEEP AND LIVESTOCK

Credit: The Bedouin Way

Credit: The Bedouin Way

Animals are crucial to the Bedouin. Each tribe has its own stamp for our camels, so we can spot which tribe a camel belongs to straight away. We use our camels for moving around, clothing, meat, and milk – the milk is very healthy and good for the body in many ways.

Goats are traditionally the main animal we keep as we can use them for milk, cheese, meat, their skin and fur. We can get 70% of what we need in life from them. We also keep sheep as they provide the same sustenance.

Bedouin don’t really keep cows as they eat too much and cost more money to keep if we want them to be fit and healthy. However, one tribe in North Sinai does keep them – the Remeilat.

In the past, we moved seasonally with our livestock to make sure our animals ate good food. We would then come back to our “home” when the time was right. This still happens with the traditional desert-dwelling Bedouin.

Those of us who live in the desert tend to hunt for food and those who live by the sea rely more on fishing.

In general terms, the Bedouin of the North eat more meat and the South Sinai Bedouin love to eat fish.

AT ONE WITH NATURE, THE ENVIRONMENT AND OUR BODIES

Mountain flowers. Credit: The Bedouin Way

Mountain flowers. Credit: The Bedouin Way

The Bedouin live our lives by carefully observing the sun, the moon, the stars, our environment and our animals. We know where we are, the time of day, and what weather we can expect by learning how to read all of these things. In a world without television, radio, telephones, computers and other technology we have learnt how to be at one with nature from previous generations. And this skill still runs through the veins of every Bedouin.

Because we are nomads and have never relied on traditional doctors, we take our medicine from nature – herbs, plants. We can treat anything from stomachaches and colds to headaches and fevers this way. Perhaps if you’ve been to Sinai and tried our organic remedies you will agree that they work.

When it comes to eating, drinking and knowing about our bodies, we learn from an early age to eat healthy food, always in small amounts. We make our meals at home or in the desert, grow our own vegetables, eat meat we have reared and cook fish we have caught by our own hands. When we want to sleep or take a rest, we do.

 WHAT IS ‘THE BEDOUIN WAY’?

bedwaylogo

The Bedouin Way is a relatively new partnership based in Dahab, set up by two friends, Sofian Noor and Mondi Soliman. Between them they have a vast knowledge of the Sinai and are both extremely proud of their Bedouin roots. They provide Egyptian and international visitors with mountain and desert dinners (specialising in slow cooked meat) plus other safaris and trips within the South Sinai region.

But equally important to them is their aim to educate the wider world about Bedouin history, culture and tradition. They have therefore started writing a weekly blog on their website in which they aim to discuss subjects such as Bedouin Law, Bedouin marriage, women’s and men’s roles within the family and Bedouin rituals. Suggestions for further topics are welcomed.

To follow their work and their weekly blog posts, check out their platforms by clicking on one of the links below:

Website: http://www.thebedouinway.com
Facebook: https://www.facebook.com/thebedouinway
Twitter: https://twitter.com/TheBedouinWay
Instagram: http://instagram.com/thebedouinway

Photographs provided to The Bedouin Way and Egyptian Streets by Allie Astell: http://www.allieseye.com

  • Annette Barrow

    I add a new comment about this blog following previous comments
    It would be interesting to know if the Bedouin men writer/writers of this blog are indeed 100% committed and loyal to their culture, heritage, way of life and indeed the Bedouin woman in their lives when they and speaking so candidly about these related topics to the outside world from an insider’s perspective to give them an overview of the historical background of the Sinai Bedouins of Egypt. I ask the question is the blog being written by Bedouins? I feel it would be hypercritical in my view to write such a blog about the inside world of the Sinai Bedouins from a Bedouin man’s perspective if they were not completely entwined into the Bedouin Way, and exercising their culture, heritage, martial commitment to their own family structure and tribal people to carry on these traditions and rituals with their Bedouin wife(s) and children that they are now writing to tell the world about. It would be correct I feel to say that the Bedouins of the Sinai have kept their lifestyle through the centuries private from the outside world and whilst they are open-minded and interested in what is going on in their close and far surroundings they are also very suspicious and alert of what is going on around him and loyalty to their tribe and families is governed by a strict code of rules and honour that Bedouin, their Sheikhs and tribal leaders fully adhered to.

    The blog is conflicting and contradictory in many areas of the Bedouins way of life, culture and heritage. The perceived philosophy of the Bedouins in the modern era of the 22nd century is to preserve their culture and heritage and way of living and at the same time promoting their participation in the modern society of the new emerging democratic Egypt, so that they will have greater economic, social and political rights in the future. Inaccurate accounts of the Sinai Bedouin that are put out into the public domain published in such blogs, about their historical background can be damaging to the preservation of their culture, heritage and rituals that many people and tourists around the world visit the Sinai to experience. There are also many organisations and independent researchers that have conducted studies and written various reports on the Bedouins to promote, support and preserve their culture and heritage. Many people across the world know about the historical landscape of the Sinai Bedouin’s culture, heritage, way of life social and economic standing. Many long standing visitors and people have in-depth knowledge and great memories of the Sinai Bedouins, particularly the South Sinai Peninsula Bedouins when they were mainly the only inhabitants of these lands over 20 years ago when tourists visited the South Sinai. The Sinai Bedouins are already famous and well known to many visitors to the lands of the North and South Sinai and they held in high esteem by many with great respect and loyalty to them and their honour.

    The Sinai Bedouin has a long standing interest in politics and this did not transpire following the revolution of 2011 as the blog has suggested. The Bedouin is a born democrat and practices politics within their tribes. Bedouin society is governed by tribes and tribal laws. The Sheikh being the leader of the tribe is elected from a noble family and has considerable powers, limited by custom and precedent and advice of the council of tribal elders. So I would say the Bedouins are not only interested in politics but can skilfully deliver political practices within their own society and way of living.

    I am sorry for being so critical about this blog but I am entitled to my right to express my views, opinions and criticism as I feel that the jazziness of this blog with many inaccuracies could be misleading to the outside world giving them a different perceived historical background into the Sinai Bedouin that could potentially be damaging to the preservation of the Bedouins way of life, culture, heritage, and their tourism industry that so many tourists visit particularly the South Sinai regions to experience. The Bedouins are not opportunists, they are real people with great needs. I am very passionate about the South Sinai Bedouins and their culture, heritage and way of living and we must all be mindful not to cause any offence to them.

  • http://www.thebedouinway.com/ Sofuan Noor

    I would like to reply to Annette Barrow’s comments first. This article is simply an overview of the Bedouin of Sinai. To go into more detail as to medicine, politics and the various tribes would need to each be a separate blog post further down the line as they are complex subjects. I would disagree that only the indigenous people of South Sinai can show tourists the Bedouin “way of life, heritage, culture, hospitality, warmth and kindness” – the people of the North are exactly the same, however unfortunately due to the current political situation, no international visitors can find that out. Inshallah in the future they will be able to.

    John thank you for your comments too. We will talk about Bedouin women later this week on our blog.

    • Annette Barrow

      Thank you for your comment to my post the Bedouin Way. In reply to your response my interpretation of this blog is that it is being written on the backbone of a newly formed bedouin enterprise to promote the venture located in the South Sinai Peninsula region of Dahab “The Bedouin Way”. In my view this could cause confliction between the promotion of tourism businesses for that of the South Sinai and North Sinai Bedouins. The blog is not simply an overview of the Bedouins as it gives a brief insight into the different historical areas of the Sinai Bedouin’s culture, heritage, way of life, political and social landscapes with many inaccuracies. It would take me extensive time and too long of a post to highlight the historical inaccuracies with more in-depth accounts of these various topics in the blog. For example; the Bedouins came to the land of the Sinai with nothing which is somewhat inaccurate as there is a long historical audit trail of how the Bedouins descendants occurred on the lands to the North and South of the Sinai. The Bedouin’s culture and traditional society has been undergoing radical changes in regards to their culture, social outlook and economy in recent years to become sedentary and modern due to lack of resources to sustain their nomadic way of living, agricultural and livestock.

      I would like to stress that my comment was not intended to cause any offence to the Northern Bedouins or suggest in any way that the Northern Bedouins could not show the tourists ‘The Bedouin Way’, in the same way as the ingenious Bedouins of the South Sinai have and can masterfully deliver this to the tourists as the main inhabitants of this region of the Sinai. In addition, I disagree that Bedouin homes are not important to them. Whilst hospitality, culinary pursuits of cooking, tea and bread making and the simplicity of the fire is the blood of the Bedouin’s way of life, as opposed to the way the people of the western world place the importance of their homes, nonetheless Bedouins are still very proud of their homes in particular Bedouin Women who take pride in their homes and families. The Bedouin’s culture and traditional society has been undergoing radical changes in regards to their culture, social outlook and economy in recent years to become sedentary and modern due to lack of resources to sustain their nomadic way of living, agricultural and livestock and the political and economic unrest across Egypt.

      It is not clear if this blog is focusing on the old traditions of the Bedouin way of life, culture, and heritage or the modern way of life of a semi-nomadic lifestyle. It will be very interesting to see what will be written about Bedouin Women and Girls and Bedouin Marriages in future blogs from the a Bedouin man’s perspective on this controversial and complex topic, taking into account tribal laws (Urfi), ethics and the strict code of honour bedouins are bound by. I shall watch this space for upcoming blogs!!!!!!!!!!!

  • Annette Barrow

    Whilst this blog states it is a reflection of the modern Bedouin Way, there are many inaccuracies of the historical background of the both North and South Bedouins and more an account of the lives of Northern Bedouins as oppose to the ingenious Bedouins of the South Sinai Peninsula. To name just a couple of inaccuracies – Bedouins do go to Doctors, and Bedouins have always been interested in Politics and this interest did not only transpire after the Egyptian Revolution 2011. Not all Bedouins of St Catherine originated from Eastern Europe. The Bedouin tribe of St Catherine Monastery area are the Jebeliya Bedouin and have lived in this region for over 1400 years. According to different accounts the Jebeliya’s originated from Romania, Macedonia, Greece or Anatolia. They were one of the first peoples of the present population of St. Catherine region of the South Sinai and were there before most other Bedouin tribes and the spread of Islam. Through the centuries they intermarried with other Arab tribes and converted to Islam. Some sections of the tribe settled in more recently (as late as 200 years ago), from other parts of Egypt, Palestine or the Saudi peninsula. The Jebeliya traditions and way of life are similar to other Bedouin groups, although their origins are remembered and there are some unique features. The remaining Bedouin inhabitants living in the surrounding villages of St Catherine are mainly from different Bedouin tribes of the South Sinai Peninsula. Perhaps the blog is more of a reflection of Northern Bedouins and not of the regional bedouins of the South Sinai Peninsula but is conflicting and could confuse or mislead people or tourists who visit the South Sinai Peninsula to experience the way of life, heritage, culture, hospitality of the warmth and kindness of the ingenious Bedouins (South Sinai), the original inhabitants of the lands of Sharm El Sheikh, Dahab, Taba, El Tur, and Nuweiba.

  • http://www.dahab.nl john

    I regeocnize all the the things above. I have a house in Dahab and my neighbours are Bedoeins. Ik like their way of live. But i dont’like the way how they treat woman. Circumcission is not humananity but all the woman are victim. So not all is positiv.