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Further notes from South Sinai.


The man who has money eats with his mouth. Those without money eat only with their eyes.’

For the Bedouin of the southern Sinai, Egypt’s great tourism revival cannot come fast enough. But will it solve their problems?

ON APRIL 21 2015, the Egyptian Ministry of Tourism presented Egypt’s Council of Ministers with an ambitious new plan to attract more tourists. A grand tour of target countries including the USA will be undertaken by tourism officials intent on reviving the industry. The campaign was kick-started at a press conference in London in May 2015 by Egypt’s Minister for Tourism, Khaled Rami. Before the January 25 Revolution of 2011, tourism accounted for 11.3 percent of the Egyptian economy and almost 20 percent of its foreign currency revenues.1 The collapse of tourism triggered by post-Revolution instability slashed annual numbers by half — from a 2010 high of 14.7 million visitors to a low of 7.7 million in 2013. The aim now is to secure 20 million tourists by 2020, attracting revenues worth $26 billion.2

sobeduThe western focus of the advertising campaign is intended to attract more cultural and religious tourists, who — according to Egypt’s Chamber of Tourism — spend more money than poolside sunseekers. The campaign’s targets depend on attracting 25 percent of visitors to cultural or religious sites and persuading them to spend $100 per night. Also on the Minister’s wish-list are hikers and eco-tourists: his list of Egypt’s attractions includes ‘desert outings’.3 These two types of tourist are the most important markets for the South Sinai Bedouin I work with, who in recent years have come to depend on tourism. They are among Egypt’s poorest and most marginalized citizens, and have suffered disproportionately from the collapse in visitor numbers since the Revolution. With its promise of restored visits to St Catherine’s Monastery and the return of desert safaris, the campaign should be very good news for them. But how have these formerly nomadic herdsmen come to depend on tourism, and will its hoped-for revival help them?

South Sinai: a ‘special destination’.


Clicking on an image will enlarge it and display captions.

SOUTH SINAI HAS always drawn settlers and travellers. The peninsula of which it forms the southern half creates a land-bridge between Africa and Asia. The region has been continually inhabited for over 10,000 years, and perennially traversed by peoples on the move: from Nabataeans, Romans and Old Kingdom Egyptians, to the Jews of the Exodus, conquering Muslims, early Christian monks and generations of Bedu (‘people of the desert’). After the Six Day War of 1967 and fifteen years under Israeli Occupation, Sinai was brought firmly back into the Egyptian state after 1982. Its southern population consists of indigenous Bedu of eight tribes and confederations, and the Egyptian settlers and migrant workers who now outnumber them two-to-one. It encapsulates the best of Egypt’s tourism opportunities. The glitzy resort of Sharm el Sheikh provides traditional sun-and-sea packages, but those — now the vast majority — who remain within its tourist enclave see little of Sinai’s glories. It is a place of superlatives and extremes. Its spectacular geology includes the highest mountains in Egypt, vast stony plateaux and parched coastal plains. Its mountains are green with aromatic herbs in spring and – in a good year – white with snow in winter.   Its plains are among the hottest on earth, its coral reefs among the richest. It harbours relicts of fauna and flora from both the continents it connects: many of its species are rare and endangered, and include Egypt’s highest concentration of endemic plants and the world’s smallest butterfly. At the centre of the region below Mount Sinai (the mountain known now as Jebel Musa — ‘Mount Moses’) lies the Monastery of St Catherine, the world’s oldest continuously practising Christian foundation. Its UNESCO World Heritage Site status reflects its cultural and natural importance. The area is sacred to the three Abrahamic faiths: many Jews, Muslims and Christians acknowledge it as the route of the Exodus, and of Moses’ receiving the Ten Commandments. By any standards, South Sinai is a special destination.

Bedouin livelihoods and social change.

StCathPILGRIMS HAVE BEEN attracted to the Monastery since the fourth century CE. Its complex fortress structure was started in around 530CE by the Roman Emperor Justinian, who sent a group of tough mountain herdsmen to protect and serve the monks. These were the foundations of the special relationship, outlined in an earlier article, between the monks and the Jebeliya Bedouin tribe who still populate the village of St Katherine close to the Monastery and the surrounding high mountains.4 Local livelihoods have always included working for the Monastery and guiding pilgrims, in addition to other waged tasks such as charcoal-burning or camel transport. These occupations augmented the core livelihoods of Bedu in South Sinai: moving seasonally with flocks of sheep and small goats, and a unique orchard horticulture probably learned from the monks.5 These two occupations — supplemented by hunting or fishing — were formerly enough to maintain a typical Bedouin family in meagre sufficiency, combining mostly dairy proteins from their flocks with garden produce. Goods not locally produced (eg rice, coffee or lentils) were bartered or bought with cash earnings from wage work and trade.

In 1967, the imposition of Israeli administration after the Six Day War pitched Sinai headlong into an inflationary modern economy.

This picture barely changed for 1500 years. Then, in 1967, the imposition of Israeli administration after the Six Day War pitched Sinai headlong into an inflationary modern economy. Paid work became readily available both locally and further afield, but Bedu had to settle in order to access it. Rapid reductions in flock size and the neglect of gardens followed. Local pastures could not sustain the combined flocks of many families living side by side. Men employed as migrant workers on Israeli construction sites could no longer cultivate their gardens. Traditional livelihoods quickly became unviable, while Israel’s rampant inflation made it vital for Bedu to earn cash. Older Bedu today look back on this time with mixed feelings: it was a time of social change, but they had work and could feed their families. During the Israeli Occupation unskilled paid work was plentiful. However, once Sinai returned to Egyptian rule in 1982, everything changed again.

Hilary Gilbert’s ‘The Bedouin of St Katherine’, an earlier report from the Sinai, is here.

As well as reinforcing an Egyptian national identity in Sinai, the Government of Egypt wanted to secure it from future incursions. It embarked upon an ambitious plan to ‘Egyptianize’ the peninsula by settling five million culturally and ethnically distinct Nile Valley Egyptians on its coasts and deserts. Almost 750,000 were destined for the largely dry and desolate South, whose population in 1968 had been around 4500. In practice this was never feasible given Egyptian reluctance to abandon the green and gregarious Nile Valley for the austerities of desert life. Today around 165,000 people live in South Sinai, over a third of whom are male migrant workers servicing the tourism industry, the rest being settled Egyptians and lastly some 40-50,000 Bedu. Since Bedu are not separately censused, no-one knows exactly how many there are. 6 From the first, tourism was planned as the major driver of South Sinai’s development. From the early eighties its promotion as a mainstay of the Egyptian economy began. The Ministry of Tourism’s 25-year targets for South Sinai published in 1992/93 were exceeded within five years, by 60 percent in Sharm and 100 percent in St Katherine. Targets were revised upwards, and Egypt’s tourist industry grew by over 38 percent between 2003 and 2004 alone. By 2010 South Sinai accounted for approximately one-third of Egypt’s tourist revenue.

What effect did this tourist boom and ballooning population have on Bedouin livelihoods? A 2005 government report noted that their contribution to South Sinai’s economy, through herding, agriculture and fishing, was minimal. South Sinai Bedu have tended to put traditional occupations on the back burner when paid work is available, so the decline of revenue from herds and gardens might have been due to the thousands of new jobs created in tourism. Prevailing neoliberal orthodoxy suggested that ‘trickle-down’ should provide Bedu with their share of Sinai’s new-found wealth. But as we have seen, traditional livelihoods were not so much ‘on ice’ as in steep decline, and no longer sufficed to support Bedouin families. And while they now depended on paid work, even at the height of the boom Bedu were rarely employed in tourism other than as desert guides and drivers. One Egyptian commentator noted:‘ State officials…would argue that Bedouin are incapable of working – an excuse for the alienation of Bedouin from the path of economic and social development in their own communities.’7 In 2002, the 110 hotels in Sharm created 10,000 – 30,000 direct jobs, yet almost none were offered to Bedu, who are now routinely excluded from the resort. Typical package-tour excursions enable tourists to ‘take tea in a Bedouin tent’ — served by Nile Valley Egyptians dressed up as Bedouin, riding camels imported from Giza. While their culture remains a lucrative commodity, Bedu themselves are unwelcome.8

Tourism and development.

EGYPTIAN AND INTERNATIONAL hotel owners have discriminated against Bedu with impunity. The state fails to provide a proper education for many, others have no schools at all, and their environmental life-skills are largely irrelevant to the tourist experience in Sharm. They do not fit the modern image that Egypt hopes to project to its visitors.9 But if Bedu aren’t employed in tourism, how have they come to depend on it?

foxcampSharm sprang up as an upmarket resort and diving centre catering for divers, families and the casino set. Hotel jobs went to trained and polished Egyptian workers with high-school English. But Sinai attracts another category of visitor for whom Sharm’s casinos and nightclubs are anathema: those on pilgimage, students and researchers, and those seeking the peace of the desert or the challenge of the wilderness. These travellers, often independent, need the expertise of Bedu to guide them away from tourist routes, up trackless mountains and down waterless wadis.   Many feel connected to core Bedouin values: love of nature and quietness, simple material needs, good companionship and generosity. It is these travellers who have formed the staple business of Bedouin guides since the departure of the Israelis. Until the bombing of resorts in the early 2000s led the Israeli Government to issue strict warnings against crossing the border, former occupiers returned in droves to the mountains. International trekkers recorded by the authorities peaked at 12000 in 1997. In the nineties it was commonplace for popular camping grounds in the high mountains to be full to overflowing with hikers, and many Bedu made a modest living from guiding and cooking for these back-country trekkers, religious wanderers or student groups. Alive to good business opportunities, many developed specific expertise to cater to clients of all nationalities and interests, from Korean pilgrims to Russian mountaineers: some speak an impressive array of languages, others learned climbing skills, shiatsu massage techniques, and — memorably for my biologist husband and his students — the Latin names of local plants and wildlife.

THESE SKILLS WERE encouraged in the ‘nineties by the newly established St Katherine Protectorate, a major National Park covering much of South Sinai’s mountainous centre. Funded by the European Union, the Protectorate’s first Director — a European conservationist with global experience — conceived it as a community-based conservation venture. The opportunity costs to local people of implementing conservation measures were to be offset by new opportunities, primarily in ecotourism.  His respect for Bedouin skills and research into their attitudes were a welcome change from a national discourse that presented Bedu as primitive and incapable. Two projects were set up to enable Bedu to profit from visitors keen to experience wild Sinai: a handicraft project for women to make and market embroidery to tourists, and an eco-lodge, known as Al Karm.

alkarmImaginatively conceived and picturesquely sited in an abandoned ancient village, Al Karm was intended — like many conservation-led development ventures — to become a sustainable Bedouin business. The Protectorate provided start-up costs, marketing materials, promotion and training for the Bedouin owner-manager and his staff. But at the end of EU funding the Protectorate’s management was transferred to the Egyptian authorities. They sought to share the venture’s profits. However, an independent evaluator found that neither party had the business or technical experience to manage a commercial enterprise. Protectorate support dried up and with it all promotion. Al-Karm lies a punishing and expensive 4×4 journey from tourist centres, so it picks up no passing trade. It has no communications, making it almost impossible to take bookings. The evaluators note: ‘Local populations with limited access to formal training or education cannot be expected to have the management skills to take over and run a commercial business without a period of long-term ‘hand-holding’.10 Today, beautiful though it is, the eco-lodge receives few visitors. It is hard to resist the conclusion that the Bedu, who with continued support could have learned to run it, were set up to fulfil expectations of their failure. For development interventions to work, long-term commitment to enhancing local skills must accompany funding. In addition, donor bodies must commit to understanding how power relations operate in target communities. Otherwise they may leave their supposed beneficiaries worse off than they found them.

Despite such challenges, for two decades a steady stream of visitors to St Katherine provided work for local people. Voluntary and local business enterprises developed programmes for restoring Bedouin gardens, enabling owners to diversify into tourism while using traditional skills. By local estimates, before the Revolution some 5000 people annually found peaceful renewal in these mountain oases11 Tourists and pilgrims to Mount Sinai, climbing the mountain at night to see the sun rise, numbered over 300,000 in the peak year of 2000, each party requiring its own guide.12 Meanwhile desert safaris increased and formerly remote oases such as ‘Ain Hodra were able to offer basic shelter and facilities for overnight trips of two to seven nights. The presence of so many people climbing Mount Sinai still made the Jebeliya in St Katherine the envy of other tribes; but with diving on the coast and camel treks in the wadis and mountains, a large proportion of Bedu made their living in tourism.

What caused the downturn?

As tensions in the Peninsula grew, security concerns led in 2008 to the banning of desert safaris of more than two nights, and in 2010 to their complete proscription.

THE EARLY 2000s saw the growth of political and religious radicalism in small pockets of North Sinai — a response both to the long-term neglect of Bedouin prospects and to the permanent political tensions surrounding the Rafah crossing into Gaza and the Israeli border.   In 2004, 2005 and 2006, bomb attacks took place in the resorts of Taba, Sharm and Dahab, with major loss of life. Originally aimed at disrupting the tourist-dependent economy of the Mubarak regime, the later atrocities were widely held to be acts of revenge for the brutal crackdown on North Sinai Bedouin communities by security forces following the Taba attack. As tensions in the Peninsula grew, security concerns led in 2008 to the banning of desert safaris of more than two nights, and in 2010 to their complete proscription. No distinction was made between North and South Sinai. The major livelihood of hundreds of families in the South was removed at a stroke.

Worse was to come. In March 2012, after a complex string of events ending in the shooting by police of a Gararsha man, two American tourists and their Egyptian guide were stopped on the road by his relatives and held, in a bid to gain bargaining power with the police. The bid failed spectacularly. Despite local people securing the release of the ‘hostages’ after a few hours, and despite the televised account of their captors’ hospitality, news of the first kidnap in South Sinai hit international headlines. As frantic behind-the-scenes efforts by Bedouin leaders took place to mitigate the damage, in western Embassies concern was mounting. Within a few weeks nearly every major source of foreign tourists had declared South Sinai — outside the enclave of Sharm — to be unsafe for visitors. Excepting a brief window, the UK’s Foreign and Commonwealth Office has for three years advised against ‘all but essential travel’ to St Katherine. Visitor numbers have slowed to a trickle.

What does this mean for the Bedu?

IN 2007-8, WHEN I interviewed 122 individuals and 84 households about their economic status, some 47 percent of the men in St Katherine and 30 percent of those in the surrounding areas fed their families from paid work in tourism. Today those figures have plummeted, and St Katherine has suffered disproportionately. With earnings then averaging $1 per person per day, about half the working population was already living in poverty before the downturn. Since 2013 just 15 percent of St Katherine men have been able to make their living from tourism. Outside, the figure is similar. In my follow-up study (2012-15) of 220 adults, just one man was regularly employed in a tourism company. The effect on household incomes has been predictable. In the eight years covered by my two studies, the proportion of families living in food insecurity has risen from around 50 percent to 88 percent.13 A recent UNICEF report notes that child poverty has risen over the same period by 11 percent in the Frontier Governorates of which South Sinai forms part — a higher rate of increase than any other Egyptian region.14 Due to its remoteness Sinai also experiences inflation at up to double the national rate, currently assessed at 11 percent per annum, making life harder still. UNICEF defines acute poverty as a consumption level of around EGP 11 per day (under £1.00, or $1.50). Sixteen percent of my recent interviewees spend less than that per person on food per week. An Awlaad Sa’iid man told me: ‘The man who has money eats with his mouth. Those without money eat only with their eyes.’ And a Tarabiin woman exclaimed angrily: ‘There’s no work now because there are no tourists. Everything has got so expensive but no-one has any money because there is no work. Do you call this a life?’

Consequences foreseen and unforeseen.

THE CONSEQUENCES OF loss of income and increased insecurity are not hard to predict. Many people are worn out with worry and succumb to illness linked to stress and poor nutrition, in addition to the normal hazards of life in a harsh environment. In 2007-8, some 37 percent of my interviewees complained of illness, using the ubiquitous description ta’baen.  The term is used to describe anything tired and sick, from a wilted lettuce to a diseased plant or animal, to people’s own feelings. Today, no fewer than 67 percent of the Bedu we interviewed say they are ta’baen — both physically ill and exhausted by life.

Selling handicrafts to tourists provided many women with a small independent income, a factor known to contribute to the successful development of children.

Less predictable are some other outcomes. Lacking a market, the Protectorate’s women’s handicraft project also collapsed, reducing household incomes still further. The economic contribution of women in Sinai rarely derives from work outside the home, so its importance is easy to underestimate. Selling handicrafts to tourists provided many women with a small independent income, a factor known to contribute to the successful development of children. Many had used their small but dependable income to take out hire-purchase agreements for goods to make their lives easier, such as a fan for those with an electricity supply, or a gas-ring to cook on instead of an open fire. Most women had husbands or brothers who could repay these loans when the project closed. But for some — divorced or widowed women with no male relatives — the demise of the project was a catastrophe. Loan default is punishable by imprisonment, and several women faced prison and the break-up of their families for sums as small as EGP300 – (about £25 or $40 at current rates). Our community foundation15 was able to pay off their loans and their legal costs, and no one we knew about went to jail — this time. But families, especially those headed by women, are acutely vulnerable to factors outside their control.

Another unwelcome consequence is an increase in men involved in narcotics production. While Bedu have always been known to smuggle drugs, until the 1990s it was rare to find anyone growing them.16 Now the absence of legitimate paid work has seen a substantial increase in the one local trade with a reliable market. This produces corrosive insecurity, especially among the families of growers who live in perennial fear of a raid and a long prison sentence.   The informal economy accounts for some 40 percent of Egypt’s GDP,17 and we estimate that some 40 percent of South Sinai’s population are involved directly or indirectly in drugs for their main or supplementary livelihood. Time after time men tell us they would do legal work if there were any: drugs are haram — forbidden by Islam — and men hate to use these earnings to support their families. But in many parts of South Sinai it is almost impossible to earn wages by any other means.   We asked one man what his job was. ‘Ana taiyyaar!’ he said. ‘I’m a pilot! When I see the police coming to my garden, I take off!

What can be done to bring the tourists back?

By continuing to insist that South Sinai is unsafe, western governments contribute directly to poverty and desperation that could lead to instability and radicalization.

South Sinai Bedu are desperate to bring tourists back to their land. They have suffered more than any from a continual failure to distinguish the radicalized North from the largely peaceful and law-abiding South. Reports in the media, academic analyses and policy recommendations alike talk of ‘Sinai’ when describing activities confined to a small area round al ‘Arish and Rafah.18 Many discuss the rise of militant Islam among Bedu as a growing threat. But unlike the North, Bedu in the South have not been radicalized. Our own research showed that just 2 percent cite religious leaders as their major influence, compared with 15 percent of Egyptians.19 They have consistently co-operated with security forces to keep passes closed against infiltrators from the North, and are more likely to mock than revere the men they describe as ‘the Beards’. Ironically, by continuing to insist that South Sinai is unsafe, western governments contribute directly to poverty and desperation that could lead to instability and radicalization.20

While there have been occasional incidents in the South, primarily attacks on security personnel, the vigilance of Bedu and security forces alike have ensured the safety of almost all visitors to South Sinai – the four Korean pilgrims killed by a suicide bomber on the Israeli border at Taba in 2014 were a tragic exception. The major economic summit held in Sharm in March this year — an obvious target for terrorist attack — passed off without incident. The few events in the South, worrying as they have been, seem not to form a pattern of attacks on Sinai’s tourists, but to be as contingent as others occurring across a deeply contested globe. From that perspective, there is nothing special about South Sinai.

Strenuous efforts have been made by Egypt’s government to encourage domestic visitors, including a conference held in St Katherine last year. As a result there has been an upturn in Egyptian tourists. This is proving a mixed blessing, as many Egyptians have little idea what to expect from Sinai’s environment and arrive ill-equipped for its challenges. Keen to see snow for the first time, a party of young Egyptians went astray in a high mountain wadi last spring; four lost their lives.  Sociable and gregarious Egyptians are often ill-at-ease with the silence and peace of desert landscapes. Some complain of a lack of entertainment: others play loud music to liven things up. Current plans to cater for this tendency include reviving a scheme — scrapped amid international outcry in the nineties, but now back on the table — to run a cable-car up Mount Sinai. That the scheme clearly violates UNESCO conservation precepts seems not to deter the planning authorities. All this does not go down well with those who see their role as offering the hospitality of their homeland to guests from outside. One guide told me: ‘The Egyptians won’t be happy till the wadis are paved with tiles, so they can hear their shoes go click click’.

trekkersSt Katherine itself is at the centre of attempts to revive trekking. In October 2014 and April 2015 treks were organized by Sinai specialist Ben Hoffler and local guides under the banner ‘Sinai is Safe’. The venture might better be called ‘South Sinai is Safe’; but it attracted some 70 participants and gained coverage in online and social media21 It is an important step towards demonstrating that daily life goes on in South Sinai, practically untouched by the geopolitical upheavals battering the North. The Egyptian Government recently reversed a security-led decision to make all non-package travellers buy visas in advance from the Embassy in their country of origin rather than on entry. This would have decimated what was left of the independent tourist market. A similar gesture by western governments to alter their travel advice, basing it on fact rather than fear, would do much to bring the hikers and pilgrims back and restore legal livelihoods to the Bedu.

Egypt’s tourism campaign: will Bedu benefit?

Pragmatic commentators have pointed out that funds devoted to Egypt’s advertising campaign might better be spent on regulating operators, improving the country’s battered infrastructure, and addressing the nature of the tourist experience Egypt offers. Municipal authorities might build fewer statues and mend more roads. Though many foreigners cherish a notion of Egypt as a dream destination, the reality of sales hassle, noise, litter and long waits at checkpoints still tarnish the allure of the Land of the Pharaohs for those seeking antiquity and atmosphere.   Once disenchanted, many don’t give Egypt a second chance to impress.22 This is a major issue: repeat business should be a mainstay for a country so accessible from Europe, and which has made such strides to improve its tourist experience in recent years. Checkpoints excepted, Sinai is largely free of such irritants.

For Bedu to benefit, there needs to be a revolution in the way they are viewed…Bedu seem neither respected nor trusted by those charged with developing Sinai

But for Bedu to benefit, there needs to be a revolution in the way they are viewed. It comes down to respect and trust. I noted above the Egyptian view of Bedu as primitive, but it goes deeper. Bedu are seen as ‘not really Egyptian’, as collaborators during the Israeli Occupation, and labelled ‘Sinai Jews’. Until recently they were barred from serving in the Egyptian armed forces. They seem neither respected nor trusted by those charged with developing Sinai, who rarely consult its indigenous residents. For centuries Bedu have lived in this marginal land, husbanding its scarce resources and becoming experts in its ecology, yet projects routinely ignore their knowledge. ‘We are engineers – you are Bedouin. You think you know better than us?’  Roads built in wadi beds are thus washed away by the first flash flood, houses built on flood plains lie unoccupied by their intended Bedouin residents, big dams built at wadi mouths are broken up by floods, while small Bedouin dams built close to mountain water sources hold fast, retain the water and slow its force. The Army has recently consulted Bedouin leaders about proposed development for both halves of the peninsula (for which EGP 10 million (around £850,00 0r $1.4m) has been earmarked — a marked contrast with the $45 billion proposed investment in Egypt’s new administrative capital). The army wants to build power plants and granite quarries. The Bedu have asked for sheep23. They know they can make their living from sheep. They know no one will employ them in the power plants and quarries.

If a revival in tourism is to bring real benefits to Bedu, then, the authorities must take a new view of their value. Bedouin culture should be respected, not commodified for ersatz excursions. Security forces should recognize the Bedouin contribution to safeguarding Sinai and lift the ban on desert trips, so visitors can be offered hospitality in an actual Bedouin tent. Bedouin ecological expertise should be recognized; they should be consulted and involved in Sinai’s infrastructure developments. Many Bedu are entrepreneurial: they should be supported and encouraged to develop businesses (not only in tourism). That means education outreach, and banks providing loans on reasonable terms.

All this is a wish-list far from realization today, and the recently foiled attack on the prime tourist site of Karnak may set back wider attempts to re-brand Egypt as a destination. But there are small signs of progress in Sinai: the army consultation — whatever its outcome — and the determination of people who love the place and its people to declare ‘Sinai is Safe.’ For the Bedu, change cannot come too soon.

Dr Hilary Gilbert is Research Fellow in the School of Life Science, University of Nottingham. She is the only British anthropologist currently working with South Sinai Bedu. Her husband Prof. Francis Gilbert has led a research project investigating the ecology of the St Katherine Protectorate since 1986. Together with Bedouin and Egyptian colleagues, they co-founded the Community Foundation for South Sinai and its UK-registered partner organization, The South Sinai Foundation. Her previous note from southern Sinai appears in the Fortnightly here.

To support the work of The South Sinai Foundation, click the link below:


  1. Alexandrovna S (2015): ‘Ruble Devaluation Barely Impacts Russian Tourist Flow to Egypt in 2015,’ Sputnik, 30 May 2015.
  2. Mounir S (2015): “Egypt sets tourism target for 2020, Al Monitor – Egypt, May 19 2015.
  3. Mounir S (2015) op. cit.
  4. ‘St Catherine’ is the name of the monastery; ‘St. Katherine’ is the name of the village and region; Gilbert H (2014): ‘The Monastery is our History: Development, Continuity and Change for St Katherine’s Bedu’. Fortnightly Review, 2014, July.
  5. Zalat S & Gilbert F (2008): Gardens of a Sacred Landscape: Bedouin Heritage and Natural History in the High Mountains of Sinai. Cairo: American University in Cairo Press.
  6. State Information Service:
  7. Aziz H (2000): ‘Employment in a Bedouin Community: the Case of the Town of Dahab in South Sinai‘, Nomadic Peoples 4(2): 28-47.
  8. Gilbert H (2011): This is not our life, it’s just a copy of other people’s, Bedu and the Price of “Development” in South Sinai’, Nomadic Peoples 15(2): 7-32.
  9. Gilbert H (2013): Bedouin overgrazing’ and conservation politics: Challenging ideas of pastoral destruction in South Sinai’, Biological Conservation 160: 59-69.
  10. PA Consulting Group (2008): Sustainable Tourism Development Plan for South Sinai 2007-2017, El Tur: South Sinai Regional Development Programme.
  11. Staton B (2015): ‘”Sinai is Safe”: The Bedouin tribespeople fighting a devastating tourism decline in the Egyptian peninsula,’ New Statesman, 5 June 2015.
  12. Grainger J (2003) St Katherine Protectorate Management Plan. Cairo: Egyptian Ministry of the Environment.
  13. Gilbert H (2011) op. cit.; Gilbert H, unpublished data.
  14. UNICEF (2014): Children in Egypt: A statistical digest. Cairo, UNICEF Egypt.
  15. The South Sinai Foundation, which offers support and development assistance to South Sinai Bedouin communities.
  16. Hobbs JJ (1998) ‘Troubling Fields: The Opium Poppy in Egypt’, Geographical Review 88(1):64-85.
  17. Rios L(2015): ‘Street vendors expelled from downtown Cairo’, Al-Monitor-Egypt, 9 June 2015.
  18. Gulhane J (2015) ‘Egypt “tourism rebound” slow to reach South Sinai’, Al-Monitor Egypt, 18 June 2015.
  19. Gilbert H & al Jebaali MK (2012): ‘Not Philanthropists but Revolutionaries’: Promoting Bedouin Participation in the New Egypt‘, Working Paper: Voices on Arab Philanthropy and Civic Engagement. John D Gerhart Center, American University in Cairo.
  20. Gilbert H (2014): An Excluded Population. A nuanced approach to Sinai’s Bedouin is necessary to secure the region, Washington DC, Project on Middle East Democracy.
  21. Hoffler B(2014) ‘A message from the people of Egypt’s South Sinai‘, Egyptian Streets, November 24 2015.
  22. Nosseir M(2015): ‘Egypt’s tourism challenges are internal, not external’. Daily News Egypt May 30 2015; Al-Shuwekhi A (2015): ‘Egyptian Travel Agents’ Association presents demands to raise sector efficiency’, Daily News Egypt, May 27 2015
  23. Bedouin leader, personal communication with the author.


  1. wrote:

    Thank you for writing this excellent article of the current situation in South Sinai. You understand it all perfectly.

    Tuesday, 11 August 2015 at 15:49 | Permalink
  2. wrote:

    Thank you for the great efforts and if at any time help in needed i will be honored to provide the best i can

    Tuesday, 11 August 2015 at 16:07 | Permalink
  3. wrote:

    Very good article! To put the decline of nature tourism in perspective, though, you should have mentioned the the extortionate prices for even locally organised treks in the high mountain region, not to speak of trips organised from abroad. This made hiking in the high mountains too expensive compared to similar destinations around the world. Also, the monopolistic business practices of the Moussa family discouraged local guides from developing their talents, and potential repeat visitors from coming back. In my view, 50% of the problems in St Catherine are home-made, and will not go away once the travel warnings are repealed.

    Wednesday, 12 August 2015 at 15:35 | Permalink
  4. wrote:

    A reply from the author:

    It’s all too easy to fall into the trap of essentializing people – writing about them as if they are all the same. Many writers tend to romanticize ‘The Bedouin’ en masse, when in fact any community is at the mercy of its particular mix of personalities. Thus I quite understand Mohamed ‘Eid’s views (whilst not wishing to enter the lion’s den of Jebeliya politics!). However I stand by my position: namely, that whatever individual Bedu may do to hinder or help their own condition, their actions take place in the context of their general marginalization. Until that is addressed most South Sinai Bedu cannot access opportunities available to other Egyptian citizens. That is the core problem. In the interests of both security and justice I can but pray the Government will recognize it.

    — Hilary Gilbert

    Thursday, 13 August 2015 at 10:26 | Permalink

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