Contesting Identities in South Sinai: Development, Transformation, and the Articulation of a “Bedouin” Identity under Egyptian Rule

During the last twenty-years tourism in the South Sinai has expanded, creating greater economic opportunities and fostering integration for the Bedouin population. Despite  significant social and economic change as the Bedouin settle in towns and profit from the tourist economy, a “Bedouin” identity in South Sinai continues to be communicated as an incompatible alternative to Egyptian national identity. The persistence of a “Bedouin” identity is less a product of cultural differences between Sinai Bedouin and mainland Egyptians, which are in decline, than it is a reaction to the political and economic conflicts that have emerged between the Egyptian state and the Bedouin. Rather than indicating the persistence of a “traditional society” in Sinai, the strength of a particularistic Bedouin identity is an indication of uneven integration and the rejection of the increasingly marginal position accorded to the Bedouin in Sinai’s developing economy.

This book examines the emergence and articulation of Bedouin identity in the Aqaba region of South Sinai alongside patterns of economic and social change, locating the source of both within the changing landscape of South Sinai’s tourist towns. Based on fieldwork centered in the town of Dahab, this work provides a bottom-up view of the transformative effects of recent economic development on the Bedouin both as individuals and as a group. By combining history with social science theory, this work explains the unintended consequences of tourism including the rejection of Egyptian identity, socioeconomic conflict, and the persistence of economic practices often considered “traditional.”