The most rigorous academic research on these issues focuses on changes in Bedouin livelihood strategies, with a particular focus on South Sinai. This literature draws some links between Bedouin livelihoods and patterns of exclusion and conflict in the Sinai region. A large body of more recent literature, drawn mainly from news and policy reports, focuses on growing violence and extremism in the region, and the response of both the Egyptian state and Israel. A small number of recent reports examine tensions caused by migration, particularly at the border with Israel, but largely from a security or human rights perspective.
Key findings include the following:
- Since the 1960s, Bedouin have moved away from agro-pastoralist livelihoods and become increasingly reliant on insecure paid work.
- Although the Sinai region has seen rapid economic development through tourism and donor investment since the resumption of Egyptian government in 1982, few benefits have passed to the Bedouin population. They remain marginalised, while resettled mainland Egyptians have been the chief beneficiaries.
- There is widespread poverty amongst the Bedouin population in Sinai which remains largely unacknowledged and unaddressed by the Egyptian state.
- A decline in the traditional Bedouin ‘core occupations’ of pastoralism and horticulture can largely be attributed to economic shifts that occurred during the Israeli occupation of Sinai and a lack of water.
- Bedouin involvement in the drugs trade has been driven primarily by a lack of alternative income generating activities.
- The war in Gaza in 2008 and the Israeli blockade created renewed demand for smuggled goods.
- The border with Israel is also an important site of trafficking, particularly for migrants and prostitutes. Some reports suggest that Bedouins have become increasingly involved in the trafficking of African migrants to Israel in recent years. Growing concerns about trafficking have led to an increasingly hard-line security response from Israel and the Egyptian government.
Exclusion and conflict
- People from Sinai are distinguished in terms of identity from the state-promoted national identity based around Pharonic heritage.
- The Bedouin are perceived negatively by many Egyptians. They are also distrustful of the government and perceive its development strategies in the region with suspicion. Until recently the Bedouin did not have the right to vote.
- The terrorist attacks that occurred in the 2000s further damaged relations between the Bedouin and the Egyptian government. A few reports state that issues of exclusion and unemployment amongst Bedouin have driven the rise in terrorist and Islamist groups in the region.
- Driven by growing instability in the region since 2011, the Egyptian state has increasingly recognised the need to address underlying issues of social exclusion and under-development in Sinai. Some commentators suggest that recent efforts have not signalled a fundamental shift in the government’s approach to the region and that it lacks the means or will to deal with Bedouin demands.