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Bedouin of Mount Sinai

Bedouin of Mount Sinai: An Anthropological Study of their Political Economy

Emanuel Marx
Copyright Date: 2013
Edition: 1
Published by: Berghahn Books
Pages: 208
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  • Book Info
    Bedouin of Mount Sinai
    Book Description:

    The Sinai Peninsula links Asia and Africa and for millennia has been crossed by imperial armies from both the east and the west. Thus, its Bedouin inhabitants are by necessity involved in world affairs and maintain a complex, almost urban, economy. They make their home in arid mountains that provide limited pastures and lack arable soils and must derive much of their income from migrant labor and trade. Still, every household maintains, at considerable expense, a small orchard and a minute flock of goats and sheep. The orchards and flocks sustain them in times of need and become the core of a mutual assurance system. It is for this social security that Bedouin live in and retire to the mountains. Based on fieldwork over ten years, this book builds on the central theoretical understanding that the complex political economy of the Mount Sinai Bedouin is integrated into urban society and part of the modern global world.

    eISBN: 978-0-85745-932-9
    Subjects: Anthropology, Business, Sociology

Table of Contents

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  1. Front Matter
    (pp. i-vi)
  2. Table of Contents
    (pp. vii-vii)
  3. List of Illustrations
    (pp. viii-viii)
  4. Acknowledgments
    (pp. ix-xii)
  5. Introduction
    (pp. 1-13)

    Soon after the Israeli forces occupied Sinai in 1967 the peninsula was inundated with many kinds of tourists and journalists. I avidly listened to their glowing accounts of the Bedouin of Sinai, yet for several years I hesitated to visit. I wavered between fear and hope that I would be tempted to study the Bedouin, and again experience the intellectual and emotional tumult of my earlier study of the Negev Bedouin. That first study had engaged my undivided attention for five exciting and memorable years. Between 1960 and 1963 I did eighteen months of fieldwork in the Negev, and then...

  6. Chapter One The Growth of a Conception: Nomads and Cities
    (pp. 14-37)

    My understanding of the Bedouin of Mount Sinai and, by inference, of pastoral nomads in general grew by painfully slow stages. It has taken me the best part of thirty years to evolve a conception of these Bedouin that encompasses the full range of data I observed and wrote down in field notes. Perhaps I should apologize for being so slow-witted, but I naively believe that I am no different from other anthropologists involved in the extended process of conceptualization. As our conceptions determine which aspects of reality we see and which we ignore, conceptualization stands at the core of...

  7. Chapter Two The Political Economy of Bedouin Societies
    (pp. 38-55)

    In this chapter I formulate some generalizations about the political economy of pastoral nomads in the Middle East and North Africa, based on my work with Bedouin in the Negev and the Sinai Peninsula, as well as on my reading of the rich anthropological literature on pastoral nomads. As a starting point I take the notion elaborated upon in chapter 1: that pastoral nomads are a specialized sector of urban civilization. This idea has far-reaching implications, namely, that pastoralism alone is not feasible in a subsistence economy; that people take up pastoralism when there is a market for their animals;...

  8. Chapter Three Oases in the Desert
    (pp. 56-77)

    For its Bedouin inhabitants, South Sinai is not a desert (sahra’), an inhospitable region, but a country(bilad)with variegated features. While admitting that most of it is arid and mountainous, they see it as a complex and differentiated region, in which each site has special characteristics and possibilities. Thus, water can be tapped in many locations, and pockets of soil are found in numerous sites. The Bedouin know how to exploit these major resources. Most Bedouin, especially those living in the mountains, are expert gardeners, and some of them have specialized in well digging, in the grafting and pruning...

  9. Chapter Four Labor Migrants: Balancing Income and Social Security
    (pp. 78-98)

    This chapter deals with one variety of labor migration, the massive movement of unskilled Bedouin men from South Sinai to repeated spells of menial work in cities. “Labor migration” is a label attached to numerous social processes involving the periodic shuttling of workers between a “home” and a distant place of “work.” Many labor migrants go abroad for a quite specific short-term purpose, such as to obtain money for taxes or a marriage payment. This can usually be accomplished on a single tour of work. Most labor migrants, however, go to work in the expectation of earning more money than...

  10. Chapter Five Smuggling Drugs
    (pp. 99-116)

    The Bedouin of South Sinai are a link in the international drug traffic delivering hashish and other narcotics to the inhabitants of the Nile Valley. In this chapter I examine the changing fortunes of their smuggling operations. The full-scale entry of the South Sinai Bedouin into drug smuggling began around 1950, and in less than two decades smuggling grew into a major industry. At its zenith it provided about 30 percent of the aggregate income of the Bedouin population. When Israel occupied Sinai in 1967, smuggling stopped almost immediately. During the fifteen years of Israeli occupation, from 1967 to 1982,...

  11. Chapter Six Roving Traders Are the Bedouin’s Lifeline
    (pp. 117-133)

    Traders play a vital role among the Bedouin in South Sinai, for they supply them with most of their essential food and consumer goods. The most crucial imported commodity is grain, as the limited availability of soil and water has never permitted local grain production. Without a steady supply of the staple foodstuffs of wheat and corn, neither man nor flock could survive in this arid region. Most other foods and condiments, clothing, tools and technological appliances, and building materials are also imported. Documents from the Santa Katarina monastery, some of which go back to the eleventh century, and the...

  12. Chapter Seven Personal and Tribal Pilgrimages: Imagining an Orderly Social World
    (pp. 134-169)

    There are about one hundred and thirty saints’ tombs in South Sinai, twenty of which serve as pilgrimage centers of tribes and subtribes (see map 3). Most of the tombs are strung out along the main east-west passage of the region. They are usually located at major crossroads and not far from water sources. Some are found close to centers of population, while others are far from habitation. Bedouin men and women visit tombs in various parts of South Sinai every few months, in order to keep in touch with God or to beg the saints to intercede with God...

  13. Conclusion
    (pp. 170-172)

    In November 2009 I returned for a brief visit to Santa Katarina. Much had happened during my absence. The Bedouin villages in the area had become Santa Katarina City, a town of seven thousand inhabitants, of whom three thousand were Egyptians from the Nile Valley. The two largest buildings were the government center and the police prefecture. They were built on the high ground overlooking the town. There was a new shopping arcade and hotels, and numerous stores had opened all over the town. The traders from al-’Arish had been displaced by local and mainland Egyptian suppliers and store owners....

  14. References
    (pp. 173-190)
  15. Index
    (pp. 191-195)