'Everything has its price.' Conservation, development and Bedu in St Katherine Protectorate, South Sinai

  • Hilary Gilbert

Student thesis: Phd


This study describes the development of South Sinai, Egypt, including the role played in it by conservation. South Sinai has great ecological, cultural and strategic significance. Its central highlands, sacred to three faiths, form the St Katherine Protectorate, and its indigenous population consists of Bedu from eight tribes or confederations. The 1967 Six Day War resulted in intense transformation and intervention, first by Israel and then by Egypt. Before 1967 core bedouin livelihoods were agropastoral, but sedentarization and economic change made them uneconomic, increasing bedouin dependence on paid work. Since 1982 Egyptian policy has focussed on populating Sinai with Nile Valley Egyptians and developing it through its tourist industry. Both processes exclude Bedu, who have become a marginalized minority. Conservation policy has contributed to this outcome.I argue that Egypt's conservation agenda in Sinai permits the claim that 'something is being done' to combat environmental degradation caused by settlement and tourism. However, underfunding of conservation ensures destructive development continues unopposed, while Bedu are strictly regulated. I examine Egyptian environmental and conservation policies and then their application to St Katherine in its European and Egyptian management phases. I investigate the 'Bedouin overgrazing' narratives that have informed conservation policy. These attribute vegetation loss to Bedu, ignoring alternative evidence, and providing a rationale for their 're-education'.Second I examine the impact of post-1967 interventions upon bedouin livelihoods, demonstrating a 95% decline in flock size from the 1960s to the present day, and the loss of viability of pastoralism. I illustrate growing polarization within bedouin society, and demonstrate lower access by Bedu to most goods and services compared to the general population. For half my sample (122 individuals in 82 households) income falls at or below $1 per person per day. 80% of Bedu are shown to experience food poverty compared with 44% of Egyptians. Official data on Bedu are not collected, and their poverty thus ignored by planners. I believe this is the first time their poverty has been demonstrated. Finally I examine how the Bedu have responded to marginalization and inequality. I argue that bedouin identity is eroded by their inequality as citizens, especially in town where it is most apparent. Attempts to revalidate themselves as Bedu crystallize around dissatisfaction with the Protectorate. As an act of resistance, Bedu have 'reinvented' an identity as guardians of nature, just as their actual dependence on nature declines.
Date of Award1 Aug 2011
Original languageEnglish
Awarding Institution
  • The University of Manchester
SupervisorDaniel Brockington (Supervisor) & Tim Jacoby (Supervisor)


  • Development
  • Marginalization
  • Bedouin
  • South Sinai
  • Conservation

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