Accepted paper:

Identity as resistance in South Sinai


Hilary Gilbert (University of Nottingham)

Paper short abstract:

Imposed development has eroded agropastoral bedouin livelihoods in South Sinai and the cultural identity they supported, bringing marginalization and inequality. I explore bedouin response, in particular the ‘rediscovery’ of an identity as guardians of the environment, as an act of resistance.

Paper long abstract:

The Bedu of South Sinai are recognized as conservative, many retaining elements of the agro-pastoral livelihoods on which their subsistence formerly depended. Since 1967, however, sedentarization and 'development' have eroded both traditional livelihoods and the strong cultural identity that evolved from them. The town of St Katherine grew up under Israeli Occupation. Its subsequent 'development' has taken place on the terms of successive dominant regimes, whether Israeli, or, latterly, Egyptian. St Katherine today is a place of growing inequality. What might be called a 'wool ceiling' is in place: culturally, economically and politically marginalized, Bedu do not compete on equal terms with mainland Egyptians, who now outnumber Bedu in the peninsula. Bedu lack educational opportunities, work and representation. Within bedouin communities, development has favoured a few but failed the many, resulting in material and social polarization. I explore the impacts on Bedu of living with multiple inequalities, and strategies people employ to validate themselves in a system that disdains or ignores them. Among the most important is adopting a self-appointed role as guardians of nature. This, I argue, arises from the competing environmental imaginaries at play in St Katherine: the dominant vision of nature as resource underpins Egypt's authoritarian modernizing project, pursued through development and conservation. In contrast, Bedu are choosing to reformulate an environmental identity as a means of resistance to Egyptianization, and to the disrespect in which they perceive themselves, and the environment of which they feel part, to be held.

panel MMM09
The emerging world of pastoralists and nomads (IUAES Commission on Nomadic Peoples)