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A Bedouin family in Oman
|Regions with significant populations|
|Algeria||230,000-2,257,000 ±|
|Saudi Arabia||467,000 (2013)|
|Egypt||902,000 (2007)|
|Arabic dialects: Bedawi • Hejazi • Najdi • Hassāniyya|
|Sunni Islam • Shia Islam|
|Related ethnic groups|
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The Bedouin (//; Arabic: بَدَوِي badawī) are a grouping of Arab, originally nomadic, peoples of the Middle Eastern deserts, especially of North Africa, the Arabian Peninsula, Egypt, Palestine, Iraq, Syria, and Jordan. The term contrasts against 'Hathar' (حضر) which refers to the city or town dwellers in the Arabic language. Bedouin means "Badiyah dwellers" in the Arabic language, as 'Badyah' means literally the visible land (the desert). The Bedouins identify themselves as Arabs or by the names of their tribes. City dwellers in Arabia who descended from known tribes refer to themselves as Bedouins to recognize their native origin to Arabia. The term has lost exact meaning; it is sometimes used in racial profiling, and it is commonly mixed with another term "A-araab" "" which is mentioned in Quran in reference to unruly tribesmen who do not follow the lifestyle codes of bedouin tribes or city dwellers. Bedouin territory stretches from the vast deserts of North Africa to the rocky sands of the Middle East. They are traditionally divided into tribes, or clans (known in Arabic as ʿašāʾir; عَشَائِر) and share a common culture of herding camels and goats.
Bedouins have been referred to by various names throughout history, including Qedarites in the Old Testament and Arabaa by the Assyrians (ar-ba-a-a being a nisba of the noun Arab, a name still used for Bedouins today). They are referred to as the ʾAʿrāb (أعراب) in the Quran.
While many Bedouins have abandoned their nomadic and tribal traditions for modern urban lifestyle, they retain traditional Bedouin culture with concepts of belonging to ʿašāʾir, traditional music, poetry, dances (like Saas), and many other cultural practices. Urbanised Bedouins also organise cultural festivals, usually held several times a year, in which they gather with other Bedouins to partake in, and learn about, various Bedouin traditions—from poetry recitation and traditional sword dances, to classes teaching traditional tent knitting and playing traditional Bedouin musical instruments. Traditions like camel riding and camping in the deserts are also popular leisure activities for urbanised Bedouins who live within close proximity to deserts or other wilderness areas.
The term "Bedouin" derives from a plural form of the Arabic word badu. The Arabic term badu (بدو) literally translates in Arabic as "Badiyah dwellers." The word bādiyah (بَادِية) means visible land such as "plain" or "desert". The term "Bedouin" therefore means "those in bādiyah" or "those in the desert". In English usage, however, the form "Bedouin" is commonly used for the singular term, the plural being "Bedouins", as indicated by the Oxford English Dictionary, second edition.
The term "Bedouin" also uses the same root word as the Arabic noun for "the beginning"; "بداية"; "Bedaya." The Arabs believe the Bedouins to be the predecessors to the settled Arabs,[notes 1] and the word for the ethnicity itself may be influenced by that.
A widely quoted Bedouin saying is "I am against my brother, my brother and I are against my cousin, my cousin and I are against the stranger" sometimes quoted as "I and my brother are against my cousin, I and my cousin are against the stranger." This saying signifies a hierarchy of loyalties based on proximity of kinship that runs from the nuclear family through the lineage, the tribe, and, in principle at least, to an entire genetic or linguistic group (which is perceived to have a kinship basis). Disputes are settled, interests are pursued, and justice and order are maintained by means of this frame, according to an ethic of self-help and collective responsibility (Andersen 14). The individual family unit (known as a tent or gio[clarification needed] bayt) typically consisted of three or four adults (a married couple plus siblings or parents) and any number of children.
When resources were plentiful, several tents would travel together as a goum. These groups were sometimes linked by patriarchal lineage, but were just as likely linked by marriage (new wives were especially likely to have close male relatives join them), acquaintance, or no clearly defined relation but a simple shared membership in the tribe.
The next scale of interaction within groups was the ibn ʿamm (cousin, or literally "son of an uncle") or descent group, commonly of three to five generations. These were often linked to goums, but where a goum would generally consist of people all with the same herd type, descent groups were frequently split up over several economic activities, thus allowing a degree of 'risk management'; should one group of members of a descent group suffer economically, the other members of the descent group would be able to support them. Whilst the phrase "descent group" suggests purely a lineage-based arrangement, in reality these groups were fluid and adapted their genealogies to take in new members.
The largest scale of tribal interactions is the tribe as a whole, led by a Sheikh (Arabic: شيخ šayḫ, literally, "old man"). The tribe often claims descent from one common ancestor—as mentioned above. The tribal level is the level that mediated between the Bedouin and the outside governments and organizations. Distinct structure of the Bedouin society leads to long lasting rivalries between different clans.
Bedouin traditionally had strong honor codes, and traditional systems of justice dispensation in Bedouin society typically revolved around such codes. The bisha'a, or ordeal by fire, is a well-known Bedouin practice of lie detection. See also: Honor codes of the Bedouin, Bedouin systems of justice.
Livestock and herding, principally of goats and dromedary camels comprised the traditional livelihoods of Bedouins. These two animals were used for meat, dairy products and wool. Most of the staple foods that made up the Bedouins' diet were dairy products.
Camels, in particular, had numerous cultural and functional uses. Having been regarded as a "gift from God", they were the main food source and method of transportation for many Bedouins. In addition to their extraordinary milking potentials under harsh desert conditions, their meat was occasionally consumed by Bedouins. As a cultural tradition, camel races were organized during celebratory occasions, such as weddings or religious festivals.
Oral poetry was the most popular art form among Bedouins. Having a poet in one's tribe was highly regarded in society. In addition to serving as a form of art, poetry was used as a means of conveying information and social control.
Historically, the Bedouin engaged in nomadic herding, agriculture and sometimes fishing. A major source of income was the taxation of caravans, and tributes collected from non-Bedouin settlements. They also earned income by transporting goods and people in caravans across the desert. Scarcity of water and of permanent pastoral land required them to move constantly.
The Moroccan traveller, Ibn Battuta, reported that in 1326 on the route to Gaza, the Egyptian authorities had a customs post at Qatya on the north coast of Sinai. Here Bedouin were being used to guard the road and track down those trying to cross the border without permission.
The Early Medieval grammarians and scholars seeking to develop a system of standardizing the contemporary Classical Arabic for maximal intelligibility across the Arabophone areas, believed that the Bedouin spoke the purest, most conservative variety of the language. To solve irregularities of pronunciation, the Bedouin were asked to recite certain poems, whereafter consensus was relied on to decide the pronunciation and spelling of a given word.
Under the Tanzimat reforms in 1858 a new Ottoman Land Law was issued, which offered legal grounds for the displacement of the Bedouin. As the Ottoman Empire gradually lost power, this law instituted an unprecedented land registration process that was also meant to boost the empire's tax base. Few Bedouin opted to register their lands with the Ottoman Tapu, due to lack of enforcement by the Ottomans, illiteracy, refusal to pay taxes and lack of relevance of written documentation of ownership to the Bedouin way of life at that time.
At the end of the 19th century Sultan Abdülhamid II settled loyal Muslim populations (Circassians) from the Balkan and Caucasus among areas predominantly populated by the nomads in the regions of modern Syria, Lebanon, Jordan, Israel and Palestine, and also created several permanent Bedouin settlements, although the majority of them did not remain.
Ottoman authorities also initiated private acquisition of large plots of state land offered by the sultan to the absentee landowners (effendis). Numerous tenants were brought in order to cultivate the newly acquired lands. Often it came at the expense of the Bedouin lands.
In the late 19th century, many Bedouin began transition to a semi-nomadic lifestyle. One of the factors was the influence of the Ottoman empire authorities who started a forced sedentarization of the Bedouin living on its territory. The Ottoman authorities viewed the Bedouin as a threat to the state's control and worked hard on establishing law and order in the Negev. During World War I, the Negev Bedouin fought with the Turks against the British, but later, under T. E. Lawrence's assist, the Bedouins switched side and fought the Turks. Hamad Pasha al-Sufi (died 1923), Sheikh of the Nijmat sub-tribe of the Tarabin, led a force of 1,500 men who joined the Turkish offensive against the Suez Canal.
In Orientalist historiography, the Negev Bedouin have been described as remaining largely unaffected by changes in the outside world until recently. Their society was often considered a "world without time." Recent scholars have challenged the notion of the Bedouin as 'fossilized,' or 'stagnant' reflections of an unchanging desert culture. Emanuel Marx has shown that Bedouin were engaged in a constantly dynamic reciprocal relation with urban centers. Bedouin scholar Michael Meeker explains that "the city was to be found in their midst."
In the 1950s and 1960 large numbers of Bedouin throughout Midwest Asia started to leave the traditional, nomadic life to settle in the cities of Midwest Asia, especially as hot ranges have shrunk and populations have grown. For example, in Syria, the Bedouin way of life effectively ended during a severe drought from 1958 to 1961, which forced many Bedouin to abandon herding for standard jobs. Similarly, governmental policies in Egypt, Israel, Jordan, Iraq, Tunisia, oil-producing Arab states of the Persian Gulf and Libya, as well as a desire for improved standards of living, effectively led most Bedouin to become settled citizens of various nations, rather than stateless nomadic herders.
Governmental policies pressing the Bedouin have in some cases been executed in an attempt to provide service (schools, health care, law enforcement and so on—see Chatty 1986 for examples), but in others have been based on the desire to seize land traditionally roved and controlled by the Bedouin. In recent years, some Bedouin have adopted the pastime of raising and breeding white doves, while others have rejuvenated the traditional practice of falconry.
The Arabian Peninsula is the original home of the Bedouin. From here they started to spread out to surrounding deserts, forced out by the lack of water and food. According to tradition, the Saudi Bedouin are descendants of two groups. One group, the Yemenis, settled in the Southwestern Arabia, in the mountains of Yemen, and claim they descend from a semi-legendary ancestral figure, Qahtan (or Joktan). The second group, the Qaysis, settled in North-Central Arabia and claimed they were descendants of the Biblical Ishmael.
A number of additional Bedouin tribes reside in Saudi Arabia. Among them are the, Enazah, Shammar, al-Murrah, Qara, Mahra, Harasis, Dawasir, Harb, Mutayr, Subaie, 'Utayba, Qahtan, and Yam. In Arabia and the adjacent deserts there are around 100 large tribes of 1,000 members or more. Some tribes number up to 20,000 and a few of the larger tribes may have up to 100,000 members.
Inside Saudi Arabia the Bedouin remained the majority of the population during the first half of the 20th century. However, due to change of lifestyle their number has decreased dramatically.
Although the Arabian desert was the homeland of the Bedouin, some groups have migrated to the north. It was one of the first lands inhabited by the Bedouin outside the Arabian desert. Today there are over a million Bedouin living in Syria, making a living herding sheep and goats. The largest Bedouin clan in Syria is called Ruwallah who are part of the 'Anizzah' tribe. Another famous branch of the Anizzah tribe is the two distinct groups of Hasana and S'baa who largely arrived from the Arabian peninsula in the 18th century.
Herding among the Bedouin was common until the late 1950s, when it effectively ended during a severe drought from 1958 to 1961. Due to the drought, many Bedouin were forced to give up herding for standard jobs. Another factor was the formal annulling of the Bedouin tribes’ legal status in Syrian law in 1958, along with attempts of the ruling Ba'ath Party regime to wipe out tribalism. Preferences for customary law (‘urf) in contrast to state law (qanun) have been informally acknowledged and tolerated by the state in order to avoid having its authority tested in the tribal territories. In 1982 the al-Assad family turned to the Bedouin tribe leaders for assistance during the Muslim Brotherhood uprising against al-Assad government (see 1982 Hama massacre). The Bedouin sheikhs' decision to support Hafez al-Assad led to a change in attitude on the part of the government that permitted the Bedouin leadership to manage and transform critical state development efforts supporting their own status, customs and leadership.
Prior to the 1948 Israeli Declaration of Independence, an estimated 65,000–90,000 Bedouins lived in the Negev desert. According to Encyclopedia Judaica, 15,000 Bedouin remained in the Negev after 1948; other sources put the number as low as 11,000.
In 1999, 110,000 Bedouins lived in the Negev, 50,000 in the Galilee and 10,000 in the central region of Israel.
All of the Bedouin were granted Israeli citizenship in 1954.
The Bedouin who remained in the Negev belonged to the Tiaha confederation as well as some smaller groups such as the 'Azazme and the Jahalin. After 1948, some Negev Bedouins were displaced. The Jahalin tribe, for instance, lived in the Tel Arad region of the Negev prior to the 1950s. In the early 1950s, the Jahalin were among the tribes that, according to Emmanuel Marks, "moved or were removed by the military government". They ended up in the so-called E1 area East of Jerusalem.
Famously, Bedouin shepherds were the first to discover the Dead Sea Scrolls, a collection of Jewish texts from antiquity, in the Judean caves of Qumran in 1946. Of great religious, cultural, historical and linguistic significance, 972 texts were found over the following decade, many of whom were discovered by Bedouins.
Successive Israeli administrations tried to demolish Bedouins villages in the Negev. Between 1967 and 1989, Israel built seven legal townships in the north-east of the Negev, with Tel as-Sabi or Tel Sheva the first. The largest, city of Rahat, has a population of over 58,700 (as of December 2013); as such it is the largest Bedouin settlement in the world. Another well known township out of the seven of them that the Israeli government built, is Hura. According to the Israel Land Administration (2007), some 60 per cent of the Negev Bedouin live in urban areas. The rest live in so-called unrecognized villages, which are not officially recognized by the state due to general planning issues and other political reasons. They were built chaotically without taking into consideration local infrastructure. These communities are scattered all over the Northern Negev and often are situated in inappropriate places, such as military fire zones, natural reserves, landfills, etc.
On 29 September 2003, Israeli government adapted a new "Abu Basma Plan" (Resolution 881), according to which a new regional council was formed, unifying a number of unrecognized Bedouin settlements—Abu Basma Regional Council. This resolution also regarded the need to establish seven new Bedouin settlements in the Negev, literally meaning the official recognition of unrecognized settlements, providing them with a municipal status and consequently with all the basic services and infrastructure. The council was established by the Interior Ministry on 28 January 2004.
Israel is currently building or enlarging some 13 towns and cities in the Negev. According to the general planning, all of them will be fully equipped with the relevant infrastructure: schools, medical clinics, postal offices, etc. and they also will have electricity, running water and waste control. Several new industrial zones meant to fight unemployment are planned, some are already being constructed, like Idan haNegev in the suburbs of Rahat. It will have a hospital and a new campus inside. The Bedouins of Israel receive free education and medical services from the state. They are allotted child cash benefits, which has contributed to the high birthrate among the Bedouin (5% growth per year). But unemployment rate remains very high, and few obtain a high school degree (4%), and even fewer graduate from university (0.6%).
In September 2011, the Israeli government approved a five-year economic development plan called the Prawer plan. One of its implications is a relocation of some 30.000-40.000 Negev Bedouin from areas not recognized by the government to government-approved townships. In a 2012 resolution the European Parliament called for the withdrawal of the Prawer plan and respect for the rights of the Bedouin people. In September 2014, Yair Shamir, who heads the Israeli government's ministerial committee on Bedouin resettlement arrangements, stated that the government was examining ways to lower the birthrate of the Bedouin community in order to improve its standard of living. Shamir claimed that without intervention, the Bedouin population could exceed half a million by 2035.
Most of the Bedouin tribes migrated from the Arabian Peninsula to what is Jordan today between the 14th and 18th centuries. Today Bedouins make up from 33% to 40% of the population of Jordan. Often they are referred to as a backbone of the Kingdom, since Bedouin clans traditionally support the monarchy.
Most of Jordan's Bedouin live in the vast wasteland that extends east from the Desert Highway. The eastern Bedouin are camel breeders and herders, while the western Bedouin herd sheep and goats. Some Bedouin in Jordan are semi-nomads, they adopt a nomadic existence during part of the year but return to their lands and homes in time to practice agriculture.
The largest tribe in Jordan is Bani Hasan who lives in east, center, and south of the country. Bani Hasan tribe members are around 1 million people, they are famous as the 1 Million Tribe and they are considered as the most powerful tribe in the kingdom. The largest nomadic groups of Jordan are the Banū (Banī laith; they reside in Petra), baniṢakhr and Banū al-Ḥuwayṭāt (they reside in Wadi Rum). There are numerous lesser groups, such as the al-Sirḥān (they live near the Iraqi border on the north of Jordan), Banū Khālid, Hawazim, ʿAṭiyyah, and Sharafāt. The Ruwālah (Rwala) tribe, which is not indigenous, passes through Jordan in its yearly wandering from Syria to Saudi Arabia.
The Jordanian government provides the Bedouin with different services such as education, housing and health clinics. However, some Bedouins give it up and prefer their traditional nomadic lifestyle.
In the recent years there is a growing discontent of the Bedouin with the ruling monarch, but the king manages to deal with it. In August 2007, police clashed with some 200 Bedouins who were blocking the main highway between Amman and the port of Aqaba. Livestock herders, they were protesting the government's lack of support in the face of the steeply rising cost of animal feed, and expressed resentment about government assistance to refugees.
Arab Spring events in 2011 led to demonstrations in Jordan, and Bedouins took part in them. But it is unlikely that the Hashemites are to expect a revolt similar to turbulence in other Arab states. The main reasons for that are the high respect to the monarch, and contradictory interests of different groups of the Jordanian society. The King Abdullah II maintains his distance from the complaints by allowing blame to fall on government ministers, whom he replaces at will.
In the 11th century, reigning over Ifriqiya, the Zirids somehow recognised the sovereignty of the caliph of Cairo. Probably in 1048, the ruler or viceroy Zirid, al-Mu'izz, decided to stop this sovereignty. The Fatimids were then powerless to lead a punitive expedition.
In the 11th century, the Bedouin tribes of Banu Hilal and Banu Sulaym, who originated from Syria and North Arabia respectively, lived in a desert between the Nile and the Red Sea moved westward into the Maghreb areas and were joined by a third Bedouin tribe of Maqil, which had its roots in South Arabia. The vizier of the caliph of Cairo chose to let go of the Maghreb and obtained the agreement of his sovereign. They set off with women, children, camping equipment, some stopping on the way, especially in Cyrenaica, where they are still one of the essential elements of the settlement, but most arrived in Ifriqiya by the Gabes region, Berber armies were defeated in trying to protect the walls of Kairouan.
The Zirids abandoned Kairouan to take refuge on the coast where they survived for a century. Ifriqiya, the Banu Hilal and Banu Sulaym spread is on the high plains of Constantine where they gradually choked the Qal'a of Banu Hammad, as they had done Kairouan few decades ago. From there, they gradually gained the upper Algiers and Oran plains, some were taken to the Moulouya valley and in Doukkala plains by the Caliph of Marrakesh in the second half of the 12th century.
In the 13th century, they lived in all the Maghreb plains with the exception of the main mountain ranges and some coastal regions that served as refuges for the natives. They gave up their old trade breeder of camels to look after the care of the sheep and oxen.
The Bedouin dialects are used in Maghrebi regions of Morocco Atlantic Coast, in regions of High Plains and Sahara in Algeria, in regions of Tunisian Sahel and in regions of Tripolitania. The Bedouin dialects has four major varieties:
In Morocco, Bedouin dialects are spoken in plains and in recently founded cities such as Casablanca. Thus, the dialect shares with the Bedouin dialects gal 'to say' (qala), they also represent the bulk of modern Urban dialects (Koinés), such as those of Oran and Algiers.
Bedouins in Egypt mostly reside in the Sinai peninsula and in the suburbs of the Egyptian capital of Cairo. The past few decades have been difficult for traditional Bedouin culture due to changing surroundings and the establishment of new resort towns on the Red Sea coast, such as Sharm el-Sheikh. Bedouins in Egypt are facing a number of challenges: erosion of traditional values, unemployment, and various land issues. With urbanization and new education opportunities, Bedouins started to marry outside their tribe, a practice that once was completely inappropriate.
Bedouins living in the Sinai peninsula didn't benefit much from employment in the initial construction boom due to low wages offered. Sudanese and Egyptians workers were brought here as construction laborers instead. When the tourist industry started to bloom, local Bedouins increasingly moved into new service positions such as cab drivers, tour guides, campgrounds or cafe managers. However, the competition is very high, and many Sinai Bedouins are unemployed. Since there are not enough employment opportunities, Tarabin Bedouins as well as other Bedouin tribes living along the border between Egypt and Israel are involved in inter-border smuggling of drugs and weapons, as well as infiltration of prostitutes and African labor workers.
In most countries in the Middle East the Bedouin have no land rights, only users’ privileges, and it is especially true for Egypt. Since the mid-1980s, the Bedouins who held desirable coastal property have lost control of much of their land as it was sold by the Egyptian government to hotel operators. The Egyptian government did not see the land as belonging to Bedouin tribes, but rather as a state property.
In the summer of 1999, the latest dispossession of land took place when the army bulldozed Bedouin-run tourist campgrounds north of Nuweiba as part of the final phase of hotel development in the sector, overseen by the Tourist Development Agency (TDA). The director of the Tourist Development Agency dismissed Bedouin rights to most of the land, saying that they had not lived on the coast prior to 1982. Their traditional semi-nomadic culture has left Bedouins vulnerable to such claims.
The Egyptian Revolution of 2011 brought more freedom to the Sinai Bedouin, but since it was deeply involved in weapon smuggling into Gaza after a number of terror attacks on the Egypt-Israel border a new Egyptian government has started a military operation in Sinai in the summer-fall of 2012. Egyptian army has demolished over 120 underground tunnels leading from Egypt to Gaza that were used as smuggling channels and gave profit to the Bedouin families on the Egyptian side, as well as the Palestinian clans on the other side of the border. Thus the army has delivered a threatening message to local Bedouin, compelling them to cooperate with state troops and officials. After negotiations the military campaign ended up with a new agreement between the Bedouin and Egyptian authorities.
There are a number of Bedouin tribes, but the total population is often difficult to determine, especially as many Bedouin have ceased to lead nomadic or semi-nomadic lifestyles. Below is a partial list of Bedouin tribes and their historic place of origin.
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