Soft Sedentarization: Bedouin Tourist Stations as a Response to Drought in Egypt’s Eastern Desert
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Since the late 1990s, there has been a boom in tourism focused on the Khushmaan Ma’aza Bedouin of Egypt's northern Eastern Desert. While entrepreneurship on the part of a Bedouin, along with growing numbers of potential visitors, has fuelled this growth, a natural drought has pushed large numbers of Bedouin into the tourist trade. Almost no rain fell over the Khushmaan homeland between 1997 and 2005. Historically, such severe droughts compelled households to settle permanently along the Nile Valley, or men to take up temporary jobs in Red Sea coastal cities. The response to this drought is unique. Bedouin have clustered not in towns or villages but in a dozen tourist mahattas (stations) in the desert, where tourists visit for a few hours. The station structures are made of reeds, and two other factors make this sedentarization “soft”. Most Bedouin say they would disperse into the desert if rains return. The capricious trade itself could evaporate due to political events in the region. But is also possible that sustained drought combined with tourism impacts could take Khushmaan culture beyond a tipping point, depriving youth of traditional pastoral education and channeling them toward a permanent settled existence.
Key wordsBedouin Egypt drought indigenous peoples
The authors are grateful to the Bioanthropology Foundation for supporting the research leading up to the publication of this study.
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