National Geographic : 2009 Mar
fossilized coral. At the top we overlooked the Red Sea with its treasures: a thousand species of sh, coral reefs, mangroves. is beautiful, fragile underwater ecosystem started the boom, and now, remarkably, Sinai has overtaken Cairo and the mainland as Egypt s top tourism desti- nation. e population of Sharm el Sheikh has leaped tenfold in 20 years, while the number of tourists has gone from 8,000 a year to more than ve million. When Egypt took over control of the Sinai, the state---eager to stamp the territory as its own---bulldozed Bedouin camps and homes to make way for wealthy mainland investors. One hundred percent of Sharm el Sheikh s coast- line now belongs to developers. Bedouin tribe members believed in a principle called wadaa al-yad---literally, "put your hands"---by which a man owns land when he improves it with irrigation, for instance, or trees. So some Bed- ouin laid concrete foundations beside their homes, hoping the nod to permanence might impress the state and save their property. But the government bulldozed those as well. One powerful Bedouin tribal leader, Sheikh Ishaysh, refused to abandon his camp on the coast north of Sharm el Sheikh in a village called Nuweiba. " ey came with a rich man who said he had bought my land," he said. e sheikh shook his head---the rich man had dug no wells and planted no trees. "I told them, I will die here. " Sheikh Ishaysh stared down the developers, but many of his compatriots simply gave up and moved inland. Meanwhile the Cairo- cation reached beyond cement and pipes. Few scholars have studied the Sinai Bedouin closely, but Clinton Bailey, a re- spected anthropologist, has spent four decades among the tribes. His assessment is bleak. "In the 1970s there were many poets composing traditional poems with contemporary content. Today there isn t even one worthy of the name poet," he said. "Daughters are no longer taught to weave carpets and tent curtains. Young men know less and less about the relationship between tribes or sections of tribes. e diet is no longer traditional. Very few still know tribal stories and histories."