A Bedouin festival wouldn’t be the same without a camel race.
In the southern Sinai desert of Egypt, tourists keen on discovering more about the Bedouin lifestyle are treated to desert dwelling creatures, amongst other demonstrations such as traditional baking.
With growing concern over loss of identity amongst the younger generations, festivals such as this one spotlight the importance of preserving the Bedouin lifestyle as well as increasing the awareness on Bedouin culture for foreigners, according to organizer Saleh Moussa.
“The Bedouin festival helps tourists to find out about the lives of the Bedouin because there is no one else talking about the Bedouin life; for this reason the festival will help visitors as well as Bedouins themselves to understand our culture, and things like our food and medicinal herbs.
“When tourists are in South Sinai, especially in Dahab, they stay in luxury hotels but they also want to find out about the bedouin life. There is no place for us to talk about this but people want to hear about it. This is the second year of the festival and we hope it will help people to understand Bedouins.”
As modernity seeps into Bedouin life, local people are clinging to what distinguishes Bedouins in the desert from those in the city.
“The Bedouin life has changed in the last 15 years, now it is becoming more modern. Especially when you live in the cities, it's different from the desert, you need more income to afford to live. Before we were dependent on the desert: on camels and dried fish and dates, when we needed food we used what we had from the land but with the current way of life, depending on tourism, we have to be more and more involved in modern life.
“We depend on cars and electricity, televisions, mobile phones. Even people themselves are different now, they are running so fast, just like life. Now there is a big difference between the Bedouins living in the desert and those in the cities. But we still keep our traditions alive.”
Bedouins experience a certain degree of autonomy, in a sense that they abide by both state and traditional legal framework. For example, they consult the Egyptians for more serious crimes, whereas minor incidents are referred to tribal elders.
The Bedouin population is estimated to be four million, spread across North Africa, the Arabian Peninsula, Jordan, Palestinian territories, Syria and Israel.