The History of the Bedouin People

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The original Bedouin tribes were nomadic herders who sometimes also dabbled in agriculture and fishing if the area in which they temporarily settled allowed for it. They also earned currency through trading and occasionally transporting people and goods through inhospitable parts of the North African and Middle Eastern Deserts.

During the late 19th century, under the rule of the Turkish Ottoman Empire, many of the Bedouin tribes began the social transition from a nomadic to an almost semi-nomadic existence. This was mainly because the Ottoman authorities physically enforced the settlement of the Bedouin who lived in the Ottoman Empires territory. The reason for this forced settlement was because the Ottoman Turks viewed the Bedouin as a threat to their control of the area and enforced strict movement and settlement laws in what is now the Negev area of the Middle East. In fact, under the Tanzimat reforms of 1858 a new land law was issued that officially sanctioned the displacement and settlement of Bedouin tribes in Ottoman controlled areas.

However, it was just after this time that the Ottoman Empire started to decline and it became more and more difficult to govern and control the Bedouin. The enforced land registration that was meant to create permanent living areas for the Bedouin and make them taxable citizens became almost impossible to enforce due to the illiteracy of many Bedouin, the refusal of most Bedouin to pay taxes and their lack of written documentation that could prove where they came from.

The Bedouin in the Early Part of the 20th Century

During the early part of the last century sultan Abdul Hamid II had settled large amounts of Muslim peoples, which originally hailed from the Balkans and Caucasus, in the lands that were populated by the Bedouin (modern day Syria, Lebanon, Jordan and Israel). He also created several permanent Bedouin settlements in the area, but many tribesmen refused to remain in them. This created tension in the area, but also influenced the spiritual belief systems of the Bedouin.

World War 1 and the Bedouin

During World War I, the Bedouin in the Negev area fought with the Turks against the Allied forces from the UK and Commonwealth countries. Bedouin soldiers under the command of Sheikh Hamad Pasha al-Sufi also took part in the Turkish offensive against the Suez Canal.

The Bedouin Tribes Since the 1950’s

The Bedouin way of life was effectively ended by drought and war during the 1950’s and 60’s in vast parts of the Middle East. This lead to Bedouin tribesman and woman leaving the traditional, nomadic life to settle in the cities of what is now modern day Israel, Syria, Palestine, Jordan, Iraq, Egypt and Tunisia.

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