Sinai Peninsula

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"Sinai" redirects here. For other uses, see Sinai (disambiguation).
Relief map of Sinai Peninsula.

The Sinai Peninsula or Sinai (/ˈsn/;[1][2] Arabic: سيناءSīnāʼ ; Egyptian Arabic: سينا Sīna, IPA: [ˈsiːnæ]) is a triangular peninsula in Egypt about 60,000 km2 (23,000 sq mi) in area. It is situated between the Mediterranean Sea to the north, and the Red Sea to the south, and is the only part of Egyptian territory located in Asia, as opposed to Africa, serving as a land bridge between two continents. The bulk of the peninsula is divided administratively into two of Egypt's 27 governorates (with three more straddling the Suez Canal area), and has a population of approximately 1,400,000 people. In addition to its formal name, Egyptians also refer to it as Arḍ ul-Fairūz (أرض الفيروز "the land of turquoise"). The ancient Egyptians called it Mafkat, or "land of the green minerals".[3]

While the Levant region (present-day territories of Syria, Lebanon, Jordan, Israel, Judea and Samaria (the West Bank), and the Gaza Strip) has historically been the center of conflict between Egypt on the one hand, and one or the other of the states of Mesopotamia (Babylonia, Assyria, Mitanni) and Asia Minor (the Hittite Empire), based largely on its strategic geopolitical location and evolutionary cultural convergences—the Sinai Peninsula remained under Egyptian control from the First Egyptian Dynasty (c. 3100 BC) until the 20th century. In periods of foreign occupation, it was like the rest of Egypt, also occupied and controlled by the Ottoman Empire, or the United Kingdom (which occupied Egypt from 1882 until 1956). Israel invaded and occupied Sinai during the Suez Crisis (known in Egypt as the Tripartite Aggression due to the simultaneous coordinated attack by the UK, France and Israel) of 1956, and during the Six-Day War of 1967. On 6 October 1973, Egypt launched the Yom Kippur War to retake the peninsula, which was the site of fierce fighting between Egyptian and Israeli forces. In 1982, after the Egyptian-Israeli 1973 war and Israel-Egypt Peace Treaty of 1979, Israel withdrew from the last territory of Sinai Peninsula, which was Taba. Today, Sinai has become a tourist destination due to its natural setting, rich coral reefs, and biblical history. Mount Sinai is one of the most religiously significant places in Abrahamic faiths.


The two governorates of North Sinai and South Sinai comprise around 60,000 square kilometres (23,000 sq mi) and have a population (Jan. 2013) of 597,000. This figure rises to 1,400,000 by including Western Sinai—the parts of the Port Said, Ismailia and Suez Governorates lying east of the Suez Canal.

The name Sinai may have been derived from the ancient moon-god Sin[4] or from the Hebrew word Seneh (Hebrew: סֶ֫נֶּהSenneh)[5] The peninsula acquired the name due to the assumption that a mountain near Saint Catherine's Monastery is the Biblical Mount Sinai. However this assumption is contested.[6]

Since the arrival of the Bani Sulaiman tribe in the 14th century, its population has large desert-dwelling Bedouins with their colorful traditional costumes and significant culture.[7] The peninsula's eastern shore separates the Arabian plate from the African plate.[8]


Sinai Peninsula in hieroglyphs
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D58 M17 N42 N25

Bj3w [9]
"Mining country" [9]
St. Catherine's Monastery is the oldest working Christian monastery in the world and the most popular tourist attraction on the peninsula.

Sinai was inhabited by the Monitu and was called Mafkat or "country of turquoise".[10] From the time of the First dynasty or before, the Egyptians mined turquoise in Sinai at two locations, now called by their Egyptian Arabic names Wadi Magharah and Serabit El Khadim. The mines were worked intermittently and on a seasonal basis for thousands of years. Modern attempts to exploit the deposits have been unprofitable. These may be the first historically attested mines.[citation needed]

According to the Jewish tradition, the peninsula was crossed by the Israelites during the exodus from Egypt as detailed in the Hebrew Bible. This included numerous halts over a 40-year period of travel in AM 2448 (1313 BCE) in the Jewish tradition.

The peninsula was governed as part of Egypt under the Mamluk Sultanate of Egypt from 1260 until 1517, when the Ottoman Sultan, Selim the Grim, defeated the Egyptians at the Battles of Marj Dabiq and al-Raydaniyya, and incorporated Egypt into the Ottoman Empire. From then until 1906, Sinai was administered by the Ottoman provincial government of the Pashalik of Egypt, even following the establishment of the Muhammad Ali Dynasty's rule over the rest of Egypt in 1805. In 1906, the Ottoman Porte formally transferred administration of Sinai to the Egyptian government, which essentially meant that it fell under the control of the United Kingdom, who had occupied and largely controlled Egypt since 1882. The border imposed by the British runs in an almost straight line from Rafah on the Mediterranean shore to Taba on the Gulf of Aqaba. This line has served as the eastern border of Egypt ever since.

At the beginning of the 1948 Arab-Israeli War, Egyptian forces entered the former British Mandate of Palestine from Sinai to support Palestinian and other Arab forces against the newly declared State of Israel. For a period during the war, Israeli forces entered the north-eastern corner of Sinai.[11] With the exception of Palestine's Gaza Strip, which came under the administration of the All-Palestine Government,[12] the western frontier of the former Mandate of Palestine became the Egyptian-Israeli frontier under the 1949 Armistice Agreement. In 1958, the Gaza Strip came under direct Egyptian military administration, though it was governed separately from Sinai, and was never annexed by Egypt. The Egyptian government maintained that Egyptian administration would be terminated upon the end of the conflict with Israel.

In 1956, Egypt nationalised the Suez Canal,[13] a waterway marking the boundary between Egyptian territory in Africa and the Sinai Peninsula.[citation needed] Thereafter, Israeli ships were prohibited from using the Canal,[14] owing to the state of war between the two states. Egypt also prohibited ships from using Egyptian territorial waters on the eastern side of the peninsula to travel to and from Israel, effectively imposing a blockade on the Israeli port of Eilat. In late 1956, the bellicosity of recent Arab statements prompted Israel to remove the threat of the concentrated Egyptian forces in the Sinai, and in Operation Kadesh Israel invaded the Egyptian Sinai Peninsula. Other Israeli aims were elimination of the Fedayeen incursions into Israel that made life unbearable for its southern population, and opening the blockaded Straits of Tiran for Israeli ships.[15][16][17][18][19][20] Israel occupied much of the peninsula within a few days. Within a couple of days, Britain and France invaded too, aiming at regaining Western control of the Suez Canal and removing the Egyptian president Nasser. The invasions are known in Egypt as the Tripartite Aggression. Several months later Israel withdrew its forces from Sinai, following strong pressure from the United States and the Soviet Union. Thereafter, the United Nations Emergency Force (UNEF) was stationed in Sinai to prevent any further conflict in the Sinai.

Egypt-Israel border. Looking north from the Eilat Mountains

In 1967, Egypt reinforced its military presence in Sinai, renewed the prohibition of Israeli shipping using Egyptian territorial waters, (including the Suez Canal and western part of the Straits of Tiran),[21] and on 16 May ordered the UNEF out of Sinai with immediate effect.[22] Secretary-General U Thant eventually complied and ordered the withdrawal without Security Council authorisation. Subsequent to Egyptian actions, Israel attacked Egypt, Syria, and Jordan, starting the Six-Day War. Israel captured the entire Sinai Peninsula, and Gaza Strip from Egypt, the West Bank (including East Jerusalem) from Jordan (which it had ruled since 1949), and the Golan Heights from Syria. The Suez Canal, the east bank of which was now occupied by Israel, was closed. Israel expelled thousands of Egyptians from Sinai,[citation needed] and commenced efforts at large scale Israeli settlement in the peninsula, concurrently with similar settlement in the Gaza Strip, West Bank, and Golan Heights.

Following the Israeli conquest of Sinai, Egypt launched the War of Attrition aimed at forcing Israel to withdraw from Egyptian territory. The war saw protracted conflict in the Suez Canal Zone, ranging from limited to large scale combat. Israeli shelling of the cities of Port Said, Ismailia, and Suez on the west bank of the canal, led to high civilian casualties (including the virtual destruction of Suez), and contributed to the flight of some one million Egyptian internal refugees. Ultimately, the war concluded in 1970 with no change in the front line.[23]

On 6 October 1973, Egypt commenced Operation Badr to retake the Sinai, while Syria launched a simultaneous operation to retake the Golan Heights,[citation needed] thereby beginning the Yom Kippur War (known in Egypt as the October War). Egyptian engineering forces built pontoon bridges to cross the Suez Canal, and stormed the Bar-Lev Line, Israel's defensive line along the canal. Though the Egyptians maintained control of most of the east bank of the Canal, in the later stages of the war, the Israeli military crossed the southern section of Canal, cutting off the Egyptian 3rd Army, and occupied a section of the west bank. The war ended following a mutually agreed-upon ceasefire. After the war, as part of the subsequent Sinai Disengagement Agreements, Israel withdrew from the Canal, with Egypt agreeing to permit passage of Israeli ships. The canal was reopened in 1975, with President Sadat leading the first convoy through the canal aboard an Egyptian destroyer.

In 1979, Egypt and Israel signed a peace treaty in which Israel agreed to withdraw from the entirety of Sinai. Israel subsequently withdrew in several stages, ending in 1982. The Israeli pull-out involved dismantling almost all Israeli settlements, including the settlement of Yamit in north-eastern Sinai. The exception was the coastal city of Sharm el-Sheikh, which the Israelis had renamed as Ofira during the period of their occupation. The Treaty allows monitoring of Sinai by the Multinational Force and Observers, and limits the number of Egyptian military forces in the peninsula.

In recent years, Sinai has been the site of several terror attacks against tourists, the majority of which are Egyptian. Investigations have showed these were mainly motivated by a resentment of the poverty faced by many Bedouin in the area. Attacking the tourist industry was viewed as a method of damaging the industry so that the government would pay more attention to their situation.[24] (See 2004 Sinai bombings, Sharm el-Sheikh terrorist attacks and 2006 Dahab bombings). Since the 2011 Egyptian Revolution unrest has become more prevalent in the area including the 2012 Egyptian-Israeli border attack in which 16 Egyptian soldiers were killed by militants. (See Sinai insurgency).

Also on the rise are kidnappings of refugees. According to Meron Estifanos, Eritrean refugees are often kidnapped by Bedouin in the northern Sinai, tortured, raped, and only released after receiving a large ransom for the kidnapped.[25][26]


Dahab in Southern Sinai is a popular beach and diving resort in Sinai

Since the Israeli-Egyptian peace treaty, Sinai's scenic spots (including coral reefs offshore) and religious structures have become important to the tourism industry. The most popular tourist destination in Sinai are Mount Sinai (Jabal Musa) and St. Catherine's Monastery, which is considered to be the oldest working Christian monastery in the world, and the beach resorts of Sharm el-Sheikh, Dahab, Nuweiba and Taba. Most tourists arrive at Sharm el-Sheikh International Airport, through Eilat, Israel and the Taba Border Crossing, by train or bus from Cairo or by ferry from Aqaba in Jordan.[citation needed] (See also: Tourism in Egypt)

Most of the Sinai Peninsula is divided among two Egyptian governorates, or provinces: Ganub Sina (South Sinai) and Shamal Sina (North Sinai).[citation needed] Three more governates span the Suez Canal, crossing into African Egypt: el-Sewais ("the Suez") is on the southern end of the Suez Canal, el-Isma'ileyyah in the center, and Port Said in the north.

Approximately 66,500 people live in Ganub Sina and 314,000 live in Shamal Sina. Port Said itself has a population of roughly 500,000 people. Portions of the populations of el-Isma'ileyyah and el-Suweis live in Sinai, while the rest live on the western side of the Suez Canal. The combined population of these two governorates is roughly 1.3 million (only a part of that population live in Sinai, while the rest live on the western side of the Suez Canal).[citation needed] Sinai is one of the coldest provinces in Egypt because of its high altitudes and mountainous topographies. Winter temperatures in some of Sinai's cities and towns reach −16 °C (3 °F).[citation needed]

Large numbers of Egyptians from the Nile Valley and Delta moved to the area to work in tourism, but development adversely affected the native Sinai Bedouin population.[citation needed] In order to help alleviate their problems, various NGOs began to operate in the region, including the Makhad Trust, a UK charity that assists the Bedouin in developing a sustainable income while protecting Sinai's natural environment, heritage and culture.[citation needed]


Image from Gemini 11 spacecraft, featuring part of Egypt and the Sinai Peninsula in the foreground and the Levant in the background 
Canadian and Panamanian UNEF UN peacekeepers in Sinai, 1974. 
Sand dune and rocky exposure on the Sinai Peninsula 
Mount Sinai (Gabal Musa
Dust storm in the peninsula 
Saint Catherine, Egypt on a snowy winter morning 

See also[edit]


  1. ^ "Definition of Sinai". The Free Dictionary. Retrieved 2014-05-03. 
  2. ^ "Define Sinai". Retrieved 2014-05-03. 
  3. ^ "Étude de la turquoise : de ses traitements et imitations", thesis by Claire Salanne, Université de Nantes, 2009.
  4. ^ "Sinai Peninsula (peninsula, Egypt) - Britannica Online Encyclopedia". Retrieved 14 January 2012. 
  5. ^ "Sinai, Mount". Retrieved 14 January 2012. 
  6. ^ See Biblical Mount Sinai for a fuller discussion.
  7. ^ Leonard, William R. and Michael H. Crawford, The Human Biology of Pastoral Populations, Cambridge University Press, 2002, p. 67 ISBN 978-0521780162
  8. ^ Homberg, Catherine and Martina Bachmann, Evolution of the Levant Margin and Western Arabia Platform Since the Mesozoic, The Geological Society of London, 2010, p 65 ISBN 978-1862393066
  9. ^ a b The translation "mining country" is not certain, see also Rainer Hannig: Großes Handwörterbuch Ägyptisch-Deutsch : (2800 - 950 v. Chr.). p. 1135.
  10. ^ Joseph Davidovits and Ralph Davidovits (2007). "Why Djoser's blue Egyptian faience tiles are not blue? Manufacturing Djoser's faience tiles at temperatures as low as 250 °C?". In Jean Claude Goyon, Christine Cardin. Proceedings of the ninth International Congress of Egyptologists 1. Louvain/Paris/Dudley. p. 375. 
  11. ^ Rogan, Eugene L. and Avi Shlaim, eds. The War for Palestine: Rewriting the History of 1948. 2nd edition. Cambridge: Cambridge UP, p. 99, 2007
  12. ^ Shlaim, Avi (2001). Israel and the Arab Coalition. In Eugene Rogan and Avi Shlaim (eds.). The War for Palestine (pp. 97). Cambridge: Cambridge University Press. ISBN 978-0-521-79476-3
  13. ^
  14. ^ "1956: Egypt Seizes Suez Canal". BBC. 26 July 1956. 
  15. ^ Moshe Shemesh; Selwyn Illan Troen (5 October 2005). The Suez-Sinai Crisis: A Retrospective and Reappraisal. Routledge. p. 5. ISBN 978-1-135-77863-7. The aims were to be threefold: to remove the threat, wholly or partially, of the Egyptian rmy in the Sinai, to destroy the framework of the fedaiyyun, and to secure the freedom of navigation through the straits of Tiran. 
  16. ^ Isaac Alteras (1993). Eisenhower and Israel: U.S.-Israeli Relations, 1953-1960. University Press of Florida. pp. 192–. ISBN 978-0-8130-1205-6. the removal of the Egyptian blockade of the Straits of Tiran at the entrance of the Gulf of Aqaba. The blockade closed Israel’s sea lane to East Africa and the Far East, hindering the development of Israel’s southern port of Eilat and its hinterland, the Nege. Another important objective of the Israeli war plan was the elimination of the terrorist bases in the Gaza Strip, from which daily fedayeen incursions into Israel made life unbearable for its southern population. And last but not least, the concentration of the Egyptian forces in the Sinai Peninsula, armed with the newly acquired weapons from the Soviet bloc, prepared for an attack on Israel. Here, Ben-Gurion believed, was a time bomb that had to be defused before it was too late. Reaching the Suez Canal did not figure at all in Israel’s war objectives.  
  17. ^ Dominic Joseph Caraccilo (January 2011). Beyond Guns and Steel: A War Termination Strategy. ABC-CLIO. pp. 113–. ISBN 978-0-313-39149-1. The escalation continued with the Egyptian blockade of the Straits of Tiran, and Nasser's nationalization of the Suez Canal in July 1956. On October 14, Nasser made clear his intent:"I am not solely fighting against Israel itself. My task is to deliver the Arab world from destruction through Israel's intrigue, which has its roots abroad. Our hatred is very strong. There is no sense in talking about peace with Israel. There is not even the smallest place for negotiations." Less than two weeks later, on October 25, Egypt signed a tripartite agreement with Syria and Jordan placing Nasser in command of all three armies. The continued blockade of the Suez Canal and Gulf of Aqaba to Israeli shipping, combined with the increased fedayeen attacks and the bellicosity of recent Arab statements, prompted Israel, with the backing of Britain and France, to attack Egypt on October 29, 1956. 
  18. ^ "The Jewish Virtual Library, The Sinai-Suez Campaign: Background & Overview". In 1955, Egyptian President Gamal Abdel Nasser began to import arms from the Soviet Bloc to build his arsenal for the confrontation with Israel. In the short-term, however, he employed a new tactic to prosecute Egypt's war with Israel. He announced it on August 31, 1955: Egypt has decided to dispatch her heroes, the disciples of Pharaoh and the sons of Islam and they will cleanse the land of Palestine....There will be no peace on Israel's border because we demand vengeance, and vengeance is Israel's death. These “heroes” were Arab terrorists, or fedayeen, trained and equipped by Egyptian Intelligence to engage in hostile action on the border and infiltrate Israel to commit acts of sabotage and murder. 
  19. ^ Alan Dowty (20 June 2005). Israel/Palestine. Polity. pp. 102–. ISBN 978-0-7456-3202-5. Gamal Abdel Nasser, who declared in one speech that "Egypt has decided to dispatch her heroes, the disciples of Pharaoh and the sons of Islam and they will cleanse the land of Palestine....There will be no peace on Israel's border because we demand vengeance, and vengeance is Israel's death."...The level of violence against Israelis, soldiers and civilians alike, seemed to be rising inexorably. 
  20. ^ Ian J. Bickerton (15 September 2009). The Arab-Israeli Conflict: A History. Reaktion Books. p. 101. ISBN 978-1-86189-527-1. (p. 101) To them the murderous fedayeen raids and constant harassment were just another form of Arab warfare against Israel...(p. 102) Israel's aims were to capture the Sinai peninsula in order to open the straits of Tiran to Israeli shipping, and to seize the Gaza strip to end fedayeen attacks. 
  21. ^ Morris, Benny (1999). Righteous Victims: A History of the Zionist-Arab Conflict, 1881-1998. Random House. p. 306. ISBN 0679421203. 
  22. ^ Samir A. Mutawi (18 July 2002). Jordan in the 1967 War. Cambridge University Press. p. 93. ISBN 978-0-521-52858-0. Although Eshkol denounced the Egyptians, his response to this development was a model of moderation. His speech on 21 May demanded that Nasser withdraw his forces from Sinai but made no mention of the removal of UNEF from the Straits nor of what Israel would do if they were closed to Israeli shipping. The next day Nasser announced to an astonished world that henceforth the Straits were, indeed, closed to all Israeli ships 
  23. ^ "War of Attrition". 
  24. ^ Serene Assir (23 July 2005). "Shock in Sharm". Al-Ahram Weekly. Retrieved 29 March 2014. 
  25. ^ Meron Stefanos on the torture houses in north Sinai
  26. ^ Sound of Torture documentary

Further reading[edit]

External links[edit]

Coordinates: 29°30′N 33°50′E / 29.500°N 33.833°E / 29.500; 33.833