Saʿada and Murabtin

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"Murabit" redirects here. For other uses, see Murabitun (disambiguation).

The Saʿada (singular Saʿdawi) and Murabtin (singular Murabit) form a twofold social division within the Bedouins of western Egypt and eastern Libya.

In modern times, the term Murabit contrasts with Saʿdawi and marks a division of social status among the Bedouin component of the population of this region, where the Murabtin are of lower status. The existence of such a division is a sensitive issue, and its continued observation in Matruh is discouraged by the Egyptian government. Likewise, categorization of the Murabtin as either Arab Bedouins or Arab-Berber or Arabized Berber may be subject to disagreement.

The etymology of murābiṭ is unclear. It is interpreted as "the tied" (c.f. marabout), but it is also derived from ribaṭ, the term for a border fortress.

Ethnographic literature has tended to describe the Saʿada-Murabtin bifurcation in feudal terms, describing the Murabtin as clients or vassals. But during the 20th century, much of the original division has disappeared. This tendency was noted as early as in the 1920s, and by the 1940s, large groups of Murabtin were reported as living independently of the Saʿada, without paying any tribute. By the late 20th century, the division has become mostly a matter of genealogical tradition without any direct societal or economic reality. Some Murabtin groups, such as the Qadhadhfa of Libya, have risen to political power, while some Saʿada tribes have passed into oblivion.


  • Donald Powell Cole, Soraya Altorki, "The Saʿada and the Murabtin", Bedouin, settlers, and holiday-makers: Egypt's changing northwest coast, American Univ in Cairo Press, 1998, ISBN 978-977-424-484-1, pp. 51-56.