Sinai Peninsula

From Wikipedia, the free encyclopedia
  (Redirected from Sinai)
Jump to: navigation, search
"Sinai" redirects here. For other uses, see Sinai (disambiguation).
Relief map of the Sinai Peninsula.

The Sinai Peninsula or simply Sinai (/ˈsn/;[1][2] Arabic: سيناءSīnāʼ ; Egyptian Arabic: سينا Sīna, IPA: [ˈsiːnæ]), or "סיני" in Hebrew, 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]

The Sinai Peninsula has remained a part of Egypt from the First Dynasty of ancient Egypt (c. 3100 BC) until the 21st century. This comes in stark contrast to the region north of it, the Levant (present-day territories of Syria, Lebanon, Jordan, Israel and the Palestinian territories), which, due largely to its strategic geopolitical location and evolutionary cultural convergences, has historically been the center of conflict between Egypt on the one hand, and one or the other of the states of ancient and medieval Mesopotamia and Asia Minor. In periods of foreign occupation, the Sinai was, like the rest of Egypt, also occupied and controlled by foreign empires, in more recent history the Ottoman Empire (1517-1867) and the United Kingdom (1882-1956). 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. By 1982, as a result of the 1973 war and the ensuing Israel-Egypt Peace Treaty of 1979, Israel had withdrawn from all of the Sinai Peninsula except the contentious territory of Taba, which was returned after a ruling by a commission of arbitration in 1989.

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 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]


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 road from Cairo or by ferry from Aqaba in Jordan.[citation needed] (See also: Tourism in Egypt)


The peninsula's eastern shore separates the Arabian plate from the African plate.[7]


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]


The two governorates of North 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.


Most of the Sinai Peninsula is divided among the two governorates or provinces of South Sinai (Ganub Sina) and North Sinai (Shamal Sina).[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 (Ismailia) in the center, and Port Said in the north.

Population; origin and numbers[edit]

Its population has largely consisted of desert-dwelling Bedouins with their colorful traditional costumes and significant culture.[8]

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]

The two governorates of North Sinai and South Sinai comprise around 60,000 square kilometres (23,000 sq mi) and have a population (January 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.

Port Said alone has a population of roughly 500,000 people (January 2013). Portions of the populations of Ismailia and Port Said live in west 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.


Sinai Peninsula in hieroglyphs
D58 M17 G1 G43 N37
D58 M17 N42 N25

"Mining country"[9]

Ancient Egypt[edit]

Sinai was called Mafkat or "country of turquoise" by the ancient Egyptians, who called its inhabitants Monitu.[10][11] 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]

In the Hebrew Bible[edit]

According to the Hebrew Bible, the peninsula was crossed by the Israelites during the Exodus from Egypt. This included numerous halts over a 40-year period of travel sometime towards the end of the Bronze Age. The historicity of the event is disputed and its alleged date varies even in Jewish traditions.

Assyrian Period[edit]

Achaemenid Persian Period[edit]

At the end of the time of Darius I, the Great (521-486 BCE) Sinai was part of the Persian province of Abar-Nahra, which means "beyond the river [Euphrates].[12]

Cambyses successfully managed the crossing of the hostile Sinai Desert, traditionally Egypt's first and strongest line of defence, and brought the Egyptians under Psamtik III, son and successor of Ahmose, to battle at Pelusium. The Egyptians lost and retired to Memphis; the city fell to the Iranian control and the Pharaoh was carried off in captivity to Susa in mainland Iran.

Hellenistic Period[edit]

Roman and Byzantine Periods[edit]

St. Catherine's Monastery is the oldest working Christian monastery in the world and the most popular tourist attraction on the peninsula.

Early Muslim Period[edit]

Ayyubid Period[edit]

Mamluk and Ottoman Periods[edit]

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.

British control[edit]

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.

Wars with Israel (1948, 56, 67, 67-70, 73)[edit]

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.[13] With the exception of Palestine's Gaza Strip, which came under the administration of the All-Palestine Government,[14] 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,[15] 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,[16] 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. Subsequently, in what is known in Egypt as the Tripartite Aggression, Israeli forces, aided by Britain, and France (which sought to reverse the nationalisation and regain control over the Suez Canal), invaded Sinai and occupied much of the peninsula within a few days. 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 and on 16 May ordered the UNEF out of Sinai with immediate effect.[17] Secretary-General U Thant eventually complied and ordered the withdrawal without Security Council authorisation. In the course of the Six-Day War that broke out shortly thereafter. 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 commenced efforts at large scale Israeli settlement in the peninsula.

Following the Israeli conquest of Sinai, Egypt launched the War of Attrition (1967–70) 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 700,000[18] Egyptian internal refugees. Ultimately, the war concluded in 1970 with no change in the front line.[19]

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.

1979 Peace Treaty with Israel and aftermath[edit]

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.

Recent security issues[edit]

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.[20] (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.[21][22]

Under President el-Sisi, Egypt has implemented a rigurous policy of controlling the border to the Gaza Strip, including the dismantling of tunnels between Gaza and Sinai.[23]


The southernmost extreme point is Ras Muhammad National Park.


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. ^ 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
  8. ^ Leonard, William R. and Michael H. Crawford, The Human Biology of Pastoral Populations, Cambridge University Press, 2002, p. 67 ISBN 978-0521780162
  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. ^;f=8;t=008397
  11. ^ 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 (PDF) 1. Louvain/Paris/Dudley. p. 375. 
  12. ^ Iranchamber
  13. ^ Rogan, Eugene L. and Avi Shlaim, eds. The War for Palestine: Rewriting the History of 1948. 2nd edition. Cambridge: Cambridge UP, p. 99, 2007
  14. ^ 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
  15. ^
  16. ^ "1956: Egypt Seizes Suez Canal". BBC. 26 July 1956. 
  17. ^ 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 
  18. ^ Spencer, Tucker. Encyclopedia or the Arab-Israeli Conflict. p. 175. 
  19. ^ "War of Attrition". 
  20. ^ Serene Assir (23 July 2005). "Shock in Sharm". Al-Ahram Weekly. Retrieved 29 March 2014. 
  21. ^ Meron Stefanos on the torture houses in north Sinai
  22. ^ Sound of Torture documentary
  23. ^

Further reading[edit]

External links[edit]

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