Sinai history

Sinai history is rich, and was known by the ancient Egyptians as the land of turquoise. For thousands of years turquoise was mined from the Serabit el Khadim region, which later also become a temple dedicated to Hathor known as the goddess of Turquoise. The temple is one of the few remaining ancient Egyptian temples in the Sinai region.

At some point in time the Ancient Nabateans also developed some infrastructure in Sinai. The remains of Nawamis is an ancient burials area with evidence of dating over 3000 years. There is also remains of an ancient port in Dahab, dating back at least 2000 years.

The Torah and the Old Testament of the bible outline that Sinai was crossed by the Israelites and Moses during their escape from enslavement. Mount Sinai is believed to the holy mountain where Moses received the 10 commandments and witnessed the burning bush. Other bible stories speak of regions in Sinai including Wadi Feiran and Ain Musa (a spring which is located in what is known today at El Tor).

St Catherine’s Monastery at the base of Mount Sinai was built around 550AD in memory of St Catherine of Alexandria and on the site of the burning bush.

Sinai was officially governed by Egypt in 1260 under the Mamluk Sultanate. During this period many nomadic Bedouins from the Arabian Peninsular, particularly from Saudi Arabia and Jordan came and settled in Sinai. The majority of the Bedouin descendents can trace their family trees back over 700 – 800 years and the majority of them originating from two major tribes from the Saudi Arabian region.

In 1517 Sinai fell under Ottoman rule in 1517 when Selim the Grim, the then Ottoman Sultan won battles against the Egyptians in the wars of Marj Dabiq and Al Raydaniyya. It then became part of the Ottoman Empire until 1906, when the provincial Ottoman ruler transferred the administration to the Egyptian government.  Since the majority of the rest of Egypt was under the control of the United Kingdom since 1882 this gave the British rulers control of all of Sinai bordering to Rafah and Taba.

Part of the western side of Sinai had already been annexed under the development of the Suez Canal in the mid 1850′s. The Suez canal created employment, industry, commerce and opportunities in the region. Maybe Bedouin relocated to Suez and Ismailia to work on the construction of the canal which  officially opened in November 1969. Later many also working with the oil fields of the west coast of Sinai.

During the 1948 Arab – Israeli War, the main borders of Egypt were maintained. However in 1949 under the armistice agreement the western border of Gaza become officially an Egyptian – Israeli border and was managed by both sides under agreement.

During 1956 the Egyptian Government nationalized the Suez Canal. This was not a popular move amongst the international community. Egypt prohibited Israeli ships from using the canal, and also from using the Gulf of Aqaba and a further war resulted. Within days of this decision Israel with the support of Britain and France invaded Sinai and sought to regain control of the Suez Canal. It took several months for Egypt to win support at the United Nations to enable pressure to be put on Israel to withdraw from the Sinai. However with assistance from the United States and the Soviet Union enough pressure enabled the United Nations to implement a stratagey for return of Sinai. It was at this time that the United Nations Emergency Force was stationed in Sinai to prevent any military occupation of the Sinai.

In 1958 the Gaza Strip came under Egyptian control and was managed by the Egyptian government, but separate from Sinai. Egypt maintained that when the end of the problems with Israel would happen, they would return the management of the Gaza Strip.

The problems in the region continued another 9 years. Coming to a head in 1967 when Egypt once again tried to impose restrictions on Israels use of the Suez Canal and order the United Nations Emergency Force out of Sinai. They agreed to leave without proper permission from the UN Security Council. Just after they withdrew Egypt with Syria and Jordan attached Israel and started what was known as the Six Day War. In retaliation Israel captured the entire Sinai peninsular and the Gaza Strip from Egypt, They also captured the West Bank and East Jerusalem from Jordan and  even the Golan Heights from Syria.

Egypt then returned to war with Israel with the War of Attrition Egypt was trying to force Israel out of the Sinai, however the war resulted in much bombing raids around the Suez Canal region, including  residential areas in Port Said, Ismailia and Suez. and there was much destruction and loss of lives. Many Egyptians had to flee their homes and over a million became displaced from the war. The war continued for almost three years without much success for Egypt.

In 1971 Anwar Al Sadat tried to negotiate with Israel for it to withdraw from the lands it occupied during 1967. However the negotiations did not yield much success. Following several efforts to get Sinai back, Egypt instead decided to go to war again with Israel, also with the support of Syria and the Soviet Union amongst others.

This lead to the Yom Kippur War which was a nasty war for Egypt, Syria and Israel. There were many casualties  on all sides and at the end of the war, Israel had managed to push further with forces into main land Egypt. Thankfully the international community especially the United States and the Soviet Union managed to bring about a cease fire within 19 days of the war starting. On 28th October 1973 full talks commenced to bring an end to the stand off. In 1974 the first agreement of disengagement was signed between Egypt and Israel. Over time more negotiations and discussions lead Egypt agreed to legally recognising the state of Israel and the negotiations led to the signing of the Camp David Accords in 1978. Israel withdrew  in stages and fully withdrew its troops from Sinai in 1982. It took a lot of time and negotiations for Egypt to get Sinai back.

Consequently Syria never negotiated with Israel at the end of the war and most the Golan heights is still under Israeli held disputed territory.

The Camp David Accord also features a section which allows of monitoring of Sinai by the Multinational Force and Observers (a United Nations lead observational force) which are stationed throughout the peninsula. There was also a limit set to the number of Egyptian Military personnel that are allowed to be based on the Sinai at any given time.

This is just a small summary of the history of Sinai, as you can see Sinai has experienced many changes, many wars and above all it is an area of much cultural and historical importance and significance. Since the 2011 revolution the story of Sinai continues, this is a special land with many stories to tell.