Regions with significant populations
Sudan Sudan 10,199,000 [1]
Algeria Algeria 2,257,000 [2]
Saudi Arabia Saudi Arabia 1,532,000 [3]
Iraq Iraq 1,437,000
Jordan Jordan 1,232,000 [4]
Libya Libya 916,000 [5][6][7][8][9]
Egypt Egypt 902,000 [10][11]
United Arab Emirates UAE 763,000 [12]
Syria Syria 620,000 [13][14][15]
Yemen Yemen 457,000 [16]
Kuwait Kuwait 290,000 [17]
Tunisia Tunisia 177,000 [18][19][20]
Morocco Morocco 144,000 [21][22]
Israel Israel 114,000 [23][24]

Arabic dialects
(Hejazi • Najdi • Hassāniyya • Bedawi)
Hebrew (in Israel)


Predominantly Sunni Islam, a minority following Shia Islam and Christianity

Related ethnic groups

Arabs, other Semitic peoples like Jews

The Bedouins (Arabic: بَدَوِيُّون, badawiyyūn, Hebrew: בדואים) are an Arab ethnic group, that is nomadic and desert-dwelling. They are traditionally divided into clans and tribes. They can be found all over the Middle East and North Africa in almost all Arab states, including Israel.

The reference "Arab" have been used for the nomadic Bedouins in their history, mostly by the Israelites and the Assyrians. The Israelites referred to them as the Qedarites (Hebrew: בני קדר) and Kenites (Hebrew: הקיני). However, Bedouins are mainly distinguished from mainstream Arabs, who for the most part, are highly urbanized.

Undergoing modernization, the Bedouins have undergone some persecution from the governments of their countries, whether it be Israel or the Arab states alike. These were the result of government desires to force urabnization for the Bedouins.

Traditions like camel riding and camping in the deserts are also popular leisure activities for urbanized Bedouins who live within close proximity to deserts or other wilderness areas.


Early historyEdit

The Bedouins were nomadic herders who made a living raising livestock. The Bedouin people were referred to as "Arabs" by the Assyrians, and even many times, the Israelites. The Assyrians noted them as the native nomads of the Syrian deserts. In 9 B.C., the Assyrians defeated a Bedouin army led by a king named Gindibu as they invaded Syria. As for the Isrealites, they referred to the nomadic desert-dwelling populations as Kenites (Hebrew: הקיני). The Kenites inhabited the Levant and the Land of Midian, which is the Old Testament's reference to the Arabian Peninsula. According to the Hebrew Bible, the father-in-law of Moses was a Kenite sheperd and priest after he married a Kenite woman in the Land of Midian after the exodus from Israel. Biblical sources identify the Kenite man by Reuel (Hebrew: רעואל) or Jethro (Hebrew: יתרו). Arab and Islamic sources identify him as Shu'ayb (Arabic: شعيب). His daughter that was given to Moses in marriage was identified as Zipporah (Hebrew: ציפורה, Arabic: صفورة).

Qedarite EmpireEdit

One of the well-known nomadic Arab confederations were the Qedarites, whose existance was mentioned in couple records - including Mesopatamian, Hellenistic and Biblical sources. The term Qedarite derives from Qedar (Hebrew: קדר, Arabic: كيدار) one of the sons of Ishmael (a Biblical figure highly regarded to have been an ancestor to many Arabs). The Qedarite confederation controlled much of the Persian Gulf and the Sinai Peninsula. It was very common for Arabs to became subjagated to Mesopatamian rule. They noted a queen by the name of Zabibe (Arabic: زبيبة) who ruled over nomadic Qedarites in the Syrian desert. She ruled for five years. Zabibe's successor, another queen by the name of Samsi (Arabic: الشامسي) ruled over the confederation in the 8th century, and led a rebellion against the Assyrian king Tiglath-Pileser III. She was eventually defeated and she fled. All of these queens were referred to as "Queen(s) of the Arabs" by the Babylonians and Assyrians.

Ottoman RuleEdit

In the late 19th century, many Bedouin began transition to a semi-nomadic lifestyle. One of the factors was the influence of the Ottoman empire authorities[25] who started a forced urbanization of the Bedouin living on its territory. The Ottoman authorities viewed the Bedouin as a threat to the state's control and worked hard on establishing law and order in the Negev.[26]

Under the Tanzimat reforms in 1858 a new Ottoman Land Law was issued which offered legal grounds for the displacement of the Bedouin. As the Ottoman Empire gradually lost power, this law instituted an unprecedented land registration process which was also meant to boost the empire's tax base. Few Bedouin opted to register their lands with the Ottoman Tapu, due to lack of enforcement by the Ottomans, illiteracy, refusal to pay taxes and lack of relevance of written documentation of ownership to the Bedouin way of life at that time.[27]

At the end of the 19th century Sultan Abdülhamid II settled loyal Muslim populations (Circassians) from the Balkan and Caucasus among areas predominantly populated by the nomads in the regions of modern Syria, Lebanon, Jordan and Israel, and also created several permanent Bedouin settlements, although the majority of them did not remain.[26]

Ottoman authorities also initiated private acquisition of large plots of state land offered by the sultan to the absentee landowners (effendis). Numerous tenants were brought in order to cultivate the newly acquired lands. Often it came at the expense of the Bedouin lands.

During World War I, the Negev Bedouin fought with the Turks against the British, but later withdrew from the conflict. Hamad Pasha al-Sufi (died 1923), Sheikh of the Nijmat sub-tribe of the Tarabin, led a force of 1,500 men which joined the Turkish offensive against the Suez Canal.[28]

In Orientalist historiography, the Negev Bedouin have been described as remaining largely unaffected by changes in the outside world until recently. Their society was often considered a "world without time."[29] Recent scholars have challenged the notion of the Bedouin as 'fossilized,' or 'stagnant' reflections of an unchanging desert culture. Emanuel Marx has shown that Bedouin were engaged in a constantly dynamic reciprocal relation with urban centers.[30] Bedouin scholar Michael Meeker explains that "the city was to be found in their midst."[31]

File:Beduin mothers carrying their children on their shoulders.jpg

In the 20th centuryEdit

In the 1950s and 1960s, large numbers of Bedouin throughout Midwest Asia started to leave the traditional, nomadic life to settle in the cities of Midwest Asia, especially as hot ranges have shrunk and populations have grown. For example, in Syria, the Bedouin way of life effectively ended during a severe drought from 1958 to 1961, which forced many Bedouin to abandon herding for standard jobs.[32][33] Similarly, governmental policies in Egypt, Israel, Jordan, Iraq, Tunisia, oil-producing Arab states of the Arabic Gulf and Libya, as well as a desire for improved standards of living, effectively led most Bedouin to become settled citizens of various nations, rather than stateless nomadic herders.

Governmental policies pressing the Bedouin have in some cases been executed in an attempt to provide service (schools, health-care, law enforcement and so on—see Chatty 1986 for examples), but in others have been based on the desire to seize land traditionally roved and controlled by the Bedouin. In recent years, some Bedouin have adopted the pastime of raising and breeding white doves,[34] while others have rejuvenated the traditional practice of falconry.[35][36]


The Bedouins speak distinct dialects of Arabic, particularily Arabian dialects such as the Hejazi and Najd dialects. Those who live in Morocco speak the Hassaniyya dialect, and those settled in the Levant speak Bedawi Arabic.

Art and CultureEdit


Bedouin embroidery in Israel

Although most Bedouins live in urban towns enforced upon them, they practice the nomadic culture of their forefathers. However, Bedouins are not united and have no solid culture, and solely depends on the country of their residence.

Bedouin culture is often regarded as the purest form of Arab culture.

A popular activity among Bedouins of several nations include horse-back riding. Urbanized Bedouins also traditionally organize cultural festivals, usually held several times a year, in which they gather with other Bedouins to partake in, and learn about, various Bedouin traditions - from poetry recitation and traditional sword dances, to classes teaching traditional tent knitting and playing traditional Bedouin musical instruments. Traditions like camel riding and camping in the deserts are also popular leisure activities for urbanized Bedouins who live within close proximity to deserts or other wilderness areas.

Their outfit is also different from that of other Arabs, since the men wear long jellabiya (Arabic: جلابية) and a smagg (red white draped headcover) or aymemma (white headcover) or a white small headdress, sometimes held in place by an agall (a black cord). Bedouin women usually wear brightly coloured long dresses but outside they wear abaya (Arabic: العباءة) (a thin, long black coat sometimes covered with shiny embroidery) and they will always cover their head and hair with a 'tarha' (a black, thin shawl) when they leave their house.[37]

Along the Red Sea coast of Sudan and Egypt as well as the Sinai peninsula, most Beduin and some Badawi tribesmen prefer the Arabian style dishdash or thawb (Arabic: الثوب) over the Nile valley jalabiya, because of the latter's association with farming.


Main Article: Arab Cuisine



The vash majority of Bedouins follow Islam, the religion of most of their other Arab brethren. After the Islamic conquests, most Bedouins almost converted immedietely to the new faith. Most Bedouins are followers of the traditional Sunni section of Islam. Those Bedouins in North Africa follow the Ibadi branch (Arabic: الاباضية al-bāḍiyyah) of Sunni Islam, which teaches Muslims to dissociate with non-believers. This particular section of Islam is most predominant in North Africa and is the section followed by most African Muslims. Iraqi Bedouins follow Shia section Islam, as Iraq is Shia-majority nation.


There is a small group following Christianity. The early conversion of Arabians is attested in Acts 2:11 of the Bible. Modern-day Bedouin Christians can be found in Jordan, a multi-religious Arab state in the Levant, namely the Hijazeen (Arabic: حجازين) and the Akasheh (Arabic: عكاشة). .


Historically, some Arabian desert nomads did follow Judaism and this testament can only be found in Biblical sources and no such population exists today. In the Old Testament, Moses was known to have encountered a group of Bedouins after his plight from Egypt, what the Bible referred to as Kenites (Hebrew: הקיני) in the Land of Midian, which is located in the eastern and southern parts of the Arabian Peninsula. Moses married one of these Kenites, a woman by the name of Zipporah (Hebrew: ציפורה, Arabic: صفورة). Zipporah was the daughter of the tribal leader, who is referred to by several names in the Bible such as Hobab (Hebrew: חובב), Jethro (Hebrew: יתרו) and Reuel (Hebrew: רעואל) and Shua'yb (Arabic: شعيب).in Islamic and Druze sources.

Notable Bedouins or People of Bedouin descentEdit

Moses takes his leave of Jethro by Jan Victors, c. 1635, from the incident in Exodus 4-18. Jethro is seated on the left, in red(CROPPED)
Also by other names such as Hobab and Reuel, ancient tribal leader of the Kenite civilization, a nomadic group settling in the Levant and the Arabian Peninsula, he aided Moses and the Israelites during their journeys after the plight from Egypt, he also gave one of his seven daughters to Moses for marriage
Amos Yarkoni
עמוס ירקוני
Amos Yarkoni

Born as Abd el-Majid Hidr, an Israeli Bedouin officer in the Israel Defense Forces and one of six Israeli Arabs to have received the IDF's third highest decoration, the Medal of Distinguished Service. He was the first commander of the Shaked Reconnaissance Battalion of Israel's Southern command.

Ishmael Khaldi
إسماعيل الخالدي
220px-Ishmael Khaldi
An Israeli diplomat who is currently the first Bedouin in the Israeli Ministry of Foreign Affairs, he also served in the Israeli Ministry of Defense, Israeli Police and the Israel Defense Forces, he initiated project known as "Hike and Learn with Bedouins in the Galilee" teaching Jews about Bedouin culture and history which led him to become a diplomat
Taleb el-Sana
طلب الصانع

An Israeli politician and lawyer, and was the longest serving Arab Member of the Knesset until he was lost his seat in 2013. Born in Tel Arad in the Negev, he is of Bedouin descent. El-Sana studied law at the Hebrew University of Jerusalem and is a lawyer by profession. He is also active in many charitable organizations in the Negev.

Muhammadibn Abd-al-Wahab
محمد بن عبد الوهاب
An Islamic scholar from the Najd region of Saudi Arabia, he is the founder of the Islamic section known as Wahabism (although he or his followers never coined the term), along with Muhammad bin Saud, he helped found the First Saudi State
Hussein bin Ali
حسين بن على
Hussein bin Ali
An emir and sharif from Mecca who initiated the Arab Revolt against the Ottoman Empire and fueled Arab unification, he also became the king of the Kingdom of Hejaz, and after the Ottoman Empire's downfall in 1924, proclaimed himself ruler of the Islamic World

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