Sinai Peninsula, Arabic Shibh Jazīrat Sīnāʾ, triangular peninsula linking Africa with Asia and occupying an area of 23,500 square miles (61,000 square km). The Sinai Desert, as the peninsula’s arid expanse is called, is separated by the Gulf of Suez and the Suez Canal from the Eastern Desert of Egypt, but it continues eastward into the Negev desert without marked change of relief. Usually regarded as being geographically part of Asia, the Sinai Peninsula is the northeastern extremity of Egypt and adjoins Israel and the Gaza Strip on the east. The Sinai is administratively divided into two muḥāfaẓahs (governorates): Shamāl Sīnāʾ in the north and Janūb Sīnāʾ in the south. The peninsula was occupied by Israeli forces during the Six-Day War of June 1967 but was returned to Egypt in 1982 under the terms of the peace treaty concluded between those countries in 1979
The Sinai Peninsula lies between the Gulf of Suez and the Suez Canal on the west and the Gulf of Aqaba and the Negev on the east, and it is bounded by the Mediterranean Sea on the north and the Red Sea to the south. Its greatest dimensions are about 130 miles (210 km) from east to west and about 240 miles (385 km) from north to south.
The Sinai has been inhabited since prehistoric times. The earliest written information about it dates from 3000 BCE, when the ancient Egyptians recorded their explorations there in search of copper ores. The passage of the Israelites through the Sinai is undoubted, but the route and the date of their Exodus are still matters of debate. The Sinai is likewise famous as the scene of the giving of the Law to Moses, but there is doubt as to which of the mountains there is the actual site. A road along the Sinai’s northern coast served as the principal trade route between Egypt and Palestine for many centuries, and it is likely that Egypt erected a chain of fortresses to guard this route. After the decline of the Egyptian empire, Nabataeans from Petra controlled the trade routes of the Sinai for two centuries, until they were defeated by the Romans in 106 CE. The region then became part of the province of Arabia in the Roman Empire.
During the early Christian period, the Sinai became the home of a large number of hermits and ascetics, particularly in the mountainous southern region. In 530 CE the Byzantine emperor Justinian I began building the monastery of St. Catherine on the lower slopes of Mount Sinai. This provided a center for the scattered communities of Christians in the area, and the monastery served as a pilgrimage site throughout the Middle Ages. After 1517 the Sinai formed part of the Ottoman Empire and was administered by an official sent from Constantinople (now Istanbul). Conditions in the Sinai deteriorated, and traveling there became difficult after Egypt became independent of direct Turkish rule in the early 19th century. The Al-ʿArīsh area was the scene of fighting between the Turks and the British during World War I, and at the war’s end, the Sinai was turned over to Egypt.
The Sinai was administered by Egypt until the Israelis overran the peninsula in the Six-Day War of June 1967. It was the focus of Israeli-Egyptian combat in every military confrontation between the two countries from 1949 to 1973, the Giddy and Mitla pass in the peninsula’s northeastern portion being the scene of bitter fighting in 1956, 1967, and 1973. (See Arab-Israeli wars.) Following the peace agreement reached between Egypt and Israel in 1979, the Sinai Peninsula was returned to Egypt and demilitarized under the terms of the agreement. The peninsula was later the site of a number of attacks by militant Islamist groups; primarily targeting tourists, the attacks included those in Ṭābā (and elsewhere) in October 2004, in Sharm el-Sheikh in July 2005, and in Dhahab in April 2006. Egyptian military personnel and civilian residents of the peninsula became the focus of attacks in the 2010s after the Egyptian Uprising of 2011 exacerbated a security vacuum. On November 24, 2017, an attack on a Sufi mosque in Al-Rawḍah (near Al-ʿArīsh) killed some 300 worshippers in the deadliest terrorist attack in Egyptian history.
Two young Bedouins making bread in the desert
The two governorates of North and South Sinai have a total population of 597,000 (January 2013). 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 Suez live in west Sinai, while the rest live on the western side of the Suez Canal.
The population of Sinai has largely consisted of desert-dwelling Bedouins with their colorful traditional costumes and significant culture. Large numbers of Egyptians from the Nile Valley and Delta moved to the area to work in tourism, but development adversely affected the native Bedouin population. 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
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
there are special organized tours to the area