Book Review: Sinai - the eastern entrance to Egypt

Mahmoud El-Wardani, Tuesday 13 Jan 2015

The book, which was released 70 years ago, is still one of the most important books on the Sinai Peninsula.


Al-Madkhal Al-Sharqi li Misr  (The Eastern Entrance to Egypt – the importance of the Sinai Peninsula as a Route for Transportation and a Passage for Human Migrations) by Abbas Mostafa Ammar, General Organization for Culture Palaces Publishing, The Memory of Writing  Series, Cairo, 2014, 210 pp.

Despite the fact that almost seventy years have passed since the publication of this book's first edition, it is still one of the most important scientific references about the eastern entrance to Egypt and more specifically the importance of the Sinai Peninsula. For it was the gate which the invaders kept using since the Pharaonic ages to pounce on Egypt and occupy it. At the same time, it was the gate which the Egyptian armies, also since the Pharaonic ages, passed through to neighbouring kingdoms to subdue or annex them. It is one of the most important references about the importance of the Sinai Peninsula as a route for transportation and a passage for waves of human migration.

According to the definition mentioned in the book's introduction, its first edition was published by the French Institute of Oriental Archaeology publications, in Cairo in 1946, i.e. just one year before of the UN resolution dividing Palestine which has Sinai as its western entrance. As for the author, he was born in 1907 and obtained a PhD in Anthropology from Manchester University in 1940. In addition to his academic work as a professor in the Egyptian University, he was chosen as a consultant to the Egyptian delegation assigned to present the Egyptian national cause to the Security Council. He held several prominent positions such as being a minister for social affairs and education. The last position he occupied was Deputy Director for the International Labour Organization in Geneva.

The author spent nearly nine years studying the geography and topography of Sinai and its mountains, the migrations which passed through it, the tribes which settled in different areas there. Of course, this was in addition to his thorough reading of the official agreements designating Egypt's eastern borders, governmental authorities' reports since the twenties of the last century, such as the coast guards and mining departments and before all this and after reading maps and atlases.

On another perspective, the author of this valuable reference didn't divide his work into chapters and sections but he preferred to present a detailed sequential description in the form of titles and subheadings following each other. He starts with identifying the location of the Peninsula then its military significance, its trade importance, its usage as a route in the journeys of pilgrimage for those coming from the Maghreb countries to Mecca, its routes and pathways, its tribes and their origins, their settling areas and its members vocations and so on. By the end of these sequential titles, the reader would have gotten an integrated picture comprising everything related to Sinai since the ancient times until the second half of the forties of the last century.  

From the very first pages, the military significance of Sinai becomes obvious where it witnessed mass migration waves and big organised invasions, perhaps the most important of which are the Hyksos invasion and the Arab invasion at the period of Islamic expansion and other peaceful migrations such as the Canaanite migrations.

According to the author, those who follow Egypt's history will see that Egypt after the expulsion of Hyksos during Ahmose reign entered a new stage in conquering Asia and that the war of independence and getting rid of those shepherds inspired Egyptians with a strong military spirit. If Akhenaten reign made Egypt lose some of its possessions in Asia, the Nineteenth Dynasty – and particularly Ramses the Great – led expeditions to discipline the Hittites and regained Egypt's prestige.

Then Egypt enters its weakness periods and Assyrians and the Persians start to fight over its rule until Alexander the Great occupies it when his armies marched through Sinai and reached Egypt in the last third of the fourth century B.C.

After the end of the Ptolemies, Egypt returns to expansion and send its armies through Sinai to regain some lands of Palestine. As for the Muslim armies, they also marched through Sinai to invade Egypt during the Byzantine hegemony over Egypt in 641 A.D.  

Thus, the armies' movements didn't stop through the Peninsula from Egypt and into it in the days of the Crusades, Mamluks and Ottoman Turks. In the late eighteenth century, Napoleon Bonaparte led an expedition towards the Levant through Sinai. When Muhammad Ali ruled Egypt, his armies crossed Sinai to the Hejaz and the Levant and began to approach the capital of the Ottoman Caliphate. After the British occupation started in 1882, Sinai remained the nexus between Egypt and the Ottoman provinces. In WWI, a Turkish expedition crossed the Peninsula twice in order to attack the Suez Canal and British troops immediately marched and made the line of defence for the Canal in the land of Palestine.

The same thing occurred in 1948 after the Zionist occupation of Palestine, then in 1956 during the Tripartite Aggression, and in 1967 and 1973. Although the author had died before these events, however the foundation which he had laid concerning Sinai recurred obviously.

Anyway, the author goes on describing Sinai geographically and climatically with the aid of different maps. He also devotes extremely important spaces about the Sinai tribes and their distribution; where he used to go personally to Arab chieftains and ask them direct questions about any vague detail and didn't find an explanation for in available references. He has also discussed the Peninsula's resources and potentialities.

Finally, although when the book was published there weren't any problems on Egypt's eastern borders, the author decided to end his book with a special annex explaining the agreements, firmans (Ottoman's edict) and treaties which designated these borders in 1906. This was of immeasurable help for the Egyptian negotiating team in the International Court of Justice in Geneva in the eighties of the last century during the execution of the Peace Treaty between Egypt and Israel. Through this book, Egypt was able to regain all its borders despite Israel's attempt to seize a part of these borders.



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