I have recently started a research project aiming to understand how the Bedouins are coping with the changes that have shaken the Arab World since the end of WW2. One of my co-researchers is a young Bedouin woman. When we started to work together, I asked her to write for me a small text reflecting on Bedouin identity in Lebanon. She wrote the most concise and astute analysis of the Bedouins I have ever read. She titled it: The Settled Bedouins (I post with her permission):
"There is, in Lebanon, a social group present in all parts of the country. Its members carry the Lebanese citizenship, but this citizenship does not mean much to them, because of their inherent belief that the whole Arab World is their nation. These people are the Bedouins.
They are nomads who came from the Arabic Peninsula looking for pastures for their camels and their herds. They liked Lebanon's climate with its generous water and greenery. They started spending the summers in Lebanon and traveling back to the Badia (the Arabian Desert) during winter. But after the separation of Syria and Lebanon, Syria closed its borders and those who were in Lebanon stayed there.
In the past, the Bedouins used to be considered as a "well off" class, because they were self sufficient. In the second world war, when food became scarce and people went hungry in Lebanon, the Lebanese villagers sought their help. But after modernity and urbanization and rampant drought took hold of the country, they became impoverished. They turned from a self sufficient people who had its own livelihood, customs and Bedouin traditions into a different community. The Bedouins today are torn between the past and the present. In the past, they see their glorious history, as it was them who made the Great Arab Revolt and fought the colonialist over centuries, and provided the revolutionaries with weapons wherever they were present. In the present, they only see marginalization and dependency.
This situation has created a dichotomous cultural identity. One side of this identity is proud and exalted and sacred. It is located in their minds, where it is linked with their glorious past, rich in Arabism. The other side is reflected in their daily practice, and rich in imported values."