Eastern Desert

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Also called the Arabian Desert; it makes up almost a quarter of Egypt's land surface, covering an area of 85,690 square miles (221,937 sq km).

The northern sector, from the Mediterranean coast to the latitude of Qena, is a limestone plateau marked by rolling hills. At Qena the Eastern Desert is marked by cliffs, some as high as 6,500 feet (2,000 m), and scored by deep wadis (dry streambeds or valleys) that are difficult to cross. Farther south the desert becomes a sandstone plateau broken by ravines, but some can be traversed easily, such as the ancient trade route from the Nile River to al-Qusayr. In the eastern section of the desert, a chain of hills, more like a series of interlocking systems than a continuous range, runs from near Suez south to the border of the Sudan. At the foot of these hills lies the Red Sea coastal plain, which gradually widens as one moves south.

The sedentary population lives in towns and villages on the Red Sea coast; their main occupations are fishing, transport, and serving the growing Red Sea tourist trade. Nomadic pastoralists make up about 10 percent of the Eastern Desert's population. Pasturelands and water suffice to support small herds of sheep, goats, and camels. Arab tribes include the Huwaytat, Maʿaza, and Ababda. In the south are the Bisharin, part of the Beja, a Hamitic ethnic group.

See also Beja.


Hobbs, Joseph J. Bedouin Life in the Egyptian Wilderness. Austin: University of Texas Press, 1989.

Metz, Helen Chapin, ed. Egypt: A Country Study, 5th edition. Washington, DC: U.S. Government Printing Office, 1991.

Tregenza, L. A. Egyptian Years. London and New York: Oxford University Press, 1958.

arthur goldschmidt

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Eastern Desert

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Eastern Desert