Once the undisputed masters of the desert,
Bedouin tribes have diminished over the last couple of
centuries mostly due to governments intent on taxation and
political control to become only about 10% of today's
Saudi population. They are still a distinct sect and
although Nayir al-Sharqi is not a Bedouin by blood he has
been raised as one which sets him apart from urban Arabs in
several ways. First and foremost, he knows his way around
the desert while his urban friends (whose ancestors were
likely Bedouins) would never think of leaving home without
Bedouins (from the Arabic word bedu, meaning inhabitants of the desert) have controlled the desert trade routes for thousands of years as nomads who followed livestock migration routes, providing meat and dairy products to desert communities. Due to their knowledge of the shifting desert sands they were and are often hired to escort caravans as guides and drivers. Their knowledge and expertise of tracking and desert navigation is legendary. In Finding Nouf Nayir calls upon his Bedouin friend to read the crime scene tracks and footprints. The man claims an ability so precise as to distinguish between new and old footprints, those made at night and during the day and which prints belong to men or to women even though they may have worn the same type of shoe.
Despite being among the poorest of Saudi citizens as nomads they have, by custom, eschewed personal possessions Bedouins have long been held in high esteem as models of Islamic behavior. Thus Nayir feels compelled to behave accordingly and the pressure to measure up to his Bedouin upbringing is evident as he labors to avoid any taint of impropriety in his dealings with women. The reputation is a mixed bag, however, both uplifting and a burden, because he enjoys the way his friends trust him around their women but it is frustrating when some look upon him almost as a eunuch.
Finally, Nayir is proud to be associated with the Bedouins because of their strict code of ethics which maintains values such as loyalty, obedience, generosity, hospitality, honor, cunning and revenge. However, he isn't as superstitious as many Bedouins and doesn't believe in the evil eye or in Jinns.
Also of interest: A short history of Saudi Arabia in the sidebar to The Siege of Mecca.
This article was originally published in June 2008, and has been updated for the
May 2009 paperback release.
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