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Photos: In a cultural first, Bedouin women lead tours in Egypt’s Sinai

Photos: In a cultural first, Bedouin women lead tours in Egypt’s Sinai
Umm Yasser at the windows of her home. Some attitudes are changing. Mohammed Salman, an elderly man from the Aligat tribe, said he thought the guides project was a great step for women. “If a woman wants to work, she should be able to have the right to,” he said. “Many men say no, a woman’s place is at home. But I’m sick of this ideology. She’s a human being.” (Nariman El-Mofty / AP)
Julie Patterson, a Sinai Trail trip officer rests with Umm Yasser. Younger Bedouin girls tagged along with the group and talked about wanting to be female guides in the future. “This trip is going down in history and will be talked about,” said Paterson. “It might also go into Bedouin oral history.” (Nariman El-Mofty / AP)
Umm Yasser (C), leads women on a trek in the mountains, near Wadi Sahw, Abu Zenima, in South Sinai, Egypt. Amid a stunning vista of desert mountains, a Bedouin woman, Umm Yasser, paused to point out a local plant, and she began to explain how it was used in medicine to the group of foreign tourists she was guiding. (Nariman El-Mofty / AP)
(L-R) The first female Bedouin guides, Selima, Umm Yasser, Umm Soliman, and Aicha. Umm Yasser is breaking new ground among the Bedouin as one of four women from the community who for the first time are working as tour guides. “It is against our culture, but women need jobs,” the 47-year-old said. “People will make fun of us, but I don’t care. I’m a strong woman.” (Nariman El-Mofty / AP)
They women are part of Sinai Trail, a unique project in which local Bedouin tribes came together to develop tourism. Founded in 2015, the project has set up a 550-kilometer trail through the remote mountains and the lands of eight tribes, each contributing guides. The project has been successful in bringing them some income. The tribes often complain of being left out of the major tourism development. (Nariman El-Mofty / AP)
Umm Yasser on a trek. Until now, all the project’s guides were men. Ben Hoffler, its British co-founder, felt it was not enough. “How can we be credible calling this the ‘Sinai Trail’ if the women aren’t involved?” But even after years of trying, almost all the tribes reject women guides. Only one of the smallest, oldest and poorest tribes, the Hamada, accepted the idea –with certain conditions. (Nariman El-Mofty / AP)
The tourists can only be women, and the tours can’t go overnight. Each day before the sun sets, the group returns to the Hamada’s home village in Wadi Sahu, a narrow desert valley. The organizers also urge the tourists to photograph the guides only when they are wearing a full veil over the face that covers even the eyes with mesh. Umm Yasser was the first to join. (Nariman El-Mofty / AP)
Umm Yasser looks at Umm Soliman as she plays the flute. Umm Yasser said she started hiking when she was a child and knows the mountains and the valley by heart. She convinced the families of the others to allow them to work. “We need money to help support our families for basic necessities,” Umm Yasser said. “We need blankets, clothes for the children, washing machines, fridges, books for school.” (Nariman El-Mofty / AP)
An Egyptian student on a trek looks at water remaining after a rainfall. The Sinai Trail came together in some of the hardest years for tourism. It launched as an Islamic State group-linked insurgency intensified in the northern part of Sinai and a year after a Russian passenger plane crashed, killing all 224 passengers on board in a likely bombing. (Nariman El-Mofty / AP)
Tourists trek in the mountains near Wadi Sahw in South Sinai. Violence has stayed far from southern Sinai, where tourist resorts are located — but the industry has had to push hard to win tourists back. On a recent tour joined by the Associated Press, 16 female tourists — from Korea, New Zealand, Europe, Lebanon and Egypt were led through the rugged landscape in and around Wadi Sahu. (Nariman El-Mofty / AP)
An Egyptian student borrows a Bedouin wedding dress for a photograph with Hamada Bedouin men. “I think south Sinai is safe especially when you are in the care of Bedouins. ... This is where I feel at home. Every corner there is scenery and another beautiful view,” said Marion Salwegter, a 68-year-old Dutch woman who travels to southern Sinai every year alone to escape the winters in Holland. (Nariman El-Mofty / AP)
During the two-day tour, the group hiked across an endlessly broad landscape of mountain peaks and valleys of dry riverbeds. While male Bedouin guides range far from home, the women tend to move closer, with an exceptionally rich knowledge of the surrounding mountains. The guides talked about the local plants and herbs, the history and legends of the area and pointed out the borders of the area’s tribes. (Nariman El-Mofty / AP)
Umm Yasser offers tea during a women’s only circle of tourists and Bedouin from the Hamada tribe. In the evening, the group returned to the Hamada tribe’s village. The women sat on the floor of Umm Yasser’s home and the tourists asked the guide about life in the village, marriage and divorce. (Nariman El-Mofty / AP)
Women eat in Umm Yasser’s home in Wadi Sahw. Umm Yasser is skeptical other Bedouin women will join her as a guide or in working in general any time soon. But, she said, “There is no shame in working. This is what I believe in, and it makes me strong.” (Nariman El-Mofty / AP)

about the gallery

Four Bedouin women are for the first time leading tours in Egypt’s Sinai Peninsula, breaking new ground in their deeply conservative community, where women almost never work outside the home or interact with outsiders. The tourists can only be women, and the tours can’t go overnight. Each day before the sun sets, the group returns to the Hamada’s home village in Wadi Sahu, a narrow desert valley.
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