Settlement of Sinai's wanderers

The Bedouins of Sinai, after centuries of wandering in one of the world's harshest deserts, are having second thoughts about their way of life. Thinking it might provide a better life than grazing goats, some 2,000 Bedouins have gathered in a shanty village on the shores of Lake Bardwil in the north of the peninsula to try their hand at fish-farming. One of the group, Mohammad Ali, said he came in the hope of a better future. Unlike many fellow-Bedouins who worked in Israel during the Israeli occupation, he stayed in the inhospitable land of his ancestors and saw how Israelis stocked the lake to make it yield fish.

The new settlement is supported by the Egyptian authorities as part of a Sinai development plan launched after Israel's final withdrawal a year ago. The plan envisages a 250-house village around the lake some 36 miles west of the city of Al-Arish near the Mediterranean coast. There are problems. Some worry that the lake is not as full of fish as it was under Israeli jurisdiction. Another source of discontent among the Bedouins is what they call harassment by the traditional fishermen of the lake.

Still, fish catches are up and the Sinai Development Authority plans to do more for other Bedouins. The head of the organization said three villages in northern Sinai are about to be completed to house more of Sinai's estimated 10, 000 Bedouins. ''Projects underway would give the Bedouins jobs that may lure them to settle,'' he added.

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