The Sinai Peninsula, a roughly triangularly-shaped, arid region, lies at a strategic point between the continents of Africa and Asia. The western boundaries of the peninsula are formed by the Suez Canal in Egypt, and the northeastern boundary is formed by the Israeli-Egyptian border. The Sinai Peninsula is bounded by the Mediterranean Sea to the north and the Red Sea to the south. The peninsula covers an area of about 61,000 square kilometers, and is geographically part of both North Africa and southwest Asia (or the Middle East).
Evidence of human life on the Sinai Peninsula shows that the region was inhabited as early as 200,000 years ago. Copper and turquoise mining in the Sinai, fostered by the Egyptian pharaohs, had already begun during the First Dynasty of Ancient Egypt. The Sinai Peninsula also holds a special place in Biblical history, as it is where Abraham and Moses, the two great Bible personalities, are believed to have inhabited and/or crossed the region at some point of time. For a long time in history, the Sinai Peninsula was under the control of the Ottoman Empire, but the Ottoman Turks were displaced from the region by British rule in 1906. The Arab-Israeli War, beginning in 1948, witnessed intense fighting between Egypt and the newly created state of Israel to control the Sinai Peninsula. As per the 1949 Armistice Agreement, Sinai was placed under Egyptian rule. However, for decades Egypt and Israel continued to fight over the strategic Sinai territory and, after the Six-Day War of 1967, Israeli forces occupied the Sinai territory. Finally, in 1979, a peace treaty between the two countries allowed Egypt to once more control the Sinai Peninsula, and Israeli forces had pulled out of the region by 1982.
The Sinai Peninsula has immense political and religious significance in today’s world. The site witnessed the decades-long conflict between Israel and Egypt, and illegal cross border movements of armed militants, drug dealers, and refugees in the region still pose a huge problem to both Egypt and Israel. Though the Sinai is a part of Egypt, its relative geographical isolation gives way to a lax state of security in the region. Most of Egypt’s economic gains from the peninsula are based from the tourism industry's revenues, especially those tourist endeavors operating along the southern Sinai's Red Sea coastline. The Sinai Peninsula also draws a significant number of Muslim, Christian, and Jewish religious pilgrims because of its significant ancient associations with each of these religions. Over 360,000 people inhabit the region, many depending on agriculture and livestock raising for their livelihoods, with human populations concentrated primarily in the northern and western fringes. Small scale petroleum and manganese industries also operate towards the west of the Sinai Peninsula, closer to the major mineral markets of Egypt..
Habitat and Biodiversity
The climate of the Sinai Peninsula varies from north to south. Summer months in the north are extremely hot and dry, while winters are cooler and accompanied by a relatively high amount of precipitation. The southern parts of the peninsula are more arid and hot, though occasional showers of rain do occur in the summertime. The region has a rugged landscape with mountains and hills, and the higher peaks receive snowfall in winter. The coastal areas have high levels of humidity and support coral reef habitats. Leopards, gazelles, sand foxes, jackals, wild cats, ibexes, various species of rodents, several species of poisonous snakes, lizards, and such birds as falcons, eagles, grouse, and partridges all occupy the arid habitats in the interiors of the peninsula. Black cobras, Carpet vipers, and Horned Vipers are among the highly poisonous snakes of the region. The coral reefs along the peninsula's costs also house a rich diversity of marine plant and animal species.
Environmental Threats and Territorial Disputes
The strategic location of the Sinai Peninsula often renders it as a hotbed of military activities, with major powers trying to capture control over the region for reaping its many prospective economic benefits. Currently, however, one of the greatest threats to the peninsula comes from ISIS-linked militants, who are waging a guerrilla-style war against the Egyptian military forces in the peninsula. The peninsular routes have also been used by African immigrants from Sudan and Eritrea to enter Israel, causing much trouble for Israel, and forcing it to tighten security around its borders. The drug smuggling trade which is active in the region also creates nuisances for law enforcement in Egypt as well as well as Israel, and many cases of violence are linked to such illegal activities. As a consequence of the Egyptian and Israeli occupancy with solving political and military threats in the region, unfortunately not much attention is being paid to the rapidly disappearing flora and fauna of the region.
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