Egypt’s Eastern Gateway: the Sinai Peninsula as an Avenue for Transportation and Human Migration (978-9953-0-3012-8, 239 pp.), by Abbas Mustafa Ammar, was re-printed by the Arab Center for Research and Policy Studies (ACRPS) this July. First published in 1946—a year prior to the UN Partition of Palestine—the book appeared at a time when many Arab territories were under British and French control. This pivotal work forms the inaugural book in From the Folds of the Past, a planned ACRPS series devoted to the rediscovery of past Arabic scholarly work.
Over a nine-year period spent working on the book in the 1930s, Ammar had gotten to know the Sinai Peninsula’s cragged topography, and to study not only the ravines and geography of the region, but also the diversity of its population – an in-depth knowledge that makes itself apparent in the book. Using the tools available to him at the time, he demonstrates how the population density across the peninsula varied widely across the ages, influenced by rainfall, the development of transportation routes and the means of transport which carried pilgrims across this region which joined Africa to the Arabian Peninsula and the Levant.
The book begins with an exploration of the earliest human settlement of the Sinai Peninsula, and a discussion of its significance as a crossroads for human migration, with greater importance given to the periods following Islamic conquest. Ammar then focuses on specific trade routes within the peninsula which have been vital to global commerce, and traces their growth and development over time. To achieve this, Ammar employs a wide array of historical records including medieval Arabic chroniclers like Hamzeh Al Isfahani and Ibn Iyyas; more modern Arab scholars such as the Lebanese-Egyptian Georges Zeidan and the Palestinian historian Aref Al Aref; official documents from Britain, France and Germany; and the records of the Egyptian Coast Guard and Border Patrol service. Further cartographical resources are provide by maps drawn by Youssef Kamal in 1933.
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