Bedouin in Lebanon: The Transformation of a Way of Life or an Attitude?

By Dawn Chatty
Submitted to Session P2104 (Assessing Reproductive Health Care amongst Marginalized Communities: Bedouin in Lebanon, 2009 Annual Meeting
Diaspora/Refugee Studies;
The populations of the Middle East have experienced particularly rapid socio-economic change over the past forty years due largely to the discovery and exploitation of oil, and the consolidation of the nation-state. The basic social, political and cultural rights of the pastoral populations ( the Bedouin ) of the peninsula have largely been ignored, in part due to their remoteness and inaccessibility, but also due to the very fact of their mobility and physical marginality. Government services, based upon Western models, are designed for fixed, permanently domiciled populations. Pastoral society organization, with its mobile and constantly shifting households, does not fit into existing paradigms of Western-inspired development. Shortage in resources and funds of ministries of health, have restricted public health services and the establishment of services specifically designed to reach such peoples. In the arena of health care, these marginal, sometimes mobile, and often remote populations have largely been excluded or have excluded themselves from government reproductive health care efforts.

Reproductive health has been a major issue for the Arab world with findings of national studies of maternal mortality creating particular concern. Further studies have taken place on gynecological morbidity, family planning utilization and the quality of care. None of these studies included marginal, mobile and/or settled Bedouin. Those that have settled have had only limited provision within or nearby their rural hamlets. In addition attitudes towards such peoples have often been negative because of the historical marginalization of Bedouin who are considered by some to be “uncivilized” or even ‘ignorant and dirty’. This paper seeks to explore the history of the long unacknowledged association of Bedouin with Lebanon. It seeks to understand whether, with the recent settlement of Bedouin in the country over the past three decades, the earlier marginalization and discrimination of these peoples is being transformed as they enter into more regularly contact with local and regional Lebanese authorities. In this way, the paper seeks to contextualize current attitudes regarding Bedouin in Lebanon as an explanatory element in assessing contemporary reproductive health care of Lebanon’s Bedouin.