Since the archaeological site of Petra in Jordan was classified as a UNESCO World Heritage Site in 1985, Bedouins have had to leave the site and move to Uum Sayhoun – a small village where many houses lack electricity and water. The majority of the Bedouins, however, make a living from tourism around Petra. Photo: Johannes Lindh.

FUF-correspondents, Report

After the World Heritage classification: Bedouins have been forcibly relocated from Petra

One night, the Bedouins in Petra in Jordan wake up to find that they are to be moved without warning. Out of their caves where they lived for several hundred years to a hastily constructed village that will not accommodate everyoneput together. Petra has rated that one of UNESCO's World Heritage Sites, ma hhow are the indigenous people treated when their homes become a tourist attraction? 

A nomadic people huddled together in dilapidated sandstone houses. That's what you first see when you roll into Uum Sayhoun, a small village a few minutes from the town of Wadi Musa, the larger community closest to the well-known archaeological site of Petra. Everywhere in the streets of Uum Sayhoun, the struggle to keep traditions alive in an increasingly modernized world is going on.

Petra was populated as early as 8 years ago, but became a sandstone metropolis around 000 BC. then that Arab people the Nabateans excavated palaces and dwellings out of the soft rock walls and turned the site into a trading center.

Bedouins are a nomadic people who use nature and livestock and live simple lives in caves and tents. Their way of life spread throughout the Arab world. Few groups are nomadic today, but many still preserve the traditional way of life. The Bedouins in Petra mainly belong to the B'doul tribe – a people who settled in Petra around 200 years ago and claim to be the descendants of the Nabataeans.

But in 1985, when Petra was classified as one of UNESCO World Heritage, a major change occurred. When a site is classified as a World Heritage Site, the standard of restoration work is often higher, and the authorities then felt that the Bedouin presence at Petra risked damaging the area. Therefore got the Bedouins were no longer allowed to stay in the caves. As compensation, the Jordanian government constructed Uum Sayhoun, a simple village near the community of Wadi Musa. That all the Bedouins could not find a place or that many houses lacked electricity and water was not the Bedouin's biggest problem. The hardest blow was the threat to their millennial way of life. The process of assimilation led to them having to abandon their culture – they lost access to their crops and the pastures for their livestock.

Petra is also classified as part of the New Seven Wonders of the World - voted for by over 100 million people in a global poll. Photo: Johannes Lindh.

Today, Petra is also part of the new seven wonders of the world, and 95 percent of the Bedouins in Uum Sayhoun work with local tourism around Petra. They offer rides on donkeys and camels for a few Jordanian dinars, the local currency, and sell handmade jewelry and postcards.

“Life in Uum Sayhoun is a struggle”

At the only hostel in Uum Sayhoun, I meet 37-year-old Khaled, who belongs to the B'doul tribe. He is wearing a long goatskin coat. The clothes are made for a tiring existence among mountains and bushes, but during the day he sits behind his desk on the ground floor of a weathered sandstone house. Against the background of the forced displacements, I ask Khaled about the history of the village and his situation. It is clear that he is moved that someone takes an interest in the plight of his people.

He first talks about his 13-year-old cousin, who six months ago was arrested by the police at Petra for reasons Khaled has never been told. He hasn't heard from his cousin in months and worries daily.

- Life in Uum Sayhoun is a struggle. They forced us to move to a village that was too small for our population, says Khaled.

He recounts stories of young Bedouins who are arrested at the entrance to Petra without having committed any crime. According to him, it is the government's attempt to reduce the Bedouin presence at the country's biggest tourist attraction.

- Since we could no longer live on agriculture, almost everyone turned to tourism.

Khaled's father enters the room, hears the conversation and even compares their situation to that of the Palestinians in the West Bank.

- They force us out and move the foreigners in, says Khaled's father.

"We can't fit"

Petra has long been one of the world's most visited places for tourists. Tourism in Jordan has long accounted for over ten percent of the country's GDP, andver one million people visited the site in 2019, according to the Jordan Times. But the number of visitors has gone up and down. Under In 2015, the number of tourists fell by 32 percent the first eight months of the year due to the escalating war in Syria, according to the journal Ansa Med. Even during the corona years it decreased tourism in the country.

Due to the reduced number of visitors at Petra, it has now become even more difficult for the Bedouins to make a living. This has led some Bedouins to defy the prohibitions and returning to the caves.

One evening I sit outside the hostel and start talking to "Osama", who is actually called something else. He is a 25-year-old Bedouin who, after a day's work, has returned from Petra with his donkey. During the day, Osama has offered horse rides to the largest temple for 2 dinars per person, which is about 32 Swedish kronor. I ask him where the rest of the Bedouins went when Uum Sayhoun was built.

- They were sent to other villages far from here. Many of my friends were moved to houses without electricity, he says.

Osama tells us that it is not possible to expand Uum Sayhoun. He points to the steep slopes that surround the village.

- We cannot make the village bigger and we cannot build higher. No more houses will be built. We can't get a seat.

World Heritage labeling has advantages and disadvantages

The fact that a place is classified as a UNESCO World Heritage Site can have both positive and negative effects. That the place receives international attention often leads to increased tourism and economic growth. An example of that is the the Mexican city of San Miguel De Allende, which in 2008 was designated to a world heritage site. This led to increased tourism in the city, but also to the loss of belonging by the locals to their sacred place Atotonilco, according to the journal Atencion San Miguel.

When a place becomes a world heritage site, the demands for restoration and maintenance of the place increase. Then there is a risk that the local population will lose belonging to their cultural heritage.

- We lost our traditional way of life. We hope that our situation will be noticed and recognized so that the problem can be solved, says Khaled.

UNESCO World Heritage

United Nations Organization UNESCO maintains a list of world heritage sites to highlight the cultural-historical value of the sites. World Heritage consists of the cultural and natural environments in the world that are considered to be outstanding and of great importance to the whole mthe desire. What is a world heritage and how an object can be determined in the world heritage convention. Every country can suggest places to be on the list. A World Heritage Committee then decides, after consulting experts, whether the object meets the requirements and criteria found in the convention. The member country is then obliged to ensure that the world heritage is preserved for posterity.


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