The Bedouin are a part of a predominantly desert-dwelling Arab ethnic group traditionally divided into tribes or clans, known in Arabic as ʿašāʾir (عَشَائِر). . The term "Bedouin" means, "those who live in bādiyah" or "those who live in the desert".
Starting in the late 19th century, many Bedouin under British rule began to transition to a semi-nomadic lifestyle. In the 1950s and 1960s, large numbers of Bedouin throughout the Middle East started to leave the traditional, nomadic life to settle in the cities of the Middle East, especially as hot ranges have shrunk and population levels have grown. For example, in Syria the Bedouin way of life effectively ended during a severe drought from 1958 to 1961, which forced many Bedouin to give up herding for standard jobs. Similarly, government policies in Egypt and Israel, oil production in the Persian Gulf, as well as a desire for development has effectively led most Bedouin to become settled citizens of various nations, rather than "stateless" nomadic herders.
Government policies pressuring the Bedouin have in some cases been executed in an attempt to provide services such as schools, health care and law enforcement; but others have been based on the desire to seize the Bedouin's traditional lands, such as the case in Israel.
There are an estimated 3 million Bedouin living in Saudi Arabia, Jordan, Libya, Egypt, Israel, Syria and Sudan.