The hot, arid, desert-dominated peninsula covers 23,500 square miles (61,000 sq. km.). The 1960 Egyptian census of Sinai listed a population of 49,769. The tourist industry had helped more than triple that figure by the 21st century. The Peninsula's bedouin population, once the majority, became the minority, its lands expropriated with little or no compensation by an Egyptian government intent on developing the Sinai for tourism.
"Rich in pastel cliffs and canyons, arid valleys and startling green oases, the desert meets the sparkling sea in a long string of secluded beaches and vivid coral reefs that attract a wealth of underwater life," wrote David Shipler in 1981, when he was The New York Times bureau chief in Jerusalem. At the time, Israel had, in 1975, began inching away from the Sinai, which it has occupied since the 1967 Arab-Israeli war. It returned the entire peninsula to Egypt following the 1979 Camp David accords.
The Sinai has been inhabited since pre-historic times, and has been a trade route since then. Like its surrounding regions, it's been the treadmill of invaders and evaders, including, according to biblical legend, the Jews of Moses' Exodus escaping Egypt. Romans, Arabs, Ottomans, British and Israelis have successively called the Sinai theirs. The Sinai has, in the end, denied them a claim only Egypt has managed to call its own.