The Bedouins, or Arabs of the Desert


Les Bédouins, ou Arabes du désert (The Bedouins, or Arabs of the desert) is a transcription and translation by F.J. Mayeux of original ethnographic notes by the Franco-Egyptian intellectual Dom Raphaël de Monachis (also known as Anton Zakhur, Antoun Zakhurah, al-Qass Rafa’il, and Rafa’l al-Qibti). A Melkite (Greek Catholic) priest who was born in Egypt in 1759, Dom Raphaël met Napoleon Bonaparte shortly after the latter arrived in Egypt with his army in 1798. He soon was attached as translator and cultural advisor to the prestigious Institut d’Égypte, of which he eventually became a member. The institute was established by Napoleon to advance research on the history and natural environment of Egypt. When Napoleon withdrew from Egypt in 1801, Dom Raphaël accompanied the French army back to Paris. He was appointed to the École des langues orientales (School of Oriental Languages), where he taught the Egyptian dialect of Arabic. With the Bourbon Restoration in 1815, he returned to Egypt and entered the service of Muhammad ‘Ali Basha, during whose reign (1805–48) Egypt turned to Europe, especially France, for technical assistance in modernizing the state and economy. Dom Raphaël is credited with being the first bicultural literary figure of Egypt, straddling the francophone and Arabic-speaking cultures. Les Bédouins demonstrates this amalgamation. The work bears the hallmarks of a pioneering European ethnographic approach to the tribes of Egypt, Palestine, and Syria. It is not certain whether the author ever encountered Bedouin in person or had more than book-based knowledge of their customs or even their locations, but this did not prevent him from offering strong opinions about their appearance, morals, or customs. Little is known about where and when Dom Raphaël wrote his notes. The scholar Sarga Moussa speculates that Mayeux was a student of Dom Raphaël’s who produced the translation from notes his teacher left behind when he departed from Paris. The book contains 24 plates by F. Massard.

Date Created

Subject Date

Publication Information

Ferra jeune, Paris


Title in Original Language

Les Bédouins, ou Arabes du désert

Type of Item

Physical Description

3 volumes, 24 plates ; 15 centimeters


  1. Sarga Moussa, “Le mythe de Bédouins a l’aube du XIX siècle: l’exemple de Dom Raphaël de Monachis,” LIRE—Littérature, idéologies, représentations, XVIIIe–XIXe siècles, in HAL archives-ouvertes

Last updated: September 22, 2015