Virtually the entire High Mountain area of South Sinai, 4350 km2 was designated a Protectorate in 1988 in recognition of the “area’s conservation importance in terms of the geological formations, unique biological features and its internationally renowned religious, historical and cultural heritage”.
In 1996, the boundaries were defined and staff and resources allocated for its management as part of a five year development plan, supported by a 6 million euro grant from the European Union.
At the end of this period a management plan was agreed in which the protectorate was managed as a Protected Landscape (classified as Category V by the International Union for the Conservation of Nature).
This identification of the St Katherine Protectorate as a Protected Landscape recognises not only its exceptional geological features, plants and wildlife, but also its moulding over millennia by the people who live in it, giving it a unique personal and spiritual significance, not as a cultural relic, but as a continuing association between a people and their natural environment.
For the St Katherine Protectorate, this requires a recognition of the important role played by the Monastic and Bedouin communities in the formation of the landscape, a respect for their past stewardship of the land as well as their current attachment to it, and a necessity to engage them in its sustainable development for the future.
Responsibility for the management of the Protectorate now lies with the Egyptian Environmental Affairs Agency, with a local office in St Katherine and a staff of 69, including Rangers, Community Guards and temporary staff.
Park fees were introduced in 2004 which net over a million dollars per year though only a small portion of this is returned to the Protectorate for its management.
Adequate funding and staffing in the future will be essential if the Protectorate is to meet the coming challenges to this sensitive landscape.
The Governorship of South Sinai has overall responsibility for regional development and development strategies for industry, housing, road and tourism projects, and can override any decisions or prescriptions taken by the local protectorate management.
It is in the interests of the Protectorate, therefore, that both partners in the management of the Protectorate have the same vision for the future.
In addition, antiquities within the area are managed by the Egyptian Supreme Council of Antiquities, working through the South Sinai Regional Office of the Egyptian Antiquities Organization at El-Tur.
The Monastery is the property of the Greek Orthodox Church and belongs to the Archdiocese of Sinai under the hierarchical system of the Eastern Orthodox Church. It is a self-governing and independent monastery, under the administration of the Abbot, who has the rank of Archbishop of St Catherine, Feiran and El Tur, the smallest diocese in the world.
In recognition of its universal and outstanding values, in 2002 the 641-km2 core area of the Protectorate was inscribed by the UNESCO World Heritage Committee as the St Catherine World Heritage Area.
Its inscription as a World Heritage Area was based on the cultural value of the monastery and its setting in the rugged landscape that inspired the early anchorites, including Mt Sinai, Mt St Catherine and the entire area encircled by the Precambrian circular volcanic dyke.
As party to the World Heritage Convention, Egypt was invited by the Committee to implement a sustainable development plan for the area which would retain its Bedouin character consistent with its management as a Protected Landscape.
(Thanks to Dr John Grainger and Dr Francis Gilbert and their paper, Around the Sacred Mountain, the St Katherine Protectorate in South Sinai, Egypt, 2009)