28 September, 2010 — Middle East Report 256 – Fall 2010

In the last two years, Washington and its allies have trained their gaze upon the western tip of what Zbigniew Brzezinski and others have called the “arc of crisis.” The capture of several merchant vessels by pirates in the Red Sea and the failed underwear bombing of Christmas 2009 have prompted extensive media coverage, much of it breathless, predicting that “the next Afghanistan” will emerge in this region. The fall 2010 issue of Middle East Report, “Red Sea Roiling,” surveys the hot spots ringing the waters separating the Horn of Africa from Yemen.

The deployment of the US Navy as part of four multi-national anti-piracy task forces in the Red Sea and Indian Ocean is arguably the Obama administration’s most significant intervention in Africa to date. US policy is based on prosecution of pirates, as well as forlorn hope of rebuilding the “failed state” of Somalia, whence most of the maritime bandits come. As historian George Trumbull writes, the persistence of Red Sea piracy is not so much a consequence of state failure as an indictment of the failed state concept. Anthropologist Jatin Dua guides a tour of the gray-market economy of the Kenyan port of Mombasa, a modern-day pirate’s port of call.

States around the Red Sea face major socio-political unrest. Veteran Yemen scholar Susanne Dahlgren examines the roots of the popular movement in southern Yemen against northern “occupation,” some elements of which want to secede. Chris Toensing and Amanda Ufheil-Somers offer a primer on the north-south conflict in Sudan, which appears likely to culminate in the secession of the southern provinces. Not coincidentally, the north-south boundary region in Sudan is the location of major oil deposits — which have attracted the investment of the Red Sea region’s new outside player, China.

Philip McCrum explains how China’s entanglements in Africa and the Middle East are testing its default foreign policy of non-intervention and shaping a potential arena of great-power conflict.

Also featured: Rebecca Manski lays out the history of Israel’s Blueprint Negev; Nicholas Seeley investigates aid to Jordan for Iraqi refugees; Egyptian labor activists assess the last decade’s strike wave; Chris Toensing reviews The Tillman Story; MERIP remembers Nasr Hamid Abu Zayd; and more.

Subscribe to Middle East Report or order individual copies online at MERIP’s website.

For further information, contact Chris Toensing at

Middle East Report is published by the Middle East Research and Information Project (MERIP), a progressive, independent organization based in Washington, DC. Since 1971 MERIP has provided critical analysis of the Middle East, focusing on political economy, popular struggles and the implications of US and international policy for the region.

Middle East Report Online is a free service of the Middle East Research and Information Project (MERIP).

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