Thursday,21 June, 2018
Current issue | Issue 1361, (21 - 27 September 2017)
Thursday,21 June, 2018
Issue 1361, (21 - 27 September 2017)

Ahram Weekly

Our mare nostrum

While the region boils over with conflict, Samir Sobhi celebrates the Red Sea

Notwithstanding its status as a natural reserve and its Biblical associations (the story of baby Moses being lost and found on its shore and the Israelites’ Crossing of the Sea of Reeds during Exodus), the Red Sea is to the Middle East what the Mediterranean is to Europe. It is our sea, where some of our most unique resources including 200 species of fish, lava, limestone, minerals, quartz and precious stones can be found.

The Red Sea is the world’s best and largest coral reef habitat. Reefs grow along most of the 1,240 miles of the coast and range in age between five and seven thousand years. It has one of the lowest rates of salinity and highest water temperatures in the world. The Red Sea is also full of volcanic islands, the most recent eruption having occurred in 2007 in Jabal Al-Tair. The Ras Mohamed protectorate, established in 1983, is among Egypt’s attempts to protect the Red Sea’s outstanding natural beauty; it attracts divers as well as general tourism.

The Red Sea both links and separates Africa and Asia, and connects the Arab world to the Indian Ocean through the Gulf of Aden and the Strait of Bab Al-Mandab thereby bringing the Sinai peninsula, the gulfs of Aqaba and Suez and (via the Suez Canal) the Mediterranean itself in contact with India and southern Africa.

This is a purpose the Red Sea has served since the dawn of civilisation, when the ancient Egyptians sought to establish a commercial channel linking north to south and east to west. A canal once linked the Nile to the Red Sea coast at present-day Suez. Later the Red Sea was the among the principal battle grounds for the two great empires eventually overtaken by the Muslim Conquests: the Byzantines and the Sassanids. 

Since Napoleon Bonaparte’s 1798 failed campaign in Egypt and Syria, through the opening of the Suez Canal 1869, then the First and the Second World Wars, the Red Sea has been as much as anything the sea of war. It was recently known for Somali piracy operations. But now that the borders have been re-established with Saudi Arabia, and with the search for oil and natural gas below the seabed underway, perhaps it is also a sea of hope. 

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