Note on Red Sea & Red Sea citizens

A Nickname is a descriptive substitute for one’s proper name, of a person or thing which is being used to express certain affections. Undoubtedly, humans, animals and even countries might enclose nicknames alongside their proper names too. The then an alternate name is a descriptive one that connects its holder with symbolic, geographic, natural resources and spiritual affections in a more descriptive methods, which in some occasions it could have the potential to replace the proper forename too. In this case countries might have nicknames also.

On the whole, there are more than 46 best country nicknames in this world and this moment. Proof of this, ‘The Land of the Upright Men’ represents Burkinofaso, ‘The Gift of the Nile’ represents Egypt, ‘The Kingdom In The Sky’ represents Lesotho, ‘The Red Island ‘to Madagascar, ‘Land of a Thousand Hills’ to Rwanda, ‘Rainbow Nation’ to South Africa, and ‘The Pearl of Africa’ to Uganda.

As well as that, this is relevant to an Eritrean case too. For example Asmara is well known by a nickname of “Little Rome” as well. Importantly, the name ‘Eritrea’ is an ancient name associated in the past with its Greek form ‘Erythraia’. This name relates to that of the Red Sea, the then called the ‘Erythræan Sea’, from the Greek for “red”, erythros. The Red Sea is one of four seas named in English after common color terms – the others being the Black Sea, the White Sea and the Yellow Sea which the name of the sea may signify the seasonal blooms of the red-colored and accordingly Red Sea is a direct translation of the Greek ‘Erythra Thalassa’. For this reason, the direct linkage of the name Eritrea with that of the Red Sea is being starting from this realty. Therefore, Red Sea is the direct translation of the name Eritrea, to start with literally speaking.

Similarly, we are living on a blue planet with oceans and seas covering more than 70 per cent of the Earth. Besides, Oceans and Seas are the best source of food and they do regulate the world’s climate too. In this case, Eritrea is a costal country which is blessed with having more than 1200 km coastal territory and more than 350 islands.

Territorially speaking, Eritrea is amongst the top 100 countries of the world which is ranked #99th from 196 world territories in terms of its size. So, Eritrea is not a small country.

Most importantly, Eritrea is ranked #10th vis-a-vis territorial proportion to water from all countries of the world. In this case, it is not surprising to give a nickname to everything and anything and Eritrea is not an exception here. Then, who doubts Eritrea to have a nickname something like; ‘the gift of the Red Sea’ or its inhabitants as ‘a rightful Red Sea citizens’?

Eritrea’s strategic coastline, facing Saudi Arabia and Yemen and stretching to the slim southern entry to the Red Sea at Bab al-Mandab, rewards the country a special notice from both naval projection and trade perspectives. In fact, from the perspectives of the Red Sea region Eritrea’s location is a gate-way to engage with the resource rich Horn of Africa too.

Thus, this places, as the rightful “Red Sea” country and its inhabitants as rightful Red Sea citizens, it should be noted historically, anthropologically, politically and so geopolitically.

As many pioneering studies revels Red Sea was formed by the Arabian Peninsula being divided from the Horn of Africa by movement of the Red Sea Rift. Such a split started in the Eocene and accelerated during the Oligocene and if we join together Horn of Africa with that of Arabian Peninsula we might understand that how the Red Sea divides the same environment, the same history and the same future. Whereas, Red Sea is still increasing in width (in 2005 for example, following a three-week period of tectonic activity it had widened by 8m) and it is considered that it will get grow in size and become an ocean sometimes in the future.

Red Sea is home to more than 1,200 species of fish, including 44 species of sharks where the 20% are being found nowhere else. Red Sea’s thriving biodiversity is largely due to the sea’s coral reef ecosystem, up to 7000 years old, which stretches for 1,240 miles along the coastline.

Besides, in terms of natural resources, climatic behavior and biodiversity Red Sea is sometimes called as mini-ocean due to its magnificent oceanic features. As many oceanographic researchers putting through, Red Sea is an extremely warm with high evaporation, and odd circulation which is not seen in much bigger oceans. Likewise, similar to in other oceans the Red Sea is easy for people to float in because of the high saline concentration as it is approximately 35% saltier than most other seas.

Red Sea has been used for commerce since ancient Greek, Roman and Egyptian times. After the 1869 opening of the Suez Canal, cutting through Egypt to link the Red Sea with the Mediterranean, transport between Europe and Asia became significantly easier. Today this passage remains one of the world’s most important trade routes. By now a worth $600 billion trade flows has been done yearly throughout a year.

For the past 200 years Red Sea entertained major wars on both its shores and most world powers have seen the Red Sea as an extension of the Suez Canal which indebt it deepest geopolitical attentions.

Though it is unique, many historians also underlined that the Red Sea has been overlooked by academics and policy analysts too as it lies between two different regions, the Middle East and Africa.  Accordingly, this led to heterogynous geopolitical and academic understandings about the same Sea. As many underlines, the thin line of Red Sea water is destined by imperials to acts as a deep gulf which has proven remarkably hard to cross in a way to divide Africa from Arabian Peninsula.

In his 1986 book, “The Africans: A Triple Heritage”, Ali Mazuri discusses many important things about this issue.In his inciting argumentative discussions Ali Mazrui identified Africa’s Arab-Islamic culture as one of three components that make up the continent’s religious-cultural heritage by arguing that the Sahara desert joins North Africa and sub-Saharan Africa as much as it divides them, whilst this is not the same as what is happening between the Horn of Africa and Arabian Peninsula. Mazrui highlights the historical ties that bind the countries across the two shores by saying ‘This thin line of water has been deemed to be more relevant for defining where Africa ends than all the evidence of geology, geography, history and culture’, that reminds to organize the same limelight between regions.

Furthermore, which perfectly narrows the knowledge gap on Red Sea issues Johnathan Mirran shared his important ideas by writing a book titled ‘Red Sea Citizens’. This book is an exceptional and detailed study of Massawa port of Eritrea as the historical, commercial and economic web of the Red Sea, Arabia, the Nile Valley, and Ethiopian. More than 40 towns and cities are still bordered with the Red Sea and Massawa is one of amongst the most strategic ones during the past and so do the present.

Among the most important contributions of this book is its discussion of Massawa’s role in the global and regional economy and the pearling economy in Dahlak archipelago. Thus, the author argues convincingly that, with respect to trade, ‘the growing penetration of imperials in the Indian Ocean was not supplementary but only added to what was there’ in relation to regional trade. Massawa’s residents through indigenous trade networks became connected to the surrounding hinterland through caravan routes and the wider world economy through its port as the writer describes Massawa as ‘the town of its merchants’. Accordingly, local merchants and pearl fishers engaged global markets while sometimes they were capable of resisting imperial interfering. Massawa’s role in the global and regional economy was very much underlined like that of its sister ports including Aden, Hodeida, Suakkin and others.

According to many historical resources, when someone asks what Massawa was looking like during 1870s the answer suggests Massawa like some best contemporary world class business centers right this moment. Massawa during that times hosted an impressive inflow of caravan traffic where dynamic multi-ethnic classes of merchants, brokers doing business to their fullest sense as many of them referred the port town as the ‘Zanzibar of the Red Sea’. Long and short distance trade dominates all the way the social life.

According to the book by ‘Johanatan Mirran’ Massawa was still the town its merchants. Imperial administrators, including the Ottomans, Egyptians, Italians, the British and Ethiopians did nothing to develop the port. In contrast, Imperial administrators which did not invest in significant economic development until the 1920s were sometimes poorer than or dependent on local merchants likewise.

Moreover, Eritreans in general and the inhabitants of the coastal areas in particular has unique affections toward the Red Sea. This is best rooted in history as well. When we just go fishing or diving to the Eritrean coast lines it is easy to spot the remnants of the sea’s past in the form of ethereal shipwrecks, tugboats, cargo ships and tankers down in the depths. Those historical remnants are not only the ones that were sinking during the World War Second battleships. In contrast, most of them were destroyed during the fight between Eritreans and Ethiopian occupants which was termed as ‘Fenkil Operation’. The utmost love, compassion, ownership towards the Red Sea was witnessed by Eritreans during the 1990 bloody fight, were EPLF design and operationilize a modern warfare which was never done by anyone else in this region. A very few number of combatants with a little means has in almost three days defeated an army of armed to the teeth, cold-blooded Derg invading machine which was supported by super-powers.

If someone asks how this happen, it happens and got succeeds because of it was the agenda of the real owners, nothing much nothing less. It was the real ‘Red Sea citixens’ who did it. It is still hard to realize, understand and imagine what incredible efforts, courage, dedication these greatest achievements were worth. All in all such sprit stood up to take revenge on all externals, which had broken, trampled peaceful life, people’s plans and hopes for centuries.

Then who were, are and will be the most proud Red Sea citizens? Aren’t those of the Massawans?


Amanuel Zekarias

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