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Juliette Honvault
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1In this centennial year of the First World War, it would seem the Arab and European shores of the Mediterranean Sea have never been so close. However, the frontiers between them are still very real and the uncertain paths that wind through the deserts of Libya and the Sinai, or the frail vessels that set off from the Syrian or Libyan coasts — or the far reaches of the Red Sea — are for refugees driven from their homes by war, poverty and oppression, the only thin and perilous paths which allow them to overcome or go round these frontiers.

2As a matter of fact, along with the centenary of the war, the Arab Near East might also want to commemorate the hundredth anniversary of its current borders and states, the underlying geopolitical principles of which were drawn up by the Allies in the advent of the collapse of the Ottoman Empire. Until then, the Ottoman East, the Red Sea and the Mediterranean constituted a vast area for ​​travel and trade — its density was a source of dynamism and wealth — as well as for political and military conquests. Indeed, the ‟great" world conflict started there, before anywhere else, with Italy's occupation of Libya in 1912 and its simultaneous naval blockade of the Arab-Ottoman coasts of the Hijaz and Yemen to prevent any obstruction to its plans. With the subsequent British blockade in 1915, the free movement of people and goods decreased, giving way instead to movement of troops in 1916 with the outbreak of the Great Arab Revolt, supported by the British and the French.

3With this feature on "Circulations in the Arabian Peninsula and the Red Sea" guest edited by Ulrike Freitag, Philippe Pétriat and Martin Strohmeier, this sixth edition of Arabian Humanities invites us to look beyond the well-worn story of the Arab Revolt. More precisely, the feature shows a region, the Hejaz and the Red Sea, which continues to assert itself as an unavoidable area for traffic, despite the obstacles posed by the war. For most of the belligerents (the Turks, Germans, French and British), the quest for a happy ending to the conflict made this area a horizon of expectation, as a result of the newfound importance given to Islam, its holy places, believers and great figures.

4Therefore, this issue also commemorates, to some extent, an important episode in the history of connections between Europe and the countries of Islam, and representations of “elsewhere” as an extreme solution, while current events in the Mediterranean Sea remind us of that last aspect on a daily basis.

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Juliette Honvault, « Editorial », Arabian Humanities [En ligne], 6 | 2016, mis en ligne le 31 août 2016, consulté le 23 septembre 2018. URL :

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Ce document est mis à disposition selon les termes de la Licence Creative Commons Attribution - Partage dans les Mêmes Conditions 4.0 International.

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