Middle East Drugs Bazaar

Production, Prevention and Consumption

April 2016 9781849042819 288pp


The Middle East is intimately involved in the issue of illegal drugs which affects all the countries of the region: as a cultivator (Morocco, Lebanon); transit hub (Iran, Turkey); and consumer (Egypt). Yet, until now, there has been precious little research on any of these issues, especially in a comparative manner. This book, the first in any language to focus on illicit drugs in the Middle East, will surprise many readers. The consumption of qat in Yemen or cultivation of cannabis in Lebanon’s Bekaa Valley is hardly news, but the extent of amphetamine use in Saudi Arabia and the Gulf States or the international role of Israeli narcotics manufactures and traffickers is less well known.

Based on extensive research and interaction with law enforcement agencies, the public and private health sectors, drug-centric NGOs, and recovering drug abusers, Middle East Drugs Bazaar focuses on ten of the leading countries of the region, straddling the Arab World, Israel, Iran and Turkey. It tells the story of drug-related experiences where they most impinge on the peoples and societies of the region.

In addition to the social role of illegal drugs, their political and economic impact are also covered, including: war and drugs in Iraq; drugs and development in Yemen; and youth policy and drugs in Saudi Arabia.

Table of contents

Introduction: Contextualising Drugs in the Middle East Drugs in the Middle East: Three Key Themes

Production Spaces

1. Morocco: ‘The Green Petrol’

2. Lebanon: Local Fashion, Regional Politics

3. Yemen: Jeopardising Development

Consumption Spaces

4. Egypt: The Land of the Hashisheen

5. Israel: Crime and Ethnicity

6. Saudi Arabia: ‘The New Terrorism’, Or An Inevitable Part of Modernisation?

7. Iran: Grappling with Epidemics

Transit Spaces

8. Turkey: From Cultivator to Conduit

9. Dubai: The Drugs’ Hub

10. Iraq: Insurgency and State Collapse Conclusion


‘Across the Middle East, drugs are now widely regarded as a symptom of Western influence and its erosion of regional values. Philip Robins opens his crisp, well organized and informative survey by reminding us that Colonel Gaddafi’s first response to the uprisings of 2011 was to blame them on “hallucination pills” slipped into young Libyans’ coffee by foreign agents provocateurs.’ — Times Literary Supplement

‘Philip Robins has written an exceptionally informative comparative study on illicit drugs in the Middle East, an under-researched topic. As a social history, Middle East Drugs Bazaar examines the origins, consumption, and political and economic impact of drugs on states and society in the region. Well researched and well argued, this book should be a required reading for anyone who is interested in development, youth culture and war.’ — Fawaz A. Gerges, Chair in Contemporary Middle Eastern Studies at the London School of Economics and author of ISIS: A History (Princeton University Press)

‘A very detailed but also very readable book. Philip Robins has carried out extensive research over more than a decade on the drugs trade across the Middle East, and covering ten case studies this work looks set to become the defining book on what was previously an under-studied subject. Robins takes us from the lawless Moroccan mountains of the Rif to the failed state of Iraq. The result is a fascinating insight that uses the drugs trade to explain the politics of the region.’ — Toby Dodge, director of the Middle East Centre at the London School of Economics and author of Iraq: From War to a New Authoritarianism

Middle East Drugs Bazaar accomplishes much in a relatively short and entertaining volume. It provides an excellent survey of history, economy and contemporary affairs related to illicit narcotics across the full breadth of the Middle East. Both scholars and practitioners interested in the origins and implications of drugs in the greater Middle East will need to read this book.’ — Ryan Gingeras, associate professor at the US Naval Postgraduate School, and author of Heroin, Organized Crime and the Making of Modern Turkey 

Middle East Drugs Bazaar has a great deal to say about transnational drug trafficking, yet does so much more to demystify other, mostly neglected aspects of the drugs culture in Muslim societies. The first study to tie the topic to the region’s environmental, political and socioeconomic conditions, this book clearly lays out the challenges Middle Eastern societies face in their struggle with the growing use of especially hard drugs among their populations, and how authorities deal with the attendant problems of addiction, corruption and crime.’ — Rudolph Matthee, Professor of History at the University of Delaware and author of The Pursuit of Pleasure: Drugs and Stimulants in Iranian History, 1500-1900


Philip Robins is Reader in Middle East Politics at St Antony’s College, University of Oxford.  Prior to that he was the founding head of the Middle East Programme at Chatham House.  He has worked on the region for more than thirty-five years.

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