A Review of "Middle East Drugs Bazaar: Production, Prevention, and Consumption" by Philip Robins

Two 4×4s burned along Algeria’s desert border with Mauritania, destroyed by Algerian attack helicopters. Three heavily armed men were dead. The incident itself was unremarkable. The Algerian military routinely engages in clashes with terrorist groups along its borders—often taking a particularly kinetic approach.

But the men in the 4×4s were not terrorists. Instead they were drug traffickers, part of a flourishing narco-economy in the Middle East and North Africa (MENA). The quantities of narcotics produced, moved, and consumed are large and increasing. Algerian authorities seized 190 tons of cannabis in the first eleven months of 2015, a sharp increase over previous years. In 2016 Iran alone accounted for “75 per cent of global opium seizures, 61 per cent of global morphine seizures and 17 per cent of global heroin seizures.” Lebanon, long a production point for cannabis and opiates, has become an amphetamine manufacturing hotspot—catering to growing consumer demand for such drugs in Saudi Arabia and the Gulf states. Drug consumption has also spiked in regional conflict zones like Libya, where combatants stave off boredom with Tramadol and Captagon trafficked from Turkey and Lebanon.

Despite the dynamism of the region’s narco-economy, it has received little academic attention. In his new book, Middle East Drugs Bazaar: Production, Prevention, and Consumption, Philip Robins addresses this, providing a cross-regional snapshot of narcotics production, trafficking, and use in the Middle East and North Africa. Robins lays out three goals for his work: First, to fill the gap in scholarly literature on the geopolitics of narcotics in the Middle East and North Africa; second, to investigate how narcotics impact the region; and finally, the book investigates the “state in action,” looking both at how states develop and implement counternarcotics policy and, conversely, how nonstate groups intersect, engage, and profit from the narco-economy. Robins structures his investigation into ten country case studies divided into three sections—production spaces, consumption spaces, and transit spaces. He draws on an eclectic set of data sources, including inter-views, government documents, media reports, and literature, film, and art. Through these, he paints an encompassing picture of the region’s rapidly growing narco-economy.

The full review can be accessed on the JSTOR link here.