"Marauding seamen infest the Indian Ocean and the Arabian Sea, extracting tolls from shipping and disrupting an ancient trade route between Asia and Europe.
Egypt, one of the main direct beneficiaries of the transit trade, takes time to react. The government is in the hands of an aging leader, who looks to outside powers for help.
That was the challenge that Mamluk ruler Qansuh al-Ghouri faced in the early 16th century, when Portuguese ships appeared unexpectedly east of Suez and started to harass Egypt-bound shipping in the Red Sea and its approaches.After centuries of peaceful trading, Egypt had no Red Sea fleet capable of countering the Portuguese menace."
The article goes on to describe how current Egyptian leader Hosni Mubarak has been a wee bit insouciant about the piracy affair: "This problem could come to an end if merchant ships arm themselves with heavy artillery to deal with the pirates," Mubarak was quoted in al-Gomhuria.
As an aside, Qansuh al-Ghuri later had his head cut off and sent as a prize to Istanbul after losing a battle against the Ottoman Turks.
[Thanks to our friends at the Arabist blog for alerting us to this story.]