I intend to study the historically unique social construction of the Red Sea port of Massawa from the mid-nineteenth century until the late 1950s. Because of the port’s economic and strategic importance, it was occupied by Ottomans, Egyptians, Italians, British and Ethiopians who influenced ethnic, social, and demographic patterns and endowed the town and its region with a unique local coastal urban identity. I will reveal how varying aspects of collective identity were constructed, maintained and changed. I will consequently explore and analyze those institutions of civil society, namely Massawan trading (brokering) networks and specific Islamic institutions, which have been central to the process of adjustment to new political, economic and social configurations. Massawan mercantile communities maintained their monopoly as brokers by constructing and reconstructing resilient and flexible local and regional trade networks. To maintain their distinct identity they manipulated religion and culture both to link and to differentiate themselves from surrounding communities. My research will be based on a combination of as yet unstudied series of Arabic-language Islamic court records of Massawa; Egyptian, Italian, and other European archival and published sources; local manuscripts, and oral data.