The Recent volcanic islands of the Red Sea are (1) Jebel at Tair, a single small volcano of tholeiitic basalt lava; (2) the Zubair Islands with pyroclastic cones and flows intermediate between tholeiite and alkali basalt and with picrite basalt and trachybasalt blocks in the agglomerates; (3) the Hanish-Zukur Islands with alkali basalts accompanied by trachybasalts, trachyandesites and trachytes together with pyroclastic rocks. The chemistry of 46 lava specimens indicates that a gradational series exists between the sea-floor basalts (K-poor tholeiites) and the alkali basalts of Hanish-Zukur, with the rocks of Jebel at Tair and Zubair representing intermediate stages. Two alternative petrogenetic models are discussed to account for this gradational behaviour. One derives the parental magma from successively greater depths, the other considers derivation by successively greater fractionation on route to the surface. The relationship of the volcanoes to the opening of the Red Sea is discussed. Possibly, eruptive activity was initiated at the southern end and is migrating northwards in response to the anticlockwise rotation of Arabia relative to Africa. The Red Sea axial trough may die out southwards owing to vocanic fill from the Hanish-Zukur volcanoes.