We have investigated the upper Palaeocene stratigraphical record in four sections in Egypt and one in Israel. The sections are arranged on a depth transect across the southern Tethyan margin. In all sections, a δ13C excursion and benthic foraminiferal extinctions coincide at a level within planktic foraminiferal Zone P5. In three sections, a bed (sapropelic in two of the deeper profiles) contains extraordinarily transient benthic and planktic foraminifera assemblages. These planktic assemblages are dominated by Acarinina and contain rare to common Morozovella allisonensis and Globanomalina luxorensis, but unusually few other Morozovella. The extremely restricted stratigraphical range of M. allisonensis to the lower part of the δ13C excursion enables: (1) a three‐fold subdivision of Zone P5, (2) accurate correlation to the best sections spanning the δ13C excursion in the Atlantic and Pacific and (3) assessment of stratigraphical completeness over the δ13C excursion in other (sub)tropical successions. Discontinuities and especially dissolution intervals in many low‐ to middle‐latitude marine successions elsewhere, as in two Middle East sections, preclude an accurate correlation within the lower part of the δ13C excursion (= M. allisonensis Zone P5b). Three studied sections can provide the best coverage of the sequence of events over the onset and early part of the δ13C excursion in the Middle East, but as in most known sections, probably none constitutes a complete upper Palaeocene–lower Eocene record.