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The Middle East


Middle East is a large region that covers parts of northern Africa, southwestern Asia, and southeastern Europe. Scholars disagree on which countries make up the Middle East. But many say the region consists of Bahrain, Cyprus, Egypt, Iran, Iraq, Israel, Jordan, Kuwait, Lebanon, Oman, Qatar, Saudi Arabia, Sudan, Syria, Turkey, United Arab Emirates, and Yemen. These countries cover about 3,743,000 square miles (9,694,000 square kilometers) and together have a population of about 262 million.

Two of the world's first great civilizations—those of Sumer and Egypt—developed in the area after 3500 B.C. The region also is the birthplace of three major religions—Judaism, Christianity, and Islam.

Since the birth of Islam in the A.D. 600's, Islamic powers have dominated the Middle East. More than 90 percent of the region's people are Muslims—followers of Islam.

Most of the people of the Middle East are Muslim Arabs. Other religious and ethnic groups include black Africans, Armenians, Copts, Greeks, Iranians, Jews, Kurds, and Turks.

The Middle East is the birthplace of Judaism, Christianity, and Islam. More than 90 percent of the area's population, including most Arabs, Iranians, and Turks, are Muslims. Christians make up about 7 percent of the population. The largest Christian groups are the Coptic, Melkite, and Maronite denominations. Jews, who make up only 1 percent of the population, live in Israel.

The chief language of the Middle East is Arabic. Written Arabic is the same throughout the region, but the spoken language differs from country to country. Persian is the official language of Iran. People in Turkey speak Turkish. Most Israelis speak Hebrew. Other languages of the Middle East include Baluchi, Greek, and Kurdish.

The Middle East is an area of great economic importance as one of the world's major oil-producing regions. It is also a scene of much political unrest and conflict.

People lived in parts of the Middle East as early as 25,000 B.C. It was in this region that agriculture began around 8000 B.C. Between 3500 and 3100 B.C., two of the world's earliest great civilizations—those of Sumer and Egypt—developed in the region. The Sumerian civilization developed on the fertile plain between the Tigris and Euphrates rivers (see Sumer). It was later absorbed by the Babylonian Empire. The Egyptian civilization arose in the Nile Valley (see Egypt, Ancient). About 1900 B.C., a people called the Hittites came to power in what is now Turkey. Other peoples, such as the Hebrews and the Phoenicians, also organized societies in the region.

Beginning in the 800's B.C., a series of invaders conquered these civilizations. The invaders included the Assyrians, the Medes, the Persians, and, finally, Alexander the Great. Alexander conquered the Middle East in 331 B.C. and united it into one empire. He died in 323 B.C. The next 300 years, called the Hellenistic Age, brought great achievements in scholarship, science, and the arts.

By 30 B.C., the Romans had conquered much of the Middle East. During Roman rule, Jesus Christ was born in Bethlehem and died in Jerusalem. Christianity spread throughout the Roman Empire, replacing pagan cults. Christianity was the major religion of the Middle East until the rise of Islam in the A.D. 600's.

Islamic empires. Muhammad, the prophet of Islam, was born in Mecca in about 570. In 622, he moved to the oasis of Medina, where he became the head of a small religious and political community. After his death in 632, his followers, called Muslims, conquered what are now Egypt, Iraq, and Syria. Many of the conquered people adopted Islam and the Arabic language. By 711, Arab Muslim rule extended from what is now Spain in the west to Iran in the east. Muslims of the Umayyad family ruled these lands from the city of Damascus. In 750, the Abbasid family overthrew the Umayyads and made Baghdad the capital of the Islamic Empire.

During Abbasid rule, groups of Muslim Turks invaded from central Asia. The most important were the Seljuk Turks. They took over Baghdad in 1055, and soon after, they conquered what are now Syria and Palestine. By the end of the 1000's, the Abbasid Empire was declining, and independent dynasties (families of rulers) were emerging. In 1258, Mongols from China conquered Baghdad and destroyed the remains of the Abbasid government.

In the 1300's, the dynasty of the Ottomans became established in Anatolia (now Turkey). In the early 1500's the Ottomans added the Arab lands of the Middle East to their empire. By that time, they had also advanced into the Balkan Peninsula and had become a military threat to Europe. In the 1700's and 1800's, the Ottoman Empire declined in power and size in the face of new, strong states that developed in Europe. By World War I (1914-1918), some European countries had gained much economic and political influence in the Middle East.

Today the Middle East has much controversy, but many hope that it will soon cease.


Dina Le Gall and Michel Le Gall, "Middle East," World Book Online Americas Edition, December 24, 2001.


Callista's Middle Eastern Dance is best viewed with Windows 95, Internet Explorer 4.0, and Netscape 4.04 or higher.


Latest News on the Middle East
Egypt Daily News - The Middle East


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Last Updated: 1/1/2002

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