||The Arab homeland stretches some 5,000 miles— nearly twice the distance
between New York and San Francisco—from the Atlantic coast of northern
Africa in the west to the Arabian Sea in the east, and from the Mediterranean
Sea in the north to Central Africa in the south. It covers an area of 5.25
million square miles. By comparison, the United States comprises 3.6 million
With seventy-two percent of its territory in Africa and
twenty-eight percent in Asia, the Arab world straddles two continents,
a position that has made it one of the world's most strategic regions.
Long coastlines give it access to vital waterways: the Atlantic Ocean,
the Mediterranean Sea, the Arabian Gulf, the Arabian Sea, the Gulf of Aden,
the Red Sea and the Indian Ocean.
While the region is dominated by
dry climatic conditions, the existence of mountain ranges permits seasonal
rainfall. The Atlas range in northwest Africa (Morocco, Algeria and Tunisia)
forms a barrier between the Sahara Desert and the coastal areas. Other
important mountain systems are the Lebanon and Anti-Lebanon ranges and
the Zagros Mountains to the east of Iraq.
Given the preponderance of arid conditions, reliable
sources of water are immensely important; be they springs, from which oases
are formed, or rivers. Foremost among the river valleys are the Nile and
The population of the Arab nation—approximately
253 million as of 1994—is a youthful one. Almost half of the population
is under fifteen years of age. Given the current annual rate of increase,
the population will be approximately 280 million by the year 2000.
The concept of average population density has
little meaning when applied to the Arab world. Since significant human
settlement is found only where water supplies are adequate, the overwhelming
majority of Arabs live in relatively high concentrations along coastal
areas and major river valleys. The most striking example of this phenomenon
is in Egypt where more than ninety percent of the population lives on less
than five percent of the land.
Agriculture is the primary economic
activity in the Arab homeland. The most important food crops are wheat,
barley, rice, maize, dates and millet. These are largely consumed within
the region, while cotton, sugarcane, sugar beets and sesame are exported
as cash crops.
Contrary to popular belief, relatively few Arab countries possess petroleum
and natural gas resources. Other natural resources include iron-ore, lead,
phosphate, cobalt and manganese.
It was in the Arab land that man first organized into a settled form
of society, cultivating grain and raising livestock, establishing cities
and promoting diverse skills and occupations. In such a setting, rich and
complex cultures were nourished: ancient Egypt, Sumer, Assyria, Babylonia
and Phoenicia were great civilizations, legends even in their own day,
whose traces continue to be uncovered in archeological sites throughout
It was in this same area that the three great monotheistic
religions—Judaism, Christianity and Islam—originated, in time spreading
to all corners of the world. The followers of those faiths lived in harmony
throughout the centuries in the Arab homeland, since all considered themselves
the people of one God.
The Prophet Muhammad peace be upon him appeared in the
seventh century A.D. with the message of Islam. His Arab followers soon
spread the new faith in the West, across North Africa into Spain and France,
and in the East, to the borders of China. These Muslim believers rapidly
founded a new and dynamic civilization that for centuries was the only
bright light in an otherwise culturally and intellectually stagnant world.
Indeed, while Europe was experiencing its "Dark Ages," the Arab/Islamic
civilization was at its apogee. It was this same Islamic civilization,
with its many contributions to science and the humanities, that paved the
way for the rise of the West to its present prominence.
The Arab homeland today is a rich composite of many diverse
influences. Various ethnic, linguistic and religious groups inhabit the
region. Yet, Islam and the Arabic language constitute its two predominant
cultural features. The Arab people, spread over a vast area, enjoy common
bonds of history and tradition. Members of twenty-one different countries,
the Arabs consider themselves to be one nation.
The Arab people are further united through their membership
and participation in the League of Arab States. One of the oldest regional
organizations in the world, the Arab League was founded on March 22, 1945,
even before the formal establishment of the United Nations. The primary
objective of the Arab League, as it is commonly called, is to facilitate
maximum integration among the Arab countries through coordination of their
activities in the political sphere as well as in the fields of economics,
social services, education, communications, development, technology and
The headquarters of the Arab League are in Cairo, Egypt, which also
hosts some of the League's specialized agencies. Additional agencies are
based in the capitals of other Arab countries. The twenty-two member states
of the League, in alphabetical order, are: Algeria, Bahrain, Comoro Islands,
Djibouti, Egypt, Iraq, Jordan, Kuwait, Lebanon, Libya, Mauritania, Morocco,
Oman, Palestine, Qatar, Saudi Arabia, Somalia, Sudan, Syria, Tunisia, United
Arab Emirates, and Yemen.
The Arab nation in the twentieth century is a region in transition—
developing, modernizing, and building the foundation for its own renaissance.
Its great and ancient cities—Cairo, Damascus and Baghdad— with populations
well into the millions, are rapidly expanding their municipal services,
communications systems and other facilities. New construction is evident
everywhere as high-rise buildings replace the covered bazaars of former
Those Arab countries with natural resources, especially
petroleum, are devoting large funds to development programs in nearly every
field while at the same time providing their less fortunate sister states
with financial assistance to help them modernize. Scores of thousands of
young Arabs are studying in old and new universities in their own countries
and abroad, particularly in the United States where there are an estimated
60,000 Arab students. They are specializing in professions and disciplines
that will enhance the progress of their homeland.
In spite of all of this development and modernization,
the Arab nation is also dedicated to preserving its traditions and values
which are largely rooted in Islam. Its people are reaching out for progress
while endeavoring to avoid the confusion that so often accompanies rapid
While the great urban centers of the Arab nation are reaping
the benefits of the space age, including satellite communications with
other parts of the world, many retain the flavor of the past through their
architecture, arts and traditions. In sum, the Arabs today are still drawing
cultural sustenance from their great past, while fueling their advance
into the future.
This present collection is intended to offer the reader
a glimpse of some of the major contributions made by the Arabs to world
civilization. Its purpose is normely to acknowledge a great cultural debt,
but also to stimulate interest in a region and its people based on mutual
respect and understanding.