The Arab World

HOME 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 square miles.
   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 Tigris-Euphrates.
   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 the region.
   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 industrialization.
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 times.
   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 change.
   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. 

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