Middle East

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Posted by motoman 02/25/2009 @ 00:14

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Middle East Theatre of World War II

The Middle East Theatre of World War II is defined largely by reference to the British Middle East Command, which controlled Allied forces in both Southwest Asia and eastern North Africa. From 1943, most of the action and forces concerned were in the adjoining Mediterranean Theatre.

The region was quiet for the first few months of the war, until Fascist Italy declared war against France and Britain on June 10, 1940. It remained a major active theatre for two and a half years until the British Commonwealth Eighth Army crossed the border from Libya into Tunisia. In February 1943, command of the Eighth Army passed from the Middle East Command to the Allied Joint command for the Mediterranean, AFHQ. The Middle East Theatre remained quiet for the remainder of the war.

The Allies initially believed that the Middle East (Southwest Asia) could become a major operational theatre, because they thought that the Germans might invade the area. This did not materialise, although when Allied forces occupied much of the area, in anticipation of such an invasion, there was fighting against Vichy French forces in Lebanon and Syria, and against Iraq in the Anglo-Iraqi War.

The Italian forces in North Africa greatly outnumbered the Allies. However, Allied forces were able to not only defend against Italian attacks but also to defeat the Italians and occupy their colonies in Ethiopia and Somaliland. By February 1941, Commonwealth forces appeared to be on the verge of overrunning the last Italian forces in Libya, which would have ended Axis control in all of Africa.

While the fighting was taking place in Libya, Axis forces were attacking Greece. The Allied commander, General Archibald Wavell, was ordered to STOP his advance against Libya and sent troops to Greece. He disagreed with this decision but followed his orders.

The Allies were unable to stop Greece falling to the Axis forces and before they could retake the initiative in the Western Desert the German Afrika Korps had entered the theatre. It would not be until early in 1943, after another year and a half of hard fighting and mixed fortunes, that the Axis forces would be finally driven out of Libya and the theatre would again become a backwater.

In late 1940, the Italians attacked Greece from Albania in the Greco-Italian War. Not only did the Greeks stop the attack, they forced the Italians back. Eventually, in the spring of 1941, the Germans intervened in Greece. They also invaded Yugoslavia concurrently.

The Greeks had been reluctant to allow Commonwealth ground forces into the country, because Britain could not spare enough forces to guarantee victory. They had, however, accepted aid from the RAF in their war with the Italians in Albania. The trigger for Commonwealth forces moving to Greece in large numbers was the entry of German forces into Bulgaria, which made clear the German intent to invade Greece.

Commonwealth forces took position on a defensive line running from north-west to south-east across the northern part of Greece. However, there were critical weaknesses in the defences. The Greek forces in the area were further forward than the Commonwealth forces, and the Greek Government ignored suggestions that they should withdraw to a common line. The Greek forces were thus defeated in detail. There was also a large gap between the left flank of Commonwealth forces and the right flank of the Greek forces in Albania. That was exploited fully by the Germans.

After being thrown off the Greek mainland, Commonwealth forces retreated to Crete. There, the Germans again exploited weaknesses in the defences with a bold invasion plan. In the largest and last German airborne assault, paratroops landed at several points on the island and the Battle of Crete began. In all but one location, they were cut off and destroyed, and the follow-on seaborne forces were dispersed by the Allied navies. However, that one location was enough, and reinforcements were flown in to the point where the Germans were strong enough to break out and take the rest of the island.

Command in London eventually decided the cause was hopeless, and ordered a withdrawal from Sfakia. Over the next four nights 16,000 troops were taken off Crete to Egypt. A smaller number was withdrawn on a separate mission from Heraklion, but these ships were attacked en-route by Luftwaffe dive bombers and suffered serious losses. On 1 June the remaining 5,000 defenders at Sfakia surrendered, although many took to the hills and caused the German occupation problems for years.

During the evacuation of Crete Admiral Andrew Cunningham was determined that the "navy must not let the army down", when British generals stated their fears that too many ships would be lost, Cunningham said that "It takes three years to build a ship, it takes three centuries to build a tradition". Nevertheless large numbers of Allied soldiers were taken prisoner on Crete.

On 4 August 1940, Italy's forces in Italian East Africa (Africa Orientale Italiana, AOI) invaded British Somaliland. The Italians took the British colony's capital city of Berbera on 19 August. The Italians also staged very minor attacks across the Sudanese and Kenyan borders in 1940.

Italian success in East Arica was short-lived. On 19 January 1941, British Commonwealth forces counter-attacked from Sudan in the north and Kenya in the south. On May 6, the capital city of AOI, Addis Ababa, fell. Haile Selassie had managed to enter the city on 5 May. On 18 May, Prince Amedeo, 3rd Duke of Aosta, the Italian Governor-General of Italian East Africa (Africa Orientale Italiana), surrendered in Amba Alagi which all but ended hostilities. Some isolated Italian units fought on. But, when the Italian forces under General Nasi in Gondar surrendered on 27 November, major Italian resistance ended.

Although Southwest Asia was destined to remain a strategic backwater for the duration of World War II, in late 1941 and early 1942 the Allies were not certain that it would remain so. Before the turning points of the Battle of Stalingrad (June 1942 to February, 1943) and the Second Battle of El Alamein (October to November 1942), the fear was that the Germans might attack the area either through Turkey, or via Cyprus into Lebanon; or through defeating of the British 8th Army in Egypt. If the anticipated attack came through Turkey or Lebanon, then not only could the Axis Powers threaten British controlled Egypt and the strategically important Suez Canal via an advance through Palestine and the Sinai Peninsula, it would also allow the Germans an alternative route to attack the Soviet Union from Southwest Asia north through the USSR's southern frontiers. In the slightly longer term the British feared independent regimes in the region as well as the possibility that the German might follow in Alexander the Great's footsteps and attack British controlled India from Persia in the west as Japan simultaneously attacked India from the east through Burma.

Commonwealth forces in the region were for the most part under the Commander-in-Chief of the Middle East Command based in Cairo. The exception was Persia which for some of the time came under the command of the Commander-in-Chief in India.

As in most of the Arab world, there was no unanimity amongst the Palestinian Arabs as to their position regarding the combatants in WWII. Many signed up for the British army, but others saw an Axis victory as their best hope of gaining independence for Palestine. Some of the leadership went further, especially the Grand Mufti of Jerusalem, Haj Amin Al-Husseini (by then expelled from Palestine), who on November 25, 1941, formally declared jihad against the Allied Powers.

During the war, the British forbade entry into Palestine of European Jews escaping Nazi persecution, placing them in detention camps or deporting them to other places such as Mauritius. The Jewish Irgun gang were implicated in the assassination in Cairo on 6 November 1944 of Lord Moyne, the British Minister of State. Fighting Jewish terrorists on one hand and the Germans in North Africa on the other did not endear the British to the Jews in Palestine at this critical stage of the war.

The British considered it more important to get Arab backing, due to their important interests in Egypt and other Arab lands. The influx of Jewish settlers had already caused severe problems in Palestine, and the British did not wish to further exacerbate the situation. The British authorities were also concerned about the possibility of German agents entering Palestine on a refugee boat. Irgun opposed both British colonial rule and self-determination of the majority population. They saw any restrictions on further Jewish immigration from Europe as provocation.

Iraq had been officially granted independence by the United Kingdom in 1932, under a number of conditions, including the retention of British military bases. This caused resentment within Iraq and a pro-Axis prime minister, Rashid Ali, assumed control. In early 1941, Ali ordered British forces to withdraw.

The Middle East Command hastily assembled a formation known as Iraqforce — which included the Indian 10th Infantry Division and the Arab Legion — and it arrived on April 18.

There were two main British military bases in Iraq, at Basra and at Habbaniya, north east of Baghdad. On April 30 the Iraqi Army surrounded and besieged the isolated and poorly-defended Royal Air Force base at Habbaniya. Although the base had no offensive aircraft, RAF personnel converted training aircraft to carry weapons, and attacked the Iraqi forces.

Habbaniya was soon relieved by Iraqforce, which defeated the larger but poorly-trained Iraqi Army in a series of battles, even though the Iraqis received direct aid from the Luftwaffe. Iraqforce pressed on from Habbaniya to Baghdad and then to Mosul. Ali and his supporters fled the country and an armistice was signed.

A Luftwaffe aircraft was shot down over Iraq during the advance on Baghdad. Since the nearest Axis bases were on Rhodes, the Allies realised that the plane had refueled in Vichy French controlled Syria or Lebanon. This confirmed suspicions among the Allies regarding the "armed neutrality" of Vichy territories.

Australian, Free French, British and Indian units invaded Syria and Lebanon from Palestine in the south on 8 June 1941. Vigorous resistance was put up by the Vichy. However, the Allies' better training and equipment, as well as the weight of numbers eventually told against the Axis. Further attacks were launched at the end of June and early July from Iraq into northern and central Syria by troops from Iraqforce. By 8 July the whole of north east Syria had been captured and elements of Iraqforce advancing up the river Euphrates were threatening Aleppo and as a consequence the rear of the Vichy forces defending Beirut from the advance from the south. Negotiations for an armistice were started on 11 July and surrender terms signed on 14 July.

The final major military operation in the war in the Middle East campaign took place shortly thereafter. The Soviet Union desperately needed supplies for its war against Germany. Supplies were being sent round the North Cape convoy route to Murmansk and Archangel, but the capacity of that route was limited and subject to enemy action. Supplies were also sent from American to Vladivostok in Soviet-flagged ships. However, yet more capacity was needed, the obvious answer was to go through Iran. The Shah of Iran was deemed as pro-German; he would not allow this free access. Consequently British and Soviet forces invaded and occupied Iran. The Shah was deposed and his son put on the throne.

After the fall of France and before United States land forces entered the war in Operation Torch, the north African campaign in the Sahara desert and Mediterranean coastal plains of Libya and western Egypt was the major land front between Western Allied and Axis forces.

In September 1940, Italian forces stationed in Libya crossed the border and launched an invasion into Egypt. After advancing to Sidi Barrani they set up defensive positions in order to regroup and resupply before continuing.

In December, the outnumbered Allied forces launched Operation Compass which was initially to be a five-day raid against the Italian defensive positions in Egypt. Ultimately the raid turned into a full-scale counter-offensive against Italian forces in Egypt and Libya. The operation was more successful than planned and resulted in the capture of the Libyan province of Cyrenaica and the advance of the Allied forces as far as El Agheila. Over 100,000 Italian prisoners were taken.

The defeat of Italian forces did not go unnoticed and soon the German Africa Corps (Deutsches Afrikakorps), commanded by Erwin Rommel, was sent in to reinforce the Italians. Although ordered to simply hold the line, Rommel launched an offensive from El Agheila in March 1941 which, with the exception of Tobruk, managed to press the Allies beyond Salum on the Egyptian border, effectively putting both sides back at their approximate pre-war positions.

During the following stalemate, the Allied forces were reinforced and reorganised as the Eighth Army. In addition to British formations, the army was made up of divisions from the armies of several countries: the Australian Army, the Indian Army, the South African Army, and the New Zealand Army. There was also a brigade of Free French under Marie-Pierre Koenig. In November 1941 the new formation launched a new offensive, Operation Crusader, and recaptured almost all of the territory recently acquired by Rommel and lifting the Siege of Tobruk. Once again, the front line was at El Agheila.

After receiving supplies from Tripoli, Rommel was able to push the Allies back to Gazala, west of Tobruk. After a period when both sides were rebuilding their strength, the Axis forces defeated the Allies in May 1942 at the Battle of Gazala, capturing Tobruk, and drove them back to past the border of Egypt. Deep into Egypt, the Axis forces were halted in July at the First Battle of El Alamein.

At this point General Harold Alexander took over as commander-in-Chief Middle East Command and Lieutenant-General Bernard Montgomery took over the Eighth Army under him. After victory in the defensive battle of Alam Halfa in late August and early September, the Eighth Army went on the offensive in October 1942 and decisively defeated the Axis at the Second El Alamein. The Axis forces were pursued through Libya and the capital Tripoli was captured by Eighth Army in January 1943.

After the advance of the Eighth Army into eastern Tunisia in early 1943, 18th Army Group was formed to control Eighth Army and First Army which was attacking Tunisia from the west after the successful Allied Operation Torch in November 1942. Strategic command of Eighth Army thus passed from C-in-C Middle East Command to Dwight Eisenhower, the Joint Allied Commander of AFHQ, under which 18th Army Group came.

The British Middle East Command was based in Cairo with responsibility for Commonwealth operations in the Middle East and North Africa, and also those in East Africa, Persia, and the Balkans, including Greece. In August 1942 forces in Persia and Iran (known as Paiforce) were detached and brought under the separate, newly formed Persia and Iraq Command under General Sir Henry Maitland Wilson (the post having been turned down by Auchinleck, the outgoing Middle East Command C-in-C).

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History of the Middle East

Selim the Grim, Ottoman conqueror of the Middle East

This article is a general overview of the history of the Middle East. For more detailed information, see articles on the histories of individual countries and regions. For discussion of the issues surrounding the definition of the area see the article on Middle East.

The earliest civilizations in history were established in the region now known as the Middle East around 3500 BC, in Mesopotamia (Iraq), widely regarded as the cradle of civilization. The Sumerians, Akkadians, Babylonians and Assyrians all flourished in this region. Soon after the Sumerian civilization began, theNile River valley of ancient Egypt was unified under the Pharaohs in the 4th millennium BC, and civilization quickly spread through the Fertile Crescent to the west coast of the Mediterranean Sea and throughout the Levant. The Phoenicians, Israelites and others later built important states in this region.

In the Arabian peninsula (modern day Saudi Arabia) the early Arabs, such as the Nabateans (Arabic: الأنباط‎) and the Sabaeans (Arabic: السبأيين‎) appeared around 800 B.C and established powerful and influential civilizations that were the center of trade for centuries, in the heart of the desert.

From the 6th century BC onwards, several empires dominated the region, beginning with the Persian Empire of the Achaemenids, followed by the Macedonian Empire founded by Alexander the Great, and successor kingdoms such as Ptolemaic Egypt and the Seleucid state in Syria.

The Persian Empire was later revived by the Parthians in the 2nd century BC and continued by the Sassanids from the 2nd century AD. This empire would dominate part of what is now considered the Middle East and continue to influence the rest of the Middle East region until the Islamic conquest of Persia in the 7th century.

In the 1st century BC, the expanding Roman Republic absorbed the whole Eastern Mediterranean area (which included much of the Near East) and under the Roman Empire the region was united with most of Europe and North Africa in a single political and economic unit. Even areas not directly annexed became strongly influenced by the Empire which became the most powerful political and cultural entity for centuries. Although Latin culture spread into the region, the Greek culture and language first established in the region by the Macedonian Empire would continue to dominate throughout the Roman period. Cities in the Middle East, especially Alexandria, became major urban centers for the Empire and the region became the Empire's "bread basket" as the key agricultural producer.

As the Christian religion spread throughout the Empire it took root in the Middle East and cities such as Alexandria became important centers of Christian scholarship. By the 5th century, Roman Christianity was the dominant religion in the Middle East with other faiths (gradually including heretical Christian sects) being actively repressed. The Middle East's ties to the city of Rome would gradually be severed as the Empire split into East and West with the Middle East becoming tied to the new Roman capital of Constantinople. The subsequent fall of Rome and the Western Roman Empire, therefore, had minimal direct impact on the region. The Eastern Roman Empire, today commonly known as the Byzantine Empire, ruling from the Balkans to the Euphrates, became increasingly defined by and dogmatic about Christianity gradually creating religious rifts between the doctrines dictated by the establishment in Constantinople and believers in many parts of the Middle East.

From the 7th century, a new power was rising in the Middle East, that of Islam, whilst the Byzantine Roman and Sassanid Persian empires were both weakened by centuries of stalemate warfare during the Roman-Persian Wars. In a series of rapid Muslim conquests, the Arab armies, motivated by Islam and led by the Caliphs and skilled military commanders such as Khalid ibn al-Walid, swept through most of the Middle East; reducing Byzantine lands by more than half and completely engulfing the Persian lands. In Anatolia, their expansion was blocked by the still capable Byzantines with the help of the Bulgarians. The Byzantine provinces of Roman Syria, North Africa, and Sicily, however, could not mount such a resistance, and the Muslim conquerors swept through those regions. At the far west, they crossed the sea taking Visigothic Hispania before being halted in southern France by the Franks. At its greatest extent, the Arab Empire was the first empire to control the entire Middle East, as well 3/4 of the Mediterranean region, the only other empire besides the Roman Empire to control most of the Mediterranean Sea. It would be the Arab Caliphates of the Middle Ages that would first unify the entire Middle East as a distinct region and create the dominant ethnic identity that persists today. The Seljuk Empire would also later dominate the region.

Much of North Africa became a peripheral area to the main Muslim centres in the Middle East, but Iberia (Al Andalus) and Morocco soon broke from this distant control and founded one of the world's most advanced societies at the time, along with Baghdad in the eastern Mediterranean.

Between 831 and 1071, the Emirate of Sicily was one of the major centres of Islamic culture in the Mediterranean. After its conquest by the Normans the island developed its own distinct culture with the fusion of Arab, Western and Byzantine influences. Palermo remained a leading artistic and commercial centre of the Mediterranean well into the Middle Ages.

Europe was reviving, however, as more organized and centralized states began to form in the later Middle Ages after the Renaissance of the 12th century. Motivated by religion and dreams of conquest, the kings of Europe launched a number of Crusades to try to roll back Muslim power and retake the holy land. The Crusades were unsuccessful in this goal, but they were far more effective in weakening the already tottering Byzantine Empire that began to lose increasing amounts of territory to the Ottoman Turks. They also rearranged the balance of power in the Muslim world as Egypt once again emerged as a major power in the eastern Mediterranean.

The dominance of the Arabs came to a sudden end in the mid 11th century with the arrival of the Seljuk Turks, migrating south from the Turkic homelands in Central Asia, who conquered Persia, Iraq (capturing Baghdad in 1055), Syria, Palestine, and the Hejaz. Egypt held out under the Fatimid caliphs until 1169, when it too fell to the Turks.

Despite its massive territorial losses in the 7th century the Christian Byzantine Empire had continued to be a potent military and economic force in the Mediterranean preventing Arab expansion into much of Europe. The Seljuks' defeat of the Byzantine military in the 11th century and settling in Anatolia effectively marked the end of Byzantine influence in the region. The Seljuks ruled most of the Middle East region for the next 200 years, but their empire soon broke up into a number of smaller sultanates.

This fragmentation of the region allowed the Christian Frankish, or Holy Roman, Empire, through which Western Europe had staged a remarkable economic and demographic recovery since the nadir of its fortunes in the 7th century, to enter the region. In 1095, Pope Urban II, responding to pleas from the flagging Byzantine Empire, summoned the European aristocracy to recapture the Holy Land for Christianity, and in 1099 the knights of the First Crusade captured Jerusalem. They founded the Kingdom of Jerusalem, which survived until 1187, when Saladin retook the city. Smaller crusader fiefdoms survived until 1291.

In the early 13th century, a new wave of invaders, the Mongols of the Golden Horde, swept through the region, sacking Baghdad in 1258 and advancing as far south as the border of Egypt. Mamluk Emir Baibars left Damascus to Cairo where he was welcomed by Sultan Qutuz. After taking Damascus, Hulagu demanded that Sultan Qutuz surrender Egypt but Sultan Qutuz had Hulagu's envoys killed and, with the help of Baibars, mobilized his troops. Although Hulagu had to leave for the East when great Khan Möngke died in action against the Southern Song, he left his lieutenant, the Christian Kitbuqa, in charge. Sultan Qutuz drew the Mongol army into an ambush near the Orontes River, routed them at the Battle of Ain Jalut and captured and executed Kitbuqa. With this victory Mamluk Turks became Sultans of Egypt and the real power in the middle east and gaining control of Palestine and Syria, while other Turkish sultans controlled Iraq and Anatolia until the arrival of the Ottomans.

By the early 15th century, a new power had arisen in western Anatolia, the Ottoman emirs, who in 1453 captured the Christian Byzantine capitol of Constantinople and made themselves sultans. The Mameluks held the Ottomans out of the Middle East for a century, but in 1514 Selim the Grim began the systematic Ottoman conquest of the region. Iraq was occupied in 1515, Syria in 1516 and Egypt in 1517, extinguishing the Mameluk line. The Ottomans united the whole region under one ruler for the first time since the reign of the Abbasid caliphs of the 10th century, and they kept control of it for 400 years.

The Ottomans also conquered Greece, the Balkans, and most of Hungary, setting the new frontier between east and west far to the north of the Danube. But in the west Europe was rapidly expanding, demographically, economically and culturally, with the new wealth of the Americas fuelling a boom that laid the foundations for the growth of capitalism and the industrial revolution. By the 17th century, Europe had overtaken the Muslim world in wealth, population and—most importantly—technology.

By 1700, the Ottomans had been driven out of Hungary and the balance of power along the frontier had shifted decisively in favour of the west. Although some areas of Ottoman Europe, such as Albania and Bosnia, saw many conversions to Islam, the area was never culturally absorbed into the Muslim world. From 1700 to 1918, the Ottomans steadily retreated, and the Middle East fell further and further behind Europe, becoming increasingly inward-looking and defensive. During the 19th century, Greece, Serbia, Romania, and Bulgaria asserted their independence, and in the Balkan Wars of 1912-13 the Ottomans were driven out of Europe altogether, except for the city of Constantinople and its hinterland.

By the 19th century, the Ottoman Empire was known as the "sick man of Europe", increasingly under the financial control of the European powers. Domination soon turned to outright conquest. The French annexed Algeria in 1830 and Tunisia in 1878. The British occupied Egypt in 1882, though it remained under nominal Ottoman sovereignty. The British also established effective control of the Persian Gulf, and the French extended their influence into Lebanon and Syria. In 1912, the Italians seized Libya and the Dodecanese islands, just off the coast of the Ottoman heartland of Anatolia. The Ottomans turned to Germany to protect them from the western powers, but the result was increasing financial and military dependence on Germany.

In the late 19th and early 20th centuries, Middle Eastern rulers tried to modernize their states to compete more effectively with the European powers. Reforming rulers such as Mehemet Ali in Egypt, the Ottoman Sultan Abdul Hamid II and the authors of the 1906 revolution in Persia all sought to import versions of the western model of constitutional government, civil law, secular education and industrial development into their countries. Across the region railways and telegraphs lines were built, schools and universities were opened, and a new class of army officers, lawyers, teachers and administrators emerged, challenging the traditional leadership of Islamic scholars.

Unfortunately, in all these cases the money to pay for the reforms was borrowed from the west, and the crippling debt this entailed led to bankruptcy and even greater western domination, which tended to discredit the reformers. Egypt, for example, fell under British control because the ambitious projects of Muhammad Ali and his successors bankrupted the state. Additionally, the westernisation of the Islamic world created professional armies, led by officers who were both willing and able to seize power for themselves—a problem which has plagued the Middle East ever since. There was also the problem that affects all reforming absolute rulers: they are prepared to consider all reforms except giving up their own power. Abdul Hamid, for example, grew ever more autocratic as he tried to impose reforms on his reluctant empire. Reforming ministers in Persia also tried to impose modernisation on their subjects, provoking sharp resistance.

The most ambitious reformers were the Young Turks (officially called the Committee for Union and Progress), who seized power in the Ottoman Empire in 1908. Led by an ambitious pair of army officers, Ismail Enver (Enver Pasha) and Ahmed Cemal (Cemal Pasha), and a radical lawyer, Mehmed Talat (Talat Pasha), the Young Turks initially established a constitutional monarchy, but soon became a ruling junta, with Talat as Grand Vizier and Enver as War Minister, which tried to force a radical modernisation program onto the Ottoman Empire.

The plan had several flaws. First it entailed imposing the Turkish language and centralised government on what had hitherto been a multi-lingual and loosely-governed empire, which alienated the Arabic-speaking regions of the empire and caused an upsurge in Arab nationalism. Secondly it drove the empire ever deeper into debt. And thirdly, when Enver Bey formed an alliance with Germany, which he saw as the most advanced military power in Europe, it cost the empire the support of Britain, which had protected the Ottomans against Russian encroachment all through the 19th century.

In 1914 Enver Bey's alliance with Germany led the Young Turks into the fatal step of joining Germany and Austria-Hungary in World War I, against Britain and France. The British saw the Ottomans as the weak link in the enemy alliance, and concentrated on knocking them out of the war. When a direct assault failed at Gallipoli in 1915, they turned to fomenting revolution in the Ottoman domains, exploiting the awakening force of Arab nationalism. The Arabs had lived more or less happily under Ottoman rule for 400 years, until the Young Turks had tried to "Turkicise" them and change their traditional system of government. The British found an ally in Sherif Hussein, the hereditary ruler of Mecca (and believed by Muslims to be a descendant of the family of the Prophet Muhammad), who led an Arab Revolt against Ottoman rule, having received a promise of Arab independence in exchange.

But when the Ottoman Empire was defeated in 1918, the Arab population was met with what it perceived as betrayal by the British. The British and French governments concluded a secret treaty (the Sykes-Picot Agreement) to partition the Middle East between them and, additionally, the British promised via the Balfour Declaration the international Zionist movement their support in creating a Jewish homeland in Palestine. Although historically known to be the site of the ancient Jewish Kingdom of Israel and successor Jewish nations for 1,200 years between approximately 1100BC-100AD, the area had been Canaanite 8,000 years prior to that period and had a largely Muslim Arab population for over 1,300 years since (and a largely Byzantine Christian population in between). When the Ottomans departed, the Arabs proclaimed an independent state in Damascus, but were too weak, militarily and economically, to resist the European powers for long, and Britain and France soon established control and re-arranged the Middle East to suit themselves.

Syria became a French protectorate thinly disguised as a League of Nations Mandate. The Christian coastal areas were split off to become Lebanon, another French protectorate. Iraq and Palestine became British mandated territories. Iraq became the "Kingdom of Iraq" and one of Sherif Husayn's sons, Faisal, was installed as the King of Iraq. Palestine became the "British Mandate of Palestine" and was split in half. The eastern half of Palestine became the "Emirate of Transjordan" to provide a throne for another of Husayn's sons, Abdullah. The western half of Palestine was placed under direct British administration. The already substantial Jewish population was allowed to increase. Initially this increase was allowed under British protection. Most of the Arabian peninsula fell to another British ally, Ibn Saud. Saud created the Kingdom of Saudi Arabia in 1922.

Meanwhile, the fall of the Ottomans had allowed Kemal Atatürk to seize power in Turkey and embark on a program of modernisation and secularisation. He abolished the caliphate, emancipated women, enforced western dress and the use of Turkish in place of Arabic, and abolished the jurisdiction of the Islamic courts. In effect, Turkey, having given up rule over the Arab World, now determined to secede from the Middle East and become culturally part of Europe. Ever since, Turkey has insisted that it is a European country and not part of the Middle East.

Another turning point in the history of the Middle East came when oil was discovered, first in Persia in 1908 and later in Saudi Arabia (in 1938) and the other Persian Gulf states, and also in Libya and Algeria. The Middle East, it turned out, possessed the world's largest easily accessible reserves of crude oil, the most important commodity in the 20th century industrial world. Although western oil companies pumped and exported nearly all of the oil to fuel the rapidly expanding automobile industry and other western industrial developments, the kings and emirs of the oil states became immensely rich, enabling them to consolidate their hold on power and giving them a stake in preserving western hegemony over the region. Oil wealth also had the effect of stultifying whatever movement towards economic, political or social reform might have emerged in the Arab world under the influence of the Kemalist revolution in Turkey.

During the 1920s, 1930s, and 1940s, Iraq, Syria, and Egypt made moves towards independence. In 1919, Saad Zaghlul orchestrated mass demonstrations in Egypt known as the First Revolution. While Zaghul would later become Prime Minister, the British repression of the anticolonial riots led to the death of some 800 people. In 1920, Syrian forces were defeated by the French in the Battle of Maysalun and Iraqi forces were defeated by the British when they revolted. In 1924, the independent Kingdom of Egypt was created. Although Kingdom of Egypt was technically "neutral" during World War II, Cairo soon became a major military base for the British forces and the country was occupied. The British were able to do this because of a 1936 treaty by which the United Kingdom maintained that it had the right to station troops on Egyptian soil in order to protect the Suez Canal. In 1941, the Rashīd `Alī al-Gaylānī coup in Iraq led to the British invasion of the country during the Anglo-Iraqi War. The British invasion of Iraq was followed by the Allied invasion of Syria-Lebanon and the Anglo-Soviet invasion of Iran.

In the region of Palestine the conflicting forces of Arab nationalism and Zionism created a situation which the British could neither resolve nor extricate themselves from. The rise to power of German dictator Adolf Hitler in Germany had created a new urgency in the Zionist quest to immigrate to Palestine and create a Jewish state there. A Palestinian state was also an attractive alternative for Arab and Persian leaders to British, French, and perceived Jewish colonialism and imperialism under the logic of "the enemy of my enemy is my friend" (Lewis, 348-350).

The struggle between the Arabs and the Jews in Palestine culminated in the 1947 United Nations plan to partition Palestine. This plan attempted to create an Arab state and a Jewish state in the narrow space between the Jordan River and the Mediterranean Sea. While the Jewish leaders accepted it, the Arab leaders rejected this plan.

On 14 May 1948, when the British Mandate expired, the Zionist leadership declared the State of Israel. In the 1948 Arab-Israeli War which immediately followed, the armies of Egypt, Syria, Transjordan, Lebanon, Iraq, and Saudi Arabia intervened and were defeated by Israel. About 800,000 Palestinians fled from areas annexed by Israel and became refugees in neighbouring countries, thus creating the "Palestinian problem" which has bedevilled the region ever since. Approximately two-thirds of 758,000—866,000 of the Jews expelled or who fled from Arab lands after 1948 were absorbed and naturalized by the State of Israel.

The departure of the European powers from direct control of the region, the establishment of Israel, and the increasing importance of the oil industry, marked the creation of the modern Middle East. These developments led to a growing presence of the United States in Middle East affairs. The U.S. was the ultimate guarantor of the stability of the region, and from the 1950s the dominant force in the oil industry. When republican revolutions brought radical anti-western regimes to power in Egypt in 1954, in Syria in 1963, in Iraq in 1968 and in Libya in 1969, the Soviet Union, seeking to open a new arena of the Cold War in the Middle East, allied itself with Arab rulers such as Gamal Abdel Nasser of Egypt and Saddam Hussein of Iraq. These regimes gained popular support through their promises to destroy the state of Israel, defeat the U.S. and other "western imperialists," and to bring prosperity to the Arab masses. When they failed to deliver on their promises, they became increasingly despotic.

In response to this challenge to its interests in the region, the U.S. felt obliged to defend its remaining allies, the conservative monarchies of Saudi Arabia, Jordan, Iran and the Persian Gulf emirates, whose methods of rule were almost as unattractive to western eyes as those of the anti-western regimes. Iran in particular became a key U.S. ally, until a revolution led by the Shi'a clergy overthrew the monarchy in 1979 and established a theocratic regime which was even more anti-western than the secular regimes in Iraq or Syria. This forced the U.S. into a close alliance with Saudi Arabia, a reactionary, corrupt and oppressive monarchy, and a regime, moreover, dedicated to the destruction of Israel. The list of Arab-Israeli wars includes a great number of major wars such as 1948 Arab-Israeli War, 1956 Suez War, 1967 Six Day War, 1970 War of Attrition, 1973 Yom Kippur War, 1982 Lebanon War, as well as a number of lesser conflicts.

In 1979, Egypt under Nasser's successor, Anwar Sadat, concluded a peace treaty with Israel, ending the prospects of a united Arab military front. From the 1970s the Palestinians, led by Yasser Arafat's Palestine Liberation Organization, resorted to a prolonged campaign of violence against Israel and against American, Jewish and western targets generally, as a means of weakening Israeli resolve and undermining western support for Israel. The Palestinians were supported in this, to varying degrees, by the regimes in Syria, Libya, Iran and Iraq. The high point of this campaign came in the 1975 United Nations General Assembly Resolution 3379 condemning Zionism as a form of racism and the reception given to Arafat by the United Nations General Assembly. The Resolution 3379 was revoked in 1991 by the UNGA Resolution 4686.

The fall of the Soviet Union and the collapse of communism in the early 1990s had several consequences for the Middle East. It allowed large numbers of Soviet Jews to emigrate from Russia and Ukraine to Israel, further strengthening the Jewish state. It cut off the easiest source of credit, armaments and diplomatic support to the anti-western Arab regimes, weakening their position. It opened up the prospect of cheap oil from Russia, driving down the price of oil and reducing the west's dependence on oil from the Arab states. And it discredited the model of development through authoritarian state socialism which Egypt (under Nasser), Algeria, Syria and Iraq had been following since the 1960s, leaving these regimes politically and economically stranded. Rulers such as Saddam Hussein in Iraq increasingly turned to Arab nationalism as a substitute for socialism.

It was this which led Iraq into its prolonged war with Iran in the 1980s, and then into its fateful invasion of Kuwait in 1990. Kuwait had been part of the Ottoman province of Basra before 1918, and thus in a sense part of Iraq, but Iraq had recognised its independence in the 1960s. The U.S. responded to the invasion by forming a coalition of allies which included Saudi Arabia, Egypt and Syria, gaining approval from the United Nations and then evicting Iraq from Kuwait by force in the Persian Gulf War. President George H. W. Bush did not, however, attempt to overthrow Saddam Hussein's regime, something the U.S. later came to regret. The Persian Gulf War and its aftermath brought about a permanent U.S. military presence in the Persian Gulf region, particularly in Saudi Arabia, something which caused great offence to many Muslims.

The conflicts continued in 2006 with the so-called 'July War' between Israel and Hizbullah militants. What had been a long-running, localized conflict between Israeli forces and Palestinian militants in the Gaza Strip flared up on July 12, 2006 when Hezbollah militants captured 2 Israeli soldiers patrolling along the Israeli-Lebanese border. This resulted in what is called the July War in Lebanon, which lasted just over a month, in which more than 1000 Lebanese civilians were killed and around 120 Israeli soldiers were killed, both Israel and Lebanon were subjected to constant shelling and air strikes by Hezbolla and Israel, respectively. Air strikes and rocket attacks became commonplace between Israeli forces and the Hezbollah militia as the Israelis attempted to clear a security zone along the Israeli-Lebanese border free of Israeli forces and Hezbollah militants. A recent Report for Congress argued that indirect involvement of Iran and Syria, in that they allow and help the 'arming, training and financing' of Hezbollah, means that the month-long war was really a direct conflict between Israel and Iran-Syria by proxy.

By the 1990s, many western commentators (and some Middle Eastern ones) saw the Middle East as not just a zone of conflict, but also a zone of backwardness. The rapid spread of political democracy and the development of market economies in Eastern Europe, Latin America, East Asia and parts of Africa passed the Middle East by boats. In the whole region, only Israel, Turkey and to some extent Lebanon and the Palestinian territories were democracies. Other countries had legislative bodies, but these had little power, and in the Gulf states the majority of the population could not vote anyway, as they were guest workers and not citizens. Many Arab commentators counter claim that as a direct result of Western foreign policy, an overstrong Israel, double standards of occupation, and destroying a nation which was extremely prosperous in the 1980s under Saddam Hussein by form of sanctions, and interference was removed much progress would come naturally to these nations.

In most Middle Eastern countries, the growth of market economies was inhibited by political restrictions, corruption and cronyism, overspending on arms and prestige projects, and overdependence on oil revenues. The successful economies in the region were those which combined oil wealth with low populations, such as Qatar, Bahrain and the United Arab Emirates. In these states, the ruling emirs allowed a certain degree of political and social liberalization, yet without giving up any of their own power. Lebanon, after a prolonged civil war in the 1980s, also rebuilt a fairly successful economy.

By the end of the 1990s, the Middle East as a whole was falling behind Europe, India, China, and other rapidly developing market economies, in terms of production, trade, education, communications and virtually every other criterion of economic and social progress. The assertion that, if oil was subtracted, the total exports of the whole Arab world were less than those of Finland was frequently quoted. The theories of authors such as David Pryce-Jones, that the Arabs were trapped in a "cycle of backwardness" from which their culture would not allow them to escape, were widely accepted in the west and east.

In the opening years of the 21st century all these factors combined to raise the Middle East conflict to a new height, and to spread its consequences across the globe. The failure of the attempt by Bill Clinton to broker a peace deal between Israel and the Palestinians at Camp David in 2000 (2000 Camp David Summit) led directly to the election of Ariel Sharon as Prime Minister of Israel and to the Al-Aqsa Intifada, characterised by suicide bombing of Israeli civilian targets. This was the first major outbreak of violence since the Oslo Peace Accords of 1993.

At the same time, the failures of most of the Arab regimes and the bankruptcy of secular Arab radicalism led a section of educated Arabs (and other Muslims) to embrace Islamism, promoted both by the Shi'a clerics of Iran and by the powerful Wahhabist sect of Saudi Arabia. Many of the militant Islamists gained military training while fighting against the forces of the Soviet Union in Afghanistan.

The U.S. and Britain also became convinced that Saddam Hussein was reconstituting Iraq's weapons of mass destruction program, in violation of the agreements it had given at the end of the Persian Gulf War. During 2002 the administration, led by Defense Secretary Donald Rumsfeld, developed a plan to invade Iraq, remove Saddam from power, and turn Iraq into a democratic state with a free-market economy, which, they hoped, would serve as a model for the rest of the Middle East. When the U.S. and its principal allies, Britain, Italy, Spain and Australia, could not secure United Nations approval for the execution of the numerous United Nations resolutions, they launched an invasion of Iraq, overthrowing Saddam with no great difficulty in April 2003.

The advent of a new western army of occupation in a Middle Eastern capital marked a turning point in the history of the region. Despite successful elections (although boycotted by large portions of Iraq's Sunni population) held in January 2005, Iraq has all but disintegrated due to a lack of infrastructure and security. A post-war insurgency has morphed into persistent ethnic violence the American army has been unable to quell. Many of Iraq's intellectual and business elite have fled the country, and total Iraqi refugees already outnumber the Palestinian exodus following the creation of Israel, further destabilizing the region. A responsive surge in US forces in Iraq has recently been largely successful in controlling the insurgency and stabilizing Iraq.

By 2005, also, George W. Bush's Road map for peace between Israel and the Palestinians has been stalled, although this situation began to change with Yasser Arafat's death in 2004. In response, Israel moved towards a unilateral solution, pushing ahead with the Israeli West Bank barrier to protect Israel from Palestinian suicide bombers and proposed unliteral withdrawal from Gaza. The barrier if completed would amount to a de facto annexation of areas of the West Bank by Israel. In 2006 a new conflict erupted between Israel and Hezbollah Shi’a militia in southern Lebanon, further setting back any prospects for peace.

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Middle East

Sana'a, the capital of Yemen, is located in a mountainous region, and is designated a World Heritage Site for its architecture

The Middle East (or, formerly more common, the Near East) is a region that spans southwestern Asia and northeastern Africa. It has no clear boundaries, often used as a synonym to Near East, in opposition to Far East. The term "Middle East" was popularized around 1900 in the United Kingdom. The corresponding adjective to Middle East is Middle-Eastern and the derived noun is Middle-Easterner.

The history of the Middle East dates back to ancient times, and throughout its history the Middle East has been a major centre of world affairs. The Middle East is also the historical origin of three of the world’s major religions—Judaism, Christianity, and Islam. The Middle East generally has an arid and hot climate, with several major rivers providing for irrigation to support agriculture in limited areas. Many countries located around the Persian Gulf have large quantities of crude oil. In modern times the Middle East remains a strategically, economically, politically, culturally and religiously sensitive region.

The term "Middle East" may have originated in the 1850s in the British India Office, and became more widely known when American naval strategist Alfred Thayer Mahan used the term. During this time the British and Russian Empires were vying for influence in Central Asia, a rivalry which would become known as The Great Game. Mahan realized not only the strategic importance of the region, but also of its center, the Persian Gulf. He labeled the area surrounding the Persian Gulf as the Middle East, and said that after the Suez Canal, it was the most important passage for Britain to control in order to keep the Russians from advancing towards India. Mahan first used the term in his article "The Persian Gulf and International Relations," published in September 1902 in the National Review, a British journal.

The Middle East, if I may adopt a term which I have not seen, will some day need its Malta, as well as its Gibraltar; it does not follow that either will be in the Persian Gulf. Naval force has the quality of mobility which carries with it the privilege of temporary absences; but it needs to find on every scene of operation established bases of refit, of supply, and in case of disaster, of security. The British Navy should have the facility to concentrate in force if occasion arise, about Aden, India, and the Persian Gulf.

Mahan's article was reprinted in The Times and followed in October by a 20 article series entitled "The Middle Eastern Question," written by Sir Ignatius Valentine Chirol. During this series Sir Ignatius expanded the definition of the "Middle East" to include "those regions of Asia which extend to the borders of India or command the approaches to India." With the series end in 1903, The Times removed quotation marks from subsequent uses of the term.

Until World War II, it was customary to refer to areas centered around Turkey and the eastern shore of the Mediterranean as the "Near East," while the "Far East" centered on China, and the Middle East then meant the area from Mesopotamia to Burma, namely the area between the Near East and the Far East. In the late 1930s, the British established the Middle East Command, which was based in Cairo, for its military forces in the region. After that time, the term "Middle East" gained broader usage in Europe and the United States, with the Middle East Institute founded in Washington, D.C. in 1946, among other usage.

Many have criticized the term Middle East for what they see as Eurocentrism, because it was originally used by Europeans (although Mahan was American) and reflects the geographical position of the region from a European perspective. Today, the term is used by Europeans and non-Europeans alike, unlike the similar term Mashreq, used exclusively in Arabic-language contexts.

The description Middle has also led to some confusion over changing definitions. Before the First World War, "Near East" was used in English to refer to the Balkans and the Ottoman Empire, while "Middle East" referred to Iran, Afghanistan, and Central Asia, Turkestan, and the Caucasus. In contrast, "Far East" referred to the countries of East Asia (e.g. China, Japan, Korea, Hong Kong, etc.). Some critics usually advise using an alternative term, such as "Western Asia." The official UN designation of the area is "Western Asia".

With the disappearance of the Ottoman Empire in 1918, "Near East" largely fell out of common use in English, while "Middle East" came to be applied to the re-emerging countries of the Islamic world. However, the usage of "Near East" was retained by a variety of academic disciplines, including archaeology and ancient history, where it describes an area identical to the term Middle East, which is not used by these disciplines (see Ancient Near East).

The first official use of the term "Middle East" by the United States government was in the 1957 Eisenhower Doctrine, which pertained to the Suez Crisis. Secretary of State John Foster Dulles defined the Middle East as "the area lying between and including Libya on the west and Pakistan on the east, Syria and Iraq on the North and the Arabian peninsula to the south, plus the Sudan and Ethiopia." In 1958, the State Department explained that the terms "Near East" and "Middle East" were interchangeable, and defined the region as including only Egypt, Syria, Israel, Lebanon, Jordan, Iraq, Saudi Arabia, Kuwait, Bahrain, and Qatar.

Use Middle East unless Near East is used by a source in a story. Mideast is also acceptable, but Middle East is preferred.

At the United Nations, the numerous documents and resolutions about the Middle East are in fact concerned with the Arab-Israeli conflict, in particular the Israeli-Palestinian conflict, and, therefore, with the four states of the Levant. The term Near East is occasionally heard at the UN when referring to this region.

There are terms similar to "Near East" and "Middle East" in other European languages, but since it is a relative description, the meanings depend on the country and are different from the English terms generally. In German the term "Naher Osten" (Near East) is still in common use (nowadays the term "Mittlerer Osten" is more and more common in press texts translated from English sources, albeit having a distinct meaning) and in Russian Ближний Восток or "Blizhniy Vostok", Bulgarian Близкия Изток, Polish Bliski Wschód or Croatian Bliski istok (meaning Near East in all the four Slavic languages) remains as the only appropriate term for the region. However, some languages do have "Middle East" equivalents, such as the French Moyen-Orient, Spanish Oriente Medio or Medio Oriente, and the Italian Medio Oriente..

Perhaps due to the influence of the Western press, the Arabic equivalent of “Middle East,” “‫الشرق الأوسط‬” (“ash-sharq-l-awsat”), has become standard usage in the mainstream Arabic press, comprehending the same meaning as the term “Middle East” in North American and Western European usage. The Persian equivalent for Middle East is خاورمیانه (Khāvarmiyāneh).

1 The figures for Turkey includes Eastern Thrace, which is not a part of Anatolia.

2 Under Israeli law. The UN doesn't recognize Jerusalem as Israel's capital.

3 Includes the whole of the West Bank, according to the pre-1967 boundaries.

4 In addition, there are around 400,000 Israeli settlers in the West Bank, of which half are in East-Jerusalem.

The Middle East lies at the juncture of Eurasia and Africa and of the Mediterranean Sea and the Indian Ocean. It is the birthplace and spiritual center of the Christianity, Islam, Judaism, Yezidi, and in Iran, Mithraism, Zoroastrianism, Manichaeism and the Bahá'í Faith. Throughout its history the Middle East has been a major center of world affairs; a strategically, economically, politically, culturally, and religiously sensitive area.

The earliest civilizations, Mesopotamia and ancient Egypt, originated in the Fertile Crescent and Nile Valley regions of the ancient Near East, as well as the civilizations of the Levant, Persia, and Arabian Peninsula. The Near East was first unified under the Achaemenid Empire followed later by the Macedonian Empire and later Iranian empires, namely the Parthian and Sassanid Empires. However, it would be the Arab Caliphates of the Middle Ages, or Islamic Golden Age, that would first unify the entire Middle East as a distinct region and create the dominant ethnic identity that persists today. The Turkic Seljuk, Ottoman and Safavid empires would also later dominate the region.

The modern Middle East began after World War I, when the Ottoman Empire, which was allied with the defeated Central Powers, was partitioned into a number of separate nations. Other defining events in this transformation included the establishment of Israel in 1948 and the departure of European powers, notably Britain and France. They were supplanted in some part by the rising influence of the United States.

In the 20th century, the region's significant stocks of crude oil gave it new strategic and economic importance. Mass production of oil began around 1945, with Saudi Arabia, Iran, Kuwait, Iraq, and the United Arab Emirates having large quantities of oil. Estimated oil reserves, especially in Saudi Arabia and Iran, are some of the highest in the world, and the international oil cartel OPEC is dominated by Middle Eastern countries.

During the Cold War, the Middle East was a theater of ideological struggle between the two superpowers: the United States and the Soviet Union, as they competed to influence regional allies. Of course, besides the political reasons there was also the "ideological conflict" between the two systems. Moreover, as Louise Fawcett argues, among many important areas of contention, or perhaps more accurately of anxiety, were, first, the desires of the superpowers to gain strategic advantage in the region, second, the fact that the region contained some two thirds of the world's oil reserves in a context where oil was becoming increasingly vital to the economy of the Western world Within this contextual framework, the United States sought to divert the Arab world from Soviet influence. Throughout the 20th and into the 21st century, the region has experienced both periods of relative peace and tolerance and periods of conflict and war. Current issues include the Iraq War, Israeli-Palestinian conflict, and the Iranian nuclear program.

The Middle East defines a geographical area, but does not have precisely defined borders.

The Middle East is primarily arid and semi-arid, and can be subject to drought; nonetheless, there exists vast expanses of forests and fertile valleys. The region consists of grasslands, rangelands, deserts, and mountains. Water shortages are a problem in many parts of the Middle East, with rapidly growing populations increasing demands for water, while salinization and pollution threaten water supplies. Major rivers, including the Nile and the Euphrates, provide sources for irrigation water to support agriculture.

There are two wind phenomenons in the Middle East: the sharqi and the shamal. The sharqi (or sharki) is a wind that comes from the south and southeast. It is seasonal, lasting from April to early June, and comes again between late September and November. The winds are dry and dusty, with occasional gusts up to 80 kilometers per hour (50 miles per hour) and often kick up violent sand and dust storms that can carry sand a few thousand meters high, and can close down airports for short periods of time. These winds can last for a full day at the beginning and end of the season, and for several days during the middle of the season. The shamal is a summer northwesterly wind blowing over Iraq and the Persian Gulf states (including Saudi Arabia and Kuwait), often strong during the day, but decreasing at night. This weather effect occurs anywhere from once to several times a year.

While Middle East mainly contains areas with low relief, Turkey Iran, and Yemen include mountainous terrain. The Anatolian Plateau is sandwiched between the Pontus Mountains and Taurus Mountains in Turkey. Mount Ararat in Turkey rises to 5,165 meters. The Zagros Mountains are located in Iran, in areas along its border with Iraq. The Central Plateau of Iran is divided into two drainage basins. The northern basin is Dasht-e Kavir (Great Salt Desert), and Dasht-e-Lut is the southern basin.

In Yemen, elevations exceed 3,700 meters in many areas, and highland areas extend north along the Red Sea coast and north into Lebanon. A fault-zone also exists along the Red Sea, with continental rifting creating trough-like topography with areas located well-below sea level. The Dead Sea, located on the border between the West Bank, Israel, and Jordan, is situated at 418 m (1371 ft) below sea level, making it the lowest point on the surface of the Earth.

A large lowland belt is located on the Arabian Peninsula, from central Iraq, through Saudi Arabia, and to Oman and the Arabian Sea. The Euphrates and Tigris rivers cut through the lowland belt in Iraq and flow into the Persian Gulf. Rub'al KhāLī, one of the world's largest sand deserts, spans the southern third of the Arabian Peninsula in Saudi Arabia, parts of Oman, the United Arab Emirates and Yemen. Jebel al Akhdar is a small range of mountains located in northeastern Oman, bordering the Gulf of Oman.

Three major tectonic plates converge on the Middle East, including the African, Eurasian, and Arabian plates. The boundaries between the tectonic plates make up the Azores-Gibraltar Ridge, extending across North Africa, the Red Sea, and into Iran. The Arabian Plate is moving northward into the Anatolian plate (Turkey) at the East Anatolian Fault, and the boundary between the Aegean and Anatolian plate in eastern Turkey is also seismically active.

Several major aquifers provide water to large portions of the Middle East. In Saudi Arabia, two large aquifers of Palaeozoic and Triassic origins are located beneath the Jabal Tuwayq mountains and areas west to the Red Sea. Cretaceous and Eocene-origin aquifers are located beneath large portions of central and eastern Saudi Arabia, including Wasia and Biyadh which contain amounts of both fresh water and saline water. The Nubian aquifer system underlies large areas of North Africa. The Great Manmade River project in Libya utilizes an extensive network of pipelines to transport water from the Nubian aquifer to its population centers. Groundwater recharge for these deep rock aquifers is on the order of thousands of years, thus the aquifers are essentially non-renewable resources. Flood or furrow irrigation, as well as sprinkler methods, are extensively used for irrigation, covering nearly 90,000 km² across the Middle East for agriculture.

The Middle East is home to numerous ethnic groups, including Arabs, Turks, Persians, Jews, Kurds, Aramean Syriacs, Azeris, Circassians, Berbers, Somalis, Greeks, Samaritans, Turkmens, Pashtuns, Baluch, Habesha(mainly Eritrean habesha), and Nubians.

The Middle East is very diverse when it comes to religions, most of which originated there. Islam in its many forms is by far the largest religion in the Middle East, but other faiths, such as Judaism and Christianity, are also important. There are also important minority religions like Bahá'í, Yazdanism, Zoroastrianism.

Languages of the Middle East span many different families, including Indo-European, Afro-Asiatic, and Altaic.

Arabic in its numerous varieties and Persian are most widely spoken in the region, with Arabic being the most widely spoken language in the Arab countries. Other languages spoken in the region include Russian is a popular language in many middle eastern country's. , Syriac (a form of Aramaic), Azeri, Berber languages, Circassian, Persian, Gilaki language and Mazandarani languages, Hebrew in its numerous varieties, Kurdish, Luri, Turkish and other Turkic languages, Somali and Greek. In Turkey, Kurdish, Dimli (or Zaza), Azeri, Kabardian, and Gagauz languages are spoken, in addition to the Turkish language. Several modern South Arabian languages are also spoken.

English is also spoken, especially among the middle and upper class, in countries such as Egypt, Jordan, Israel, Iraq, and Kuwait. French is spoken in Algeria, Israel, Lebanon, Morocco, Syria, and Egypt. Urdu is spoken in many Middle Eastern countries, such as Arab states the United Arab Emirates, Israel, and Qatar, which have large numbers of Pakistani immigrants. The largest Romanian-speaking community in the Middle East is found in Israel, where as of 1995 Romanian is spoken by 5% of the population. Romanian is spoken mostly as a secondary language by people from Arab-speaking countries that made their studies in Romania. It is estimated that almost half a million Middle Eastern Arabs studied in Romania during the 1980s. Russian language is also spoken by a large portion of the Israeli population, due to emigration in the late 1990s.

Middle Eastern economies range from nations being very poor (such as Gaza and Yemen) to extremely wealthy nations (such as UAE and Saudi Arabia). Overall, as of 2007, according to the CIA World Factbook, all nations in the Middle East are maintaining a positive rate of growth.

According to the International Monetary Fund's World Economic Outlook Database of April 2008, the three largest Middle Eastern economies in 2007 were Turkey ($ 663,419,000,000), Saudi Arabia ($ 376,029,000,000) and Iran ($ 294,089,000,000) in terms of Nominal GDP; and Turkey ($ 887,964,000,000), Iran ($ 752,967,000,000) and Saudi Arabia ($ 564,561,000,000) in terms of GDP-PPP. When it comes to per capita (PPP) based income, the three highest ranking countries are Qatar ($80,900), Kuwait ($39,300) and the United Arab Emirates ($37,300). The lowest ranking country in the Middle East, in terms of per capita income (PPP) is the autonomous Palestinian Authority of Gaza and the West Bank ($1,100).

The economic structure of Middle Eastern nations are different in the sense that while some nations are heavily dependent on export of only oil and oil-related products (such as Saudi Arabia, the UAE and Kuwait), others have a highly diverse economic base (such as Turkey and Egypt). Industries of the Middle Eastern region includes oil and oil-related products, agriculture, cotton, cattle, dairy, textiles, leather products, surgical instruments, defence equipment (guns, ammunition, tanks, submarines, fighter jets, UAVs, and missiles). Banking is also an important sector of the economies especially in the case of UAE, and Bahrain. Tourism, with the exception of Turkey, Egypt and Israel, remains largely unexplored and is underdeveloped due to the conservative nature of the region as well as the political turmoil in certain regions of the Middle East. In recent years, however, countries such as the UAE, Bahrain, and Jordan have begun experiencing greater number of tourists due to improving tourist facilities and the relaxing of tourism-related policies.

Unemployment is notably high in the Middle East and North Africa region, particularly among young people aged 15-29, a demographic representing 30% of the region’s total population. The total regional unemployment rate in 2005, according to the International Labor Organization, was 13.2%, and among youth is as high as 25%, up to 37% in Morocco and 73% in Syria.

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Source : Wikipedia