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Middle EastBritannica Elementary Article

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The region around the southern and eastern shores of the Mediterranean Sea is called the Middle East. Geographers and historians created the term. Historically, the region has been a meeting point for peoples, trade, and ideas.

 

Geography

The term Middle East is used for the countries that are located where three continents—Europe, Asia, and Africa—meet. The countries are Turkey, Iran, Afghanistan, Lebanon, Syria, Iraq, Israel, Jordan, Saudi Arabia, Yemen, Oman, the United Arab Emirates, Qatar, Bahrain, Kuwait, Egypt, Sudan, Libya, Tunisia, Algeria, and Morocco.

The mountain ranges in the Middle East include the Atlas, the Pontic, the Taurus, the Elburz, the Hindu Kush, and the Zagros. All of these ranges have peaks above 12,000 feet (3,600 meters). The tallest is in Iran. Mount Damavand is 18,606 feet (5,671 meters) high and is covered with snow throughout the year. The region also includes large plateaus and plains. The important rivers in the Middle East are the Nile, the Tigris, the Euphrates, the Jordan, the Litani, and the Orontes.

The climate of the Middle East is extremely hot, except along the Mediterranean coast in the far north and high in the mountains. In the Arabian Peninsula and areas of North Africa that are far from the Mediterranean, temperatures can be higher than 100° F (38° C ). However, even in the hottest regions, the nights are cold, and sometimes there is even frost. In parts of Turkey and Iran the winters can be very cold, especially in the mountains.

 

People and culture

Almost half the region's population lives in Turkey, Egypt, and Iran. Most people in the Middle East are Muslim. This religion originated in the Arabian Peninsula in the 7th century AD and spread quickly through the Middle East. Muhammad, the founder of Islam, lived in the region. The most sacred Islamic sites, including the city of Mecca, are found there.

The Middle East is also the birthplace of Judaism and Christianity. Judaism is the religion of the Jews. Israel, the world's only Jewish state, is in the Middle East. Many Christians also live in the region. In Lebanon, Christians account for about 40 percent of the population. In Egypt and Syria, Christians make up almost 10 percent.

Arabic is the main language of the region, except in Turkey, Iran, Israel, and Afghanistan. Hebrew is spoken in Israel, and Turkish is the main language of Turkey. In Iran, the main language is Persian. Kurdish is spoken in western Iran, eastern Turkey, and northern Iraq. The main language of Afghanistan is Pashto. Berber is spoken in parts of Algeria and Morocco.

 

Economy

Farming is an important part of the economy of the Middle East. The main crops are wheat, barley, corn, and rice. The fruits grown most often are olives, citrus fruits, and dates. Some crops are sold to other countries. tobacco in Turkey, coffee in Yemen, and cotton in Egypt, Turkey, and Syria.

In the 20th century oil was discovered in the Middle East. That discovery has had a great effect on the region's economy. The Middle East has more than 60 percent of the world's petroleum. It began to be explored on a large scale after World War II. Other important industries in the region are petrochemicals, food processing, textiles, and consumer goods. Several countries produce iron and steel and assemble vehicles.

 

History

Two of the earliest human civilizations—the Egyptian and Mesopotamian—arose in the Middle East region thousands of years ago. The Hittite kingdom, one of the dominant powers of the Middle East, developed in Anatolia after 1900 BC. Today Anatolia is the Asian portion of Turkey. In the area that is now Israel and Jordan the ancient region of Palestine was home to the first Jewish state some 3,000 years ago.

The Persian Empire flourished by the 6th century BC. When it fell, the Greeks and the Romans took control of the region. When the Roman Empire was divided up in AD 395, the Mediterranean region of the Middle East became part of the Byzantine Empire.

Beginning in the 7th century the Middle East was ruled by a series of Muslim empires for almost 11 centuries. The only exceptions were several brief periods when Christian Crusaders from Europe controlled Jerusalem.

In the late 18th century Europeans arrived and soon divided up the area. France controlled Morocco, Algeria, Tunisia, Syria, and Lebanon. Britain ruled over Egypt, Palestine, Jordan, Iraq, and southern Yemen. At the end of the 19th century Jewish people began to ask that a new Jewish state be established in Palestine. This led to the birth of Israel in 1948.

The Middle East faced serious problems after World War II. The countries of the area fought many wars with each other, but the most serious of the disputes was between Israel and its Arab neighbors. They fought a series of wars for control of the land that was once Palestine. Members of the different groups held peace talks in the late 20th and early 21st centuries, but the hostilities continued.