Major Cities of Arab world
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Arab world (Arabic: العالم العربي al-‘ālam
al-‘arabī; formally: Arab homeland, الوطن العربي
al-waṭan al-‘arabī), also known as the Arab nation
(الأمة العربية al-ummah al-‘arabīyah) or the Arab
states, currently consists of the 22 Arab countries of the Arab
League. These Arab states occupy an area stretching from the
Atlantic Ocean in the west to the
Arabian Sea in the east, and from
Mediterranean Sea in the north to the
Horn of Africa
Horn of Africa and the
Indian Ocean in the southeast. The contemporary
Arab world has a
combined population of around 422 million inhabitants, over half of
whom are under 25 years of age.
In the Middle Ages, the
Arab world was synonymous with the historic
Arab empires and caliphates.
Arab nationalism arose in the second half
of the 19th century along with other nationalist movements within the
Ottoman Empire. The
Arab League was formed in 1945 to represent the
Arab people and especially to pursue the political
unification of the Arab countries; a project known as
1.1 Standard territorial definition
1.1.1 Member states of the Arab League
1.2 Ancillary linguistic definition
3.3 Gender equality
3.4 Largest cities in the Arab world
4.1 Early history
4.2 Ottoman and colonial rule
4.3 Rise of Arab nationalism
4.4 Modern conflicts
4.4.1 Unification of Saudi Arabia
4.4.2 Arab–Israeli conflict
4.4.4 Lebanese Civil War
Western Sahara conflict
Yemen Civil War
4.4.7 Somali Civil War
4.4.8 Arab Spring
4.6 Recent history
5 States and territories
5.1 Forms of government
5.2 Modern boundaries
5.3 Modern economies
6.1 Historical boundaries
6.1.1 Arab Africa
6.1.2 Arab Middle East
7 See also
10 Further reading
11 External links
The linguistic and political denotation inherent in the term Arab is
generally dominant over genealogical considerations. In Arab states,
Modern Standard Arabic
Modern Standard Arabic is the only language used by the government.
The language of an individual nation is called Darija, which means
Darija shares the majority of its
vocabulary with standard Arabic, but it also significantly borrows
from Berber (Tamazight) substrates, as well as extensively from
French, the language of the historical colonial occupier of the
Darija is spoken and, to various extents, mutually understood
Maghreb countries, especially Morocco, Algeria, and Tunisia,
but it is unintelligible to speakers of other Arabic dialects, mainly
for those in
Egypt and the Middle East.
Standard territorial definition
Main article: Arab League
Although no globally accepted definition of the
Arab world exists,
all countries that are members of the
Arab League are generally
acknowledged as being part of the Arab world.
Arab League is a regional organisation that aims (among other
things) to consider in a general way the affairs and interests of the
Arab countries and sets out the following definition of an Arab:
An Arab is a person whose language is Arabic, who lives in an Arabic
country, and who is in sympathy with the aspirations of the Arabic
This standard territorial definition is sometimes seen to be
inappropriate or problematic, and may be supplemented with
certain additional elements (see ancillary linguistic definition
Member states of the Arab League
Main article: Member states of the Arab League
Algeria (Arabic: الجزائر al-Jazā’ir) (
the other official language, French is used in education, daily life
Bahrain (Arabic: البحرين al-Baḥrayn)
Comoros (Arabic: جزر القمر Juzur al-Qamar) (Comorian
and French are the other official languages)
Djibouti (Arabic: جيبوتي Jībūtī) (French is the
other official language)
Egypt (Arabic: مصر Miṣr)
Iraq (Arabic: العراق al-‘Irāq) (Kurdish is the other
official language (minority))
Jordan (Arabic: الأردن al-Urdun)
Kuwait (Arabic: الكويت al-Kuwayt)
Lebanon (Arabic: لبنان Lubnān) (French has a special
Libya (Arabic: ليبيا Lībyā)
Mauritania (Arabic: موريتانيا Mūrītānyā)
Morocco (Arabic: المغرب al-Maghrib) (
Tamazight is the
other official language, French is used in education, daily life and
Oman (Arabic: عمان ‘Umān)
Palestine (Arabic: فلسطين Filasṭīn)
Qatar (Arabic: قطر Qaṭar)
Saudi Arabia (Arabic: المملكة العربية
السعودية al-Mamlakah al-‘Arabīyah as-Sa‘ūdīyah)
Somalia (Arabic: الصومال aṣ-Ṣūmāl) (Somali is
the other official language)
Sudan (Arabic: السودان as-Sūdān) (English is the
other official language (minority))
Syria (Arabic: سوريا Sūryā)
Tunisia (Arabic: تونس Tūnis) (French is used in
education, daily life and business)
United Arab Emirates
United Arab Emirates (Arabic: الإمارات العربيّة
المتّحدة al-Imārāt al-‘Arabīyah al-Muttaḥidah)
Yemen (Arabic: اليمن al-Yaman)
Ancillary linguistic definition
Main article: Arabic language
As an alternative to, or in combination with, the standard
territorial definition, the
Arab world may be defined as consisting of
peoples and states united to at least some degree by Arabic language,
culture or geographic contiguity, or those states or territories
in which the majority of the population speaks Arabic, and thus may
also include populations of the Arab diaspora.
When an ancillary linguistic definition is used in combination with
the standard territorial definition, various parameters may be
applied[clarification needed] to determine whether a state or
territory should be included in this alternative definition of the
Arab world. These parameters may be applied[clarification needed] to
the states and territories of the
Arab League (which constitute the
Arab world under the standard definition) and to other states and
territories. Typical parameters that may be applied include: whether
Arabic is widely spoken; whether Arabic is an official or national
language; or whether an Arabic cognate language is widely spoken.
Arabic dialects are spoken in a number of
Arab League states,
Literary Arabic is official in all of them. Several states have
declared Arabic to be an official or national language, although
Arabic is today not as widely spoken there. As members of the Arab
League, however, they are considered part of the
Arab world under the
standard territorial definition.
Somalia has two official languages today, Arabic and Somali, both of
which belong to the larger Afro-Asiatic language family. Although
Arabic is widely spoken by many people in the north and urban areas in
the south, Somali is the most widely used language, and contains many
Arabic loan words.
Djibouti has two official languages, Arabic and French. It
also has several formally recognized national languages; besides
Somali, many people speak Afar, which is also an Afro-Asiatic
language. The majority of the population speaks Somali and Afar,
although Arabic is also widely used for trade and other
Comoros has three official languages: Arabic, Comorian and French.
Comorian is the most widely spoken language, with Arabic having a
religious significance, and French being associated with the
Chad, Eritrea and
Israel all recognize Arabic as an official
language, but none of them is a member-state of the Arab League,
Eritrea are observer states of the League (with
possible future membership) and have large populations of Arabic
Israel is not part of the Arab world. By some definitions,
Arab citizens of
Israel may concurrently be considered a constituent
part of the Arab world.
Iran has about 1.5 million Arabic speakers.
Iranian Arabs are
mainly found in Ahvaz, a southwestern region in the Khuzestan
Province; others inhabit the Bushehr and Hormozgan provinces and the
city of Qom.
Senegal recognize Hassaniya, the Arabic dialect
of the Moorish ethnic minority, as a national language.
Cyprus also recognize
Cypriot Maronite Arabic
Cypriot Maronite Arabic under the European
Charter for Regional or Minority Languages. Additionally, Malta,
though not part of the Arab world, has as its official language
Maltese. The language is grammatically akin to Maghrebi Arabic.
Area (km2)[Note 1]
Area (sq mi)
Area (% of Total)
Pop (World rank)
Largest country in
Africa and in the Arab world.
Hala'ib Triangle (20,580 km2/7,950 sq mi).
Western Sahara (266,000 km2/103,000 sq mi).
Largest country in the Middle East.
Africa and the Arab League.
Formerly the largest country in Africa.
Including the part of the
Golan Heights (1,200 km2/460 sq mi)
currently occupied by Israel.
United Arab Emirates
Arab League total
Main article: Demographics of the Arab League
In the Arab world, Modern Standard Arabic, derived from Classical
Arabic (symptomatic of Arabic diglossia), serves as an official
language in the
Arab League states, and
Arabic dialects are used as
lingua franca. Various indigenous languages are also spoken, which
predate the spread of the Arabic language. This contrasts with the
situation in the wider Islamic world, where, in contiguous Iran,
Pakistan and Afghanistan, the Perso-
Arabic script is used and Arabic
is the primary liturgical language, but the tongue is not official at
the state level or spoken as a vernacular.
Arabs constitute around one quarter of the 1.5 billion Muslims in the
The majority of people in the
Arab world adhere to Islam, and the
religion has official status in most countries.
Shariah law exists
partially in the legal system in some countries (especially in the
Arabian peninsula), while others are legislatively secular. The
majority of the Arab countries adhere to Sunni Islam.
Bahrain, however, are Shia majority countries, while Lebanon, Yemen,
Kuwait have large Shia minorities. In Saudi Arabia, Ismailite
pockets are also found in the eastern
Al-Hasa region and the southern
city of Najran.
Islam is practiced in Oman, where Ibadis
constitute around 75% of Muslims.
There are also some Christian adherents in the Arab world,
particularly in Egypt, Syria, Lebanon, Iraq, Jordan, and Palestine.
Coptic, Maronite and Assyrian Christian[disambiguation needed]
enclaves exist in the Nile Valley,
Levant and northern Iraq
respectively. There are also numbers of Assyrian, Armenian,
Arab Christians throughout Iraq, Syria,
Jordan, many of which have diminished due to various regional
Smaller ethno-religious minorities across the
Arab League include the
Yarsan and Shabaks (mainly in Iraq), the Druzes (mainly in
Syria and also in Lebanon, Jordan) and
Mandaeans (in Iraq). Formerly,
there were significant minorities of
Jews throughout the Arab World.
Arab–Israeli conflict prompted their mass exodus
between 1948–72. Today small Jewish communities remain, ranging
anywhere from just 10 in Bahrain, to more than 1,000 in
some 3,000 in Morocco.
Historically, slavery in the
Muslim world developed out of pre-Islamic
practices of slavery in the Arab world.
According to UNESCO, the average rate of adult literacy (ages 15 and
older) in this region is 76.9%. In
Mauritania and Yemen, the rate is
lower than the average, at barely over 50%. On the other hand, Syria,
Lebanon, Palestine and
Jordan record a high adult literacy rate of
over 90%. The average rate of adult literacy shows
steady improvement, and the absolute number of adult illiterates fell
from 64 million to around 58 million between 1990 and 2000-2004.
Overall, the gender disparity in adult literacy is high in this
region, and of the illiteracy rate, women account for two-thirds, with
only 69 literate women for every 100 literate men. The average GPI
(Gender Parity Index) for adult literacy is 0.72, and gender disparity
can be observed in Egypt, Morocco, and Yemen. Above all, the GPI of
Yemen is only 0.46 in a 53% adult literacy rate. According to a UN
survey, in the Arab world, the average person reads four pages a year
and one new title is published each year for every 12,000 people.
Arab Thought Foundation reports that just above 8% of people in
Arab countries aspire to get an education.
Literacy rate is higher among the youth than adults. Youth literacy
rate (ages 15–24) in the Arab region increased from 63.9 to 76.3%
from 1990 to 2002. The average rate of GCC States *Cooperation Council
for the Arab States of the Gulf (GCC)
Cooperation Council for the Arab States of the Gulf (GCC)
Cooperation Council for the Arab States of the Gulf (GCC) was 94%,
followed by the
Maghreb at 83.2% and the
Mashriq at 73.6%.
United Nations published an
Arab human development report in 2002,
2003 and 2004. These reports, written by researchers from the Arab
world, address some sensitive issues in the development of Arab
countries: women empowerment, availability of education and
information among others.
Women in the
Arab world are still denied equality of opportunity,
although their disenfranchisement is a critical factor crippling the
Arab nations' quest to return to the first rank of global leaders in
commerce, learning and culture, according to a United
Nations-sponsored report in 2008.
Largest cities in the Arab world
Main article: List of largest cities in the Arab world
Table of largest cities in the
Arab world by official city
United Arab Emirates
Further information: Arabization
The Great Mosque of
Kairouan (also called the Mosque of Uqba), was
founded in 670 by the Arab general and conqueror Uqba ibn Nafi.
The Great Mosque of
Kairouan is located in the historic city of
Kairouan in Tunisia.
The Arabs historically originate as a Central Semitic group in the
Arabian peninsula. Their expansion beyond Arabia and the Syrian desert
is due to the
Muslim conquests of the 7th and 8th centuries.
Mesopotamia (modern Iraq) was conquered in 633,
Levant (modern Syria,
Israel, Palestine, Jordan,
Lebanon and tine) between 636 and 640 CE.
Egypt was conquered in 639, and gradually Arabized during the medieval
period. A distinctively Egyptian
Arabic language emerged by the 16th
Maghreb was also conquered in the 7th century, and gradually
Arabized under the Fatimids.
Islam was brought to
Sudan from Egypt
during the 8th to 11th centuries.
The culture of
Sudan today depends on the tribe, some have a pure
Nubian, Beja, or Arabic culture and some have a mixture of Arab and
Ottoman and colonial rule
The Arab Abbasid
Caliphate fell to the
Mongol invasions in the 13th
century. Egypt, the
Hejaz also came under the Turkish
By 1570, the Turkish
Ottoman Empire controlled most of the Arab world.
Morocco remained under the rule of the
dynasty, which was succeeded by the
Saadi dynasty in the 16th to 17th
Ajuran Sultanate also held sway in the southern part of
the Horn region.
The sentiment of
Arab nationalism arose in the second half of the 19th
century along with other nationalisms within the declining Ottoman
Ottoman Empire collapsed as a result of World War I, much of
Arab world came to be controlled by the European colonial empires:
Mandatory Palestine, Mandatory Iraq, British protectorate of Egypt,
French protectorate of Morocco, Italian Libya, French Tunisia, French
Algeria, French Mandate of
Lebanon and the so-called Trucial
States, a British protectorate formed by the sheikhdoms on the former
These Arab states only gained their independence during or after World
War II: the
Lebanon in 1943, the
Syrian Arab Republic
Syrian Arab Republic and
the Hashemite Kingdom of
Jordan in 1946, the Kingdom of
Libya in 1951,
the Kingdom of
Egypt in 1952, the Kingdom of
Iraq in 1958, the
Somali Republic in 1960,
Algeria in 1962, and the
United Arab Emirates
United Arab Emirates in 1971.
Saudi Arabia had fragmented with the fall of the Ottoman
Empire, and was unified under Ibn Saud of
Saudi Arabia by 1932.
The Mutawakkilite Kingdom of
Yemen also seceded directly from the
Ottoman Empire in 1918. Oman, apart from brief intermittent Persian
and Portuguese rule has, been self-governing since the 8th century.
Rise of Arab nationalism
Islam and modernity and Arab Cold War
Arab League was formed in 1945 to represent the interests of the
Arabs, and especially to pursue the political unification of the Arab
world, a project known as Pan-Arabism. There were some
short-lived attempts at such unification in the mid-20th century,
United Arab Republic
United Arab Republic of 1958 to 1961. The Arab League's
main goal is to unify politically the Arab populations so defined. Its
permanent headquarters are located in Cairo. However, it was moved
Tunis during the 1980s, after
Egypt was expelled for
signing the Camp David Accords (1978).
Pan-Arabism has mostly been abandoned as an ideology since the 1980s,
and was replaced by
Pan-Islamism on one hand, and individual
nationalisms on the other.
Main article: List of modern conflicts in the Middle East
Unification of Saudi Arabia
The unification of
Saudi Arabia was a 30-year-long military and
political campaign, by which the various tribes, sheikhdoms, and
emirates of most of the
Arabian Peninsula were conquered by the House
of Saud, or Al Saud, between 1902 and 1932, when the modern-day
Saudi Arabia was proclaimed. Carried out under the
charismatic Abdul Aziz Ibn Saud, this process created what is
sometimes referred to as the Third Saudi State, to differentiate it
from the first and second states that existed under the Al Saud clan.
The Al-Saud had been in exile in Ottoman
Iraq since 1893 following the
disintegration of the
Second Saudi State
Second Saudi State and the rise of Jebel Shammar
under the Al Rashid clan. In 1902, Ibn Saud recaptured Riyadh, the Al
Saud dynasty's former capital. He went on to subdue the rest of Nejd,
Al-Hasa, Jebel Shammar, Asir, and
Hejaz (location of the
Mecca and Medina) between 1913 and 1926. The resultant
polity was named the Kingdom of
Hejaz from 1927 until it was
further consolidated with
Qatif into the Kingdom of Saudi
Arabia in 1932.
Further information: Arab–Israeli conflict
The establishment of the State of
Israel in 1948 has given rise to the
Arab–Israeli conflict, one of the major unresolved geopolitical
The Arab states in changing alliances were involved in a number of
Israel and its western allies between 1948 and 1973,
including the 1948 Arab–Israeli War, the 1956 Suez Crisis, the
Six-Day War of 1967, and the
Yom Kippur War
Yom Kippur War of 1973. An Egypt–Israel
Peace Treaty was signed in 1979.
Main article: Iran–
Iraq War (also known as the First
Gulf War and by various
other names) was an armed conflict between the armed forces of Iraq
and Iran, lasting from September 1980 to August 1988, making it the
second longest conventional war of the 20th century. It was initially
referred to in English as the "Gulf War" prior to the "Gulf War" of
The war began when
Iraq invaded Iran, launching a simultaneous
invasion by air and land into Iranian territory on 22 September 1980
following a long history of border disputes, and fears of Shia Islam
insurgency among Iraq's long-suppressed Shia majority influenced by
the Iranian Revolution.
Iraq was also aiming to replace
Iran as the
Persian Gulf state. Although
Iraq hoped to take advantage of
the revolutionary chaos in
Iran (see Iranian Revolution, 1979) and
attacked without formal warning, they made only limited progress into
Iran and were quickly repelled by the Iranians who regained virtually
all lost territory by June 1982. For the next six years,
Iran was on
Lebanese Civil War
Main article: Lebanese Civil War
Lebanese Civil War
Lebanese Civil War was a multifaceted civil war in Lebanon,
lasting from 1975 to 1990 and resulting in an estimated 120,000
fatalities. Another one million people (a quarter of the population)
were wounded, and today approximately 76,000 people
remain displaced within Lebanon. There was also a mass exodus of
almost one million people from Lebanon.
Western Sahara conflict
Western Sahara conflict
Western Sahara War was an armed struggle between the Sahrawi
Polisario Front and
Morocco between 1975 and 1991, being the most
significant phase of the
Western Sahara conflict. The conflict erupted
after the withdrawal of
Spain from the Spanish Sahara in accordance
with the Madrid Accords, by which it transferred administrative
control of the territory to
Morocco and Mauritania, but not the
sovereignty. In 1975, Moroccan government organized the Green March of
some 350,000 Moroccan citizens, escorted by around 20,000 troops, who
entered Western Sahara, trying to establish Moroccan presence. While
at first met with just minor resistance by the Polisario, Morocco
later engaged a long period of guerilla warfare with the Sahrawi
nationalists. During the late 1970s, the Polisario Front, desiring to
establish an independent state in the territory, successively fought
Mauritania and Morocco. In 1979,
Mauritania withdrew from the
conflict after signing a peace treaty with the Polisario. The war
continued in low intensity throughout the 1980s, though
several attempts to take the upper hand in 1989-1991. A cease-fire
agreement was finally reached between the Polisario Front and Morocco
in September 1991.
Yemen Civil War
Main article: North
Yemen Civil War
Yemen Civil War was fought in North
Yemen between royalists
of the Mutawakkilite Kingdom of
Yemen and factions of the
Republic from 1962 to 1970. The war began with a coup d'état carried
out by the republican leader, Abdullah as-Sallal, which dethroned the
newly crowned Imam al-Badr and declared
Yemen a republic under his
presidency. The Imam escaped to the Saudi Arabian border and rallied
Somali Civil War
Main article: Somali Civil War
Somali Civil War
Somali Civil War is an ongoing civil war taking place in Somalia.
It began in 1991, when a coalition of clan-based armed opposition
groups ousted the nation's long-standing military government.
Various factions began competing for influence in the power vacuum
that followed, which precipitated an aborted UN peacekeeping attempt
in the mid-1990s. A period of decentralization ensued, characterized
by a return to customary and religious law in many areas as well as
the establishment of autonomous regional governments in the northern
part of the country. The early 2000s saw the creation of fledgling
interim federal administrations, culminating in the establishment of
Transitional Federal Government
Transitional Federal Government (TFG) in 2004. In 2006, the TFG,
assisted by Ethiopian troops, assumed control of most of the nation's
southern conflict zones from the newly formed Islamic Courts Union
(ICU). The ICU subsequently splintered into more radical groups,
notably Al-Shabaab, which have since been fighting the Somali
government and its
AMISOM allies for control of the region. In 2011, a
coordinated military operation between the Somali military and
multinational forces began, which is believed to represent one of the
final stages in the war's Islamist insurgency.
Main articles: Arab Spring, Libyan Civil War, and Syrian Civil War
The popular protests throughout the
Arab world of late 2010 to the
present have been directed against authoritarian leadership and
associated political corruption, paired with demands for more
democratic rights. The two most violent and prolonged conflicts in the
aftermath of the
Arab Spring are the
Libyan Civil War
Libyan Civil War and Syrian Civil
Arab world had been of limited interest to the European
colonial powers, the
British Empire being mostly interested in the
Suez Canal as a route to British India, the economic and geopolitical
situation changed dramatically after the discovery of large petroleum
deposits in the 1930s, coupled with the vastly increased demand for
petroleum in the west as a result of the Second Industrial Revolution.
Persian Gulf is particularly well-endowed with this strategic raw
Persian Gulf states, Saudi Arabia, Iraq, the UAE,
Kuwait, and Qatar, are among the top ten petroleum or gas exporters
worldwide. In Africa,
Algeria (10th world) and
Libya are important gas
exporters. In addition Bahrain, Egypt, Tunisia, and
Sudan all have
smaller but significant reserves. Where present, these have had
significant effects on regional politics, often enabling rentier
states, leading to economic disparities between oil-rich and oil-poor
countries, and, particularly in the more sparsely populated states of
Persian Gulf and Libya, triggering extensive labor immigration. It
is believed that the
Arab world holds approximately 46% of the
world’s total proven oil reserves and a quarter of the world's
Pan-Islamism were on the rise during the 1980s. The
Hezbollah, a militant Islamic party in Lebanon, was founded in 1982.
Islamic terrorism became a problem in the
Arab world in the 1970s to
1980s. While the
Muslim Brotherhood had been active in
1928, their militant actions were limited to assassination attempts on
Today, Arab states are characterized by their autocratic rulers and
lack of democratic control. The 2016
Democracy Index classifies
Iraq and Palestine as "hybrid regimes",
Tunisia as a "flawed
democracy" and all other Arab states as "authoritarian regimes".
Similarly, the 2011
Freedom House report classifies
Mauritania as "electoral democracies", Lebanon,
Kuwait and Morocco
as "partly free", and all other Arab states as "not free".
The invasion of
Iraq forces, led to the 1990–91 Persian
Gulf War. Egypt,
Saudi Arabia joined a multinational
coalition that opposed Iraq. Displays of support for
Iraq by Jordan
and Palestine resulted in strained relations between many of the Arab
states. After the war, a so-called "Damascus Declaration" formalized
an alliance for future joint Arab defensive actions between Egypt,
Syria, and the GCC states.
A chain of events leading to the destabilization of the authoritarian
regimes established during the 1950s throughout the
Arab world became
apparent during the early years of the 21st century. The 2003 invasion
Iraq led to the collapse of the
Baathist regime and ultimate
execution of Saddam Hussein.
A growing class of young, educated, secular citizens with access to
modern media such as
Al Jazeera (since 1996) and communicating via the
internet began to form a third force besides the classical dichotomy
Pan-Islamism that had dominated the second half of
the 20th century.
In Syria, the
Damascus Spring of 2000 to 2001 heralded the possibility
of democratic change, but the
Baathist regime managed to suppress the
In 2003, the Egyptian Movement for Change, popularly known as Kefaya,
was launched to oppose the
Mubarak regime and to establish democratic
reforms and greater civil liberties in Egypt.
States and territories
For the states and territories constituting the Arab world, see
Forms of government
Different forms of government are represented in the Arab World: Some
of the countries are monarchies: Bahrain, Jordan, Kuwait, Morocco,
Saudi Arabia and the United Arab Emirates. The other Arab
countries are all republics. With the exception of Lebanon, Tunisia,
Palestine, and recently Mauritania, democratic elections throughout
the Arab World are generally viewed as compromised, due to outright
vote rigging, intimidation of opposition parties, and severe
restraints on civil liberties and political dissent.
After World War II,
Pan-Arabism sought to unite all Arabic-speaking
countries into one political entity. Only Syria, Iraq, Egypt, Sudan,
Libya and North
Yemen considered the short-lived unification
of the United Arab Republic. Historical divisions, competing local
nationalisms, and geographical sprawl were major reasons for the
failure of Pan-Arabism.
Arab Nationalism was another strong force in
the region which peaked during the mid-20th century and was professed
by many leaders in Egypt, Algeria, Libya, Syria, and Iraq. Arab
Nationalist leaders of this period included
Gamal Abdel Nasser
Gamal Abdel Nasser of
Ahmed Ben Bella
Ahmed Ben Bella of Algeria, Michel Aflaq, Salah al-Din
al-Bitar, Zaki al-Arsuzi,
Constantin Zureiq and
Shukri al-Kuwatli of
Ahmed Hassan al-Bakr
Ahmed Hassan al-Bakr of Iraq,
Habib Bourguiba of Tunisia, Mehdi
Ben Barka of Morocco, and
Shakib Arslan of Lebanon.
Later and current Arab Nationalist leaders include Muammar al-Gaddafi
Hafez al-Assad and
Bashar al-Assad of Syria. The diverse
Arab states generally maintained close ties but distinct national
identities developed and strengthened with the social, historical and
political realities of the past 60 years. This has made the idea of a
pan-Arab nation-state increasingly less feasible and likely.
Additionally, an upsurge in political
Islam has since led to a greater
emphasis on pan-Islamic rather than pan-Arab identity amongst some
Arab Muslims. Arab nationalists who once opposed Islamic movements as
a threat to their power, now deal with them differently for reasons of
Many of the modern borders of the Arab World were drawn by European
imperial powers during the 19th and early 20th century. However, some
of the larger states (in particular
Egypt and Syria) have historically
maintained geographically definable boundaries, on which some of the
modern states are roughly based. The 14th-century Egyptian historian
Al-Maqrizi, for instance, defines Egypt's boundaries as extending from
Mediterranean in the north to lower
Nubia in the south; and
Red Sea in the east and the oases of the Western/Libyan
desert. The modern borders of Egypt, therefore, are not a creation of
European powers, and are at least in part based on historically
definable entities which are in turn based on certain cultural and
At other times, kings, emirs or sheikhs were placed as semi-autonomous
rulers over the newly created nation states, usually chosen by the
same imperial powers that for some drew the new borders, for services
rendered to European powers like the British Empire, e.g. Sherif
Hussein ibn Ali. Many African states did not attain independence until
the 1960s from
France after bloody insurgencies for their freedom.
These struggles were settled by the imperial powers approving the form
of independence given, so as a consequence almost all of these borders
have remained. Some of these borders were agreed upon without
consultation of those individuals that had served the colonial
interests of Britain or France. One such agreement solely between
France (to the exclusion of Sherif Hussein ibn Ali),
signed in total secrecy until Lenin released the full text, was the
Sykes-Picot Agreement. Another influential document written without
the consensus of the local population was the Balfour Declaration.
As former director of the Israeli intelligence agency Mossad, Efraim
Halevy, now a director at the Hebrew University said,
The borders, which if you look on the maps of the middle-east are very
straight lines, were drawn by British and French draftsmen who sat
with maps and drew the lines of the frontiers with rulers. If the
ruler for some reason or other moved on the map, because of some
person's hand shaking, then the frontier moved (with the hand).
He went on to give an example,
There was a famous story about a British consul, a lady named Gertrude
Bell who drew the map between
Iraq and Jordan, using transparent
paper. She turned to talk to somebody and as she was turning the paper
moved and the ruler moved and that added considerable territory to the
Historian Jim Crow, of Newcastle University, has said:
Without that imperial carve-up,
Iraq would not be in the state it is
Gertrude Bell was one of two or three Britons who were
instrumental in the creation of the Arab states in the Middle East
that were favourable to Britain.
As of 2006, the Arab World accounts for two-fifths of the gross
domestic product and three-fifths of the trade of the wider Muslim
The Arab states are mostly, although not exclusively, developing
economies and derive their export revenues from oil and gas, or the
sale of other raw materials. Recent years have seen significant
economic growth in the Arab World, due largely to an increase in oil
and gas prices, which tripled between 2001 and 2006, but also due to
efforts by some states to diversify their economic base. Industrial
production has risen, for example the amount of steel produced between
2004 and 2005 rose from 8.4 to 19 million tonnes. (Source: Opening
speech of Mahmoud Khoudri, Algeria's Industry Minister, at the 37th
General Assembly of the Iron & Steel Arab Union, Algiers, May
2006). However even 19 million tons pa still only represents 1.7% of
global steel production, and remains inferior to the production of
countries like Brazil.
The main economic organisations in the Arab World are the Gulf
Cooperation Council (GCC), comprising the states in the Persian Gulf,
and the Union of the Arab
Maghreb (UMA), made up of North African
States. The GCC has achieved some success in financial and monetary
terms, including plans to establish a common currency in the Persian
Gulf region. Since its foundation in 1989, the UMA's most significant
accomplishment has been the establishment of a 7000 km highway
Mauritania to Libya's border with Egypt.
The central stretch of the highway, expected to be completed in 2010,
will cross Morocco,
Algeria and Tunisia. In recent years a new term
has been coined to define a greater economic region: the
Middle East and North Africa) is becoming increasingly
popular, especially with support from the current US administration.
As of August 2009 it was reported that
Saudi Arabia is the strongest
Arab economy according to World Bank.
Saudi Arabia remains the top Arab economy in terms of total GDP. It is
Asia's eleventh largest economy, followed by
Egypt and Algeria, which
were also the second and third largest economies in
South Africa), in 2006. In terms of GDP per capita,
Qatar is the
richest developing country in the world.
The total GDP of all Arab countries in 1999 was US$531.2 billion.
By grouping all the latest GDP figures, the total
Arab world GDP is
estimated to be worth at least $2.8 trillion in 2011. This is only
smaller than the GDP of US, China, Japan and Germany.
The Arab World stretches across more than 13,000,000 square kilometres
(5,000,000 sq mi) of North
Africa and the part of North-East
Africa and South-West Asia. The Asian part of the
Arab world is called
the Mashriq. Algeria, Morocco, Tunisia,
Libya and often
Maghreb or Maghrib, while
Sudan are referred to as Nile
Egypt is a transcontinental country by virtue of the Sinai
Peninsula, which is in Asia.
Maghreb (Western Arab world)
The term "Arab" often connotes the Middle East, but the larger (and
more populous) part of the Arab World is North Africa. Its eight
million square kilometers include two of the largest countries of the
Algeria (2.4 million km2) in the center of the
Sudan (1.9 million km2) in the southeast.
Algeria is about
three-quarters the size of India, or about one-and-a-half times the
size of Alaska, the largest state in the United States. The largest
country in the Arab
Middle East is
Saudi Arabia (2 million km2).
At the other extreme, the smallest autonomous mainland Arab country in
Africa and the
Middle East is
Lebanon (10,452 km2), and the
smallest island Arab country is
Bahrain (665 km2).
Notably, every Arab country borders a sea or ocean, with the exception
of the Arab region of northern Chad, which is completely landlocked.
Iraq is actually nearly landlocked, as it has only a very narrow
access to the Persian Gulf.
The political borders of the
Arab world have wandered, leaving Arab
minorities in non-Arab countries of the
Sahel and the Horn of Africa
as well as in the Middle Eastern countries of Cyprus,
Turkey and Iran,
and also leaving non-Arab minorities in Arab countries. However, the
basic geography of sea, desert and mountain provides the enduring
natural boundaries for this region.
Abbasid caliphate (750 - 1258 CE)
Arab world straddles two continents,
Africa and Asia. It is mainly
oriented along an east-west axis.
Africa comprises the entire northern third of the continent. It
is surrounded by water on three sides (west, north, and east) and
desert or desert scrubland on the fourth (south).
In the west, it is bounded by the shores of the Atlantic Ocean. From
northeast to southwest, Morocco,
Western Sahara (mostly unilaterally
annexed by Morocco), and
Mauritania make up the roughly 2,000
kilometers of Arab Atlantic coastline. The southwestern sweep of the
coast is gentle but substantial, such that Mauritania's capital,
Nouakchott (18°N, 16°W), is far enough west to share longitude with
Nouakchott is the westernmost capital of the
Arab World and the third-westernmost in Africa, and sits on the
Atlantic fringe of the southwestern Sahara. Next south along the coast
Mauritania is Senegal, whose abrupt border belies the gradient in
culture from Arab to indigenous African that historically
characterizes this part of West Africa.
Arab Africa's boundary to the north is again a continental boundary,
Mediterranean Sea. This boundary begins in the west with the
narrow Strait of Gibraltar, the thirteen kilometer wide channel that
Mediterranean with the Atlantic to the west, and
Spain to the north. East along the coast from
Morocco are Algeria, Tunisia, and Libya, followed by Egypt, which
forms the region's (and the continent's) northeastern corner. The
coast turns briefly but sharply south at Tunisia, slopes more gently
southeastward through the Libyan capital of Tripoli, and bumps north
through Libya's second city, Benghazi, before turning straight east
again through Egypt's second city, Alexandria, at the mouth of the
Nile. Along with the spine of
Italy to its north,
Tunisia thus marks
the junction of western and eastern Mediterranean, and a cultural
transition as well: west of
Egypt begins the region of the Arab World
known as the
Maghreb include (Libya, Tunisia, Algeria,
Historically the 4,000-kilometer
Mediterranean boundary has fluttered.
Population centers north of it in
Europe have invited contact and Arab
exploration—mostly friendly, though sometimes not. Islands and
peninsulas near the Arab coast have changed hands. The islands of
Malta lie just a hundred kilometers east of the Tunisian
city of Carthage, which has been a point of contact with
its founding in the first millennium BCE; both
times have been part of the Arab World. Just across the Strait of
Gibraltar from Morocco, regions of the Iberian peninsula were part of
the Arab World throughout the Middle Ages, extending the northern
boundary at times to the foothills of the
Pyrenees and leaving a
substantial mark on local and wider European and Western culture.
The northern boundary of the African
Arab world has also fluttered
briefly in the other direction, first through the
Crusades and later
through the imperial involvement of France, Britain, Spain, and Italy.
Another visitor from northern shores, Turkey, controlled the east of
the region for centuries, though not as a colonizer.
maintains two small enclaves,
Melilla (called "Morocco
Espanol"), along the otherwise Moroccan coast. Overall this wave has
ebbed, though like the Arab expansion north it has left its mark. The
proximity of North
Europe has always encouraged interaction,
and this continues with Arab immigration to
Europe and European
interest in the Arab countries today. However, population centers and
the physical fact of the sea keeps this boundary of the Arab World
settled on the
To the east, the
Red Sea defines the boundary between
Africa and Asia,
and thus also between Arab
Africa and the Arab Middle East. This sea
is a long and narrow waterway with a northwest tilt, stretching 2,300
kilometers from Egypt's
Sinai peninsula southeast to the Bab-el-Mandeb
Yemen in Arabia but on average
just 150 kilometers wide. Though the sea is navigable along its
length, historically much contact between Arab
Africa and the Arab
Middle East has been either overland across the Sinai or by sea across
Mediterranean or the narrow Bab al Mendeb strait. From northwest
to southeast, Egypt, Sudan, and
Eritrea form the African coastline,
Djibouti marking Bab al Mendeb's African shore.
Southeast along the coast from
Djibouti is Somalia, but the Somali
coast soon makes a 90-degree turn and heads northeast, mirroring a
bend in the coast of
Yemen across the water to the north and defining
the south coast of the Gulf of Aden. The Somali coast then takes a
hairpin turn back southwest to complete the horn of Africa. For six
months of the year the monsoon winds blow from up equatorial Somalia,
past Arabia and over the small Yemeni archipelago of Socotra, to rain
on India; they then switch directions and blow back. Hence the east-
and especially southeast-coast boundary of Arab
historically been a gateway for maritime trade and cultural exchange
with both East
Africa and the subcontinent. The trade winds also help
explain the presence of the
Comoros islands, an Arab-African country,
off the coast of Mozambique, near
Madagascar in the Indian Ocean, the
southernmost part of the Arab World.
The southern boundary of Arab North
Africa is the strip of scrubland
known as the
Sahel that crosses the continent south of the Sahara.
Arab Middle East
The West Asian Arab region comprises the Arabian Peninsula, most of
Cyprus and Israel), most of Mesopotamia
(excluding parts of
Turkey and Iran) and the
Persian Gulf region. The
peninsula is roughly a tilted rectangle that leans back against the
slope of northeast Africa, the long axis pointing toward
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Arabic influence on the Spanish language
English exonyms of Arabic speaking places
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Carboun Information and resources relating to energy, environment, and
sustainability in the Arab World
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