|Arab Culture and Civilization: A collaborative web project created by NITLE and sponsored by MEPC|
Geography, Demographics, and Resources
|Main Menu Introduction Map Readings Audio/Video Links Bibliography|
While most the units in this course deal, in one way or another, with the civilization and culture of the Arab World, this unit deals more with the physical space from which this society has emerged, as well as some of the internal and external pressures affecting it. This unit will provide you with basic information on geography, demographics, economics, and natural resources.
Some may argue that in relegating economics, demographics and geography to one unit, we are giving short shrift to extremely important and determining issues in the region. It should be noted, however, that the focus of this project is very much on cultural issues. Nonetheless, this unit is an acknowledgment that culture reflects material realities.
At its origins, culture is affected by the land. While the images of the Arab World that come to mind for many Westerners are inevitably of deserts and camels, the facts are that the majority of Arab countries have borders on the Mediterranean Sea, that countries like Lebanon and Morocco have vast expanses of cedar forest, that mountain ranges throughout the region receive enough snowfall in winter for skiing, and that agriculture is a staple of many Arab economies. So while important factors unite the cultures of the Arab World, geography is one of the factors that challenges that unity. It is no accident that linguistic and religious minorities in the region tend to thrive in many of the more remote, geographically inaccessible regions.
Similarly, it is absurd to try to understand the Arab World in the modern era without discussing the effects of oil, the population explosion, and economic globalization. Economics and demographics both shape and are shaped by culture, and all three have an integral relationship to the land. This unit is an acknowledgement of that fact. Clearly more work is to be done. Additional resources are under development and will eventually appear here.
The major features of this unit are maps and encyclopedic sketches of each country in the region, including basic information on the geography, population, resources, and economy. You will also find materials that give you a sense of why issues like access to fresh water resources or oil supplies have a role in ongoing conflicts within the region; why the region has been so important to the imperial and superpowers in their attempts to assert their influence both inside and beyond the region; how the national borders of the region were drawn with regard to considerations beyond historic claims and natural boundaries; and how the oil boom and the population explosion have changed the face of the region.