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Geography, Demographics, and Resources

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A website for K-12 educators featuring innovative resource on the culture, geography, history and religions of the Middle East, including essays, classroom activities, downloadable multimedia content and interactive Google Earth tours.


This section contains full-text readings from a variety of sources. Many of these texts have never been offered online before. They represent a range of scholarly views and interests, and are intended to offer a more in-depth view of selected topics covered in this module. Please be aware that these texts may not be reproduced in any way without the express permission of the original copyright holder, as indicated at the head of each reading.

The readings listed in grey are currently unavailable, as we work toward renewing copyright permission from the publishers.


  • Water, Geography, and Peace in the Middle East
    Hussein A. Amery and Aaron T. Wolf

    This article focuses on the issue of access to fresh water in the Jordan River Basin, an issue of which most laymen are not aware, but one which is a major source of conflict in the region. While this selection is clearly the introduction to a book containing essay by a variety of writers approaching various aspects of the issue, it lays out the concerns involved clearly and succinctly, from a geographical perspective. Additional material in the chapter outlines issues that tend to cause water scarcity as well as the challenges of water in arid regions such as the one discussed here. The article is very hopeful in tone, the authors believing that the Peace Process in the Middle East will facilitate better management of water resources.

  • Strategic Geography and the Changing Middle East: Strategic Access to Middle East Resources: Lesson From History
    Geoffrey Kemp and Robert Harkavy

    These two chapters make up the first part, “Background: Geography and History” of this book, published by the Carnegie Endowment for International Peace and the Brookings Institution Press. They are aptly described by the authors as follows:

    Chapter 1 provides an overview of new concepts in international relations that have emerged since the end of the Cold War and their impact on a ‘new’ or a ‘changing’ Middle East. It defines the framework for our discussion of strategic geography and the greater Middle East and illustrates the enduring relevance of the subject in the region. It concludes with a physical description of the greater Middle East, including its key peripheral and internal geographic features.
    Chapter 2 examines the lessons of history in the context of Middle East Resources, changing technology and the quest for strategic access.

    It should be noted that the definition of the Middle East used by the authors goes far beyond the Arab world. This is outlined and explained in Chapter 1. We have included this article in the course as much for what it tells us about why the Arab World has been of such interest to the United States and other major powers as for what it tells us about the Middle East itself.

  • Strategic Geography and the Changing Middle East: Concepts, Definitions, and Parameters
    Geoffrey Kemp and Robert Harkavy

    See the text above.


  • Hard Realities: Population Growth and Economic Stagnation
    Stephen M. Humphreys

    In thinking about history, one cannot be limited to politics and the lives of prominent figures. The rise and fall of governments, battlefield victories, and the activities of prominent figures in the social, intellectual and political spheres only tell part of the story. They must be coupled with analysis of society as a whole. This essay by Stephen Humphreys gives part of the context for considering the recent history of the Middle East by analyzing the population explosion of the last 30 years or so and its impact on the economies of the region. He moves on to assess the economic policies implemented by governments in response to these factors in light of the global economic network and other pressures from both in and outside of the region. Hard statistics are supplemented by anecdotes and comparisons between the Middle East and other parts of the world that help make the statistics more concrete for the reader.


  • The Working Class and Peasantry in the Middle East: From Economic Nationalism to Neoliberalism
    Joel Beinin

    In this article Joel Beinin compares government economic policy in several countries of the Middle East from 1970 to the present day, particularly in light of their impact on peasants and the working class. It is the fist part of this article that will be the most instructive to students of history. In it Beinin traces economic policies through the period of state-led development schemes that tended toward a Marxist origin, often referred to as 'Arab Nationalism' or 'Arab Socialism'. Very few states were able to completely resist this ideology. Beinin points out that although the rhetoric of the regimes during this period emphasized the peasants and organized workers, these groups were not the primary beneficiaries of the policies. He then traces the decline of this tendency, particularly in relation to oil and oil boom, and the explosion of Third World debt in the 1980s. The second half of the article is a critique of economic policies implemented since the 1980s by development agencies such as the International Monetary Fund and the United States Agency for International Development.

  • Structural Obstacles to Economic Adjustment
    Massoud Karshenas

    This essay investigates the slow pace of reform in the Middle East and North Africa (the MENA region), arguing that this results more from "the underlying structures of these economies" and much less from the "idiosyncracies of their political systems" as analysts generally argue. Karshenas also places the economic issues faced by the region squarely within the context of recent changes in the world economy. This data-rich article ends with speculation on future challenges facing the region.

  • Riches Beneath the Earth
    Colbert C. Held

    It is not possible to discuss the Arab world in the modern era without considering the impact of oil and, to a lesser extent, natural gas or mineral resources. In this chapter, Colbert C. Held, discusses this issue in some detail. The article is rich in statistics and factual information. It should be noted, however, that the Middle East is defined in this book as Egypt, through the Arabian Penninsula and the Levant, to Turkey and Iran. Written by a geographer and former diplomat, the book approaches the region thematically. Cartography by John V. Cotter greatly facilitates understanding of the the spatial dimension.

  • Is There an Islamic Economics?
    Karen Pfeifer

    This essay takes a socioeconomic approach toward answering the question posed by its title. The author demonstrates that many proponents of an Islamic economic system are not seeking to restore the social system of the Middle Ages, but rather that they propose an Islamic economic system as a response to the record of "state capitalism" that prevailed in most Islamic states in the post-colonial era and to the economic liberalization that has followed in more recent years. The article then explains the main principles of Islamic economics, and briefly sketches the theoretical, practical and political critiques. Pfeifer is a Professor of Economics at Smith College.

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