Arab world

Learn more about Arab world

(Redirected from Arab World)
Jump to: navigation, search
Arab States redirects here. For the political alliance, see Arab League
Image:Arab world.png
Map of Arab League states in dark green with non-Arab areas in light green and Somalia and Djibouti in striped green due to their Arab League membership but non-Arab population.

The Arab world (Arabic: العالم العربي) (Al-Alam Al-Arabi) consists of twenty-two countries stretching from Mauritania in the west to Oman in the east. They have a combined population of 323 million people and their combined economies surpass 1 trillion U.S. dollars, and grows 5% annually. The Arab World thus accounts for just over two-fifths of the total output of the entire Muslim world.


[edit] Language, politics, and religion

The Arabic language forms a unifying feature of the Arab world: though different areas use local dialects of Arabic, all share in the use of the standard classical language (see diglossia). This contrasts with the situation in the wider Islamic world, where Arabic retains its cultural prestige primarily as the language of religion and of theological scholarship, but the populace generally do not speak Arabic languages. The linguistic and political denotation inherent in the term Arab is generally dominant over genealogical considerations; thus, individuals with little or no Arabian ancestry (e.g., black Africans, Berbers) could be considered Arabs and by virtue of their mother tongue (see Who is an Arab?).

The Arab League is a political organization intended to encompass the Arab world. The organization defines as Arab,

a person whose language is Arabic, who lives in an Arabic speaking country, who is in sympathy with the aspirations of the Arabic speaking peoples.

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 temporarily to Tunis during the 1980s, after Egypt was expelled due to the Camp David Accords (1978).

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 secular.

The majority of the Arab countries adhere to Sunni form of Islam, however, Iraq is a Shia majority country (60 %). Lebanon, Yemen, Koweit and Bahrein also have a large Shia minority. The provinces of Saudi Arabia like Eastern Province, Jizan, Najran, Asir and Abha are Shia majority provinces. These provinces contribute 95% of country's oil and gas wealth - Saudi Arabia is world's largest oil and gas producing country. Ibadi Islam, another form of Islam, is practised in Oman where they make up 75% population of Oman.

There are sizable numbers of Christians, living primarily in Lebanon, Egypt, the Palestinian Territories, Iraq, Jordan, Sudan and Syria. Formerly, there were significant minorities of Arab Jews throughout the Arab world; however, the establishment of the state of Israel prompted their subsequent mass emigration and expulsion within a few decades. Today tiny communities of Jews remain, ranging anywhere from ten in Bahrain to 7,000 in Morocco and more than 1,000 in Tunisia. Overall, Arabs make up less than one quarter of the world's 1.4 billion Muslims, a group sometimes referred to as the Islamic world.

Some Arab countries have substantial reserves of petroleum. The Gulf is particularly well-furnished: four Gulf states, Saudi Arabia, the UAE, Kuwait, and Qatar, are among the top ten oil or gas exporters worldwide. In addition, Algeria, Libya, Iraq, Bahrain, Morocco (Western Sahara) 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 the Gulf and Libya, triggering extensive labor immigration.

The overall literacy rate for the region is about 60%[1], although youth literacy (15-24 year olds) is substantially higher[2]. The average population growth rate in Arab countries is 2.3%.

The United Nations have published an Arab human development report in 2002, 2003 and 2004. These reports, written by Arabic researchers, address some sensitive issues in the development of the Arab countries: women empowerment, availability of education and information.

[edit] Non-Arab peoples in the Arab world

Within what is considered the Arab world, there reside several populations who are not Arab either by ethnic or linguistic definition, and who generally do not consider themselves as such. Still, they are just as native as the Arabs to the area, and many if not most actually resided in the area before the arrival of Arabs during the spread of Islam. Many of them resent the term "Arab world" and believe that their national and political rights have been unjustly brushed aside by the governments' focus on pan-Arabism and promoting an Arab identity. In some cases this has led to severe conflicts between the ethnic nationalism of these groups and the Arab nationalism promoted by Arab rulers, which sometimes amounted to denying the existence of or forcibly suppressing non-Arab minorities within their borders. Important examples include:

In North Africa the Berbers (or Amazigh) pre-dated the Arabs, and most North African Arab countries have large Berber populations. However, intermarriage over centuries and linguistic shift, as well as cultural borrowing between the two, have made any purely ethnic distinction between Arab and Berbers nearly impossible, and Berber and Arab identity in these countries is generally defined by language rather than ancestry. In Morocco Berber speakers form over 35% of the total population; in Algeria they represent about 20% of the population, more than half in the eastern region of Kabylie. In Libya they form about 4% of the population, mainly near the Tunisian border. There are much smaller isolated Berber communities in Tunisia, Mauritania, and even one oasis in Egypt. The nomadic Touareg people whose traditional areas straddle the borders of several countries in the Sahara desert, are also of Berber origins. Government worries about ethnic separatism, and condescending attitudes towards the mainly rural Berber-speaking areas, led to the Berber communities being denied linguistic and cultural rights; in Algeria, for example, Berber chairs at universities were closed, and Berber singers were occasionally banned from singing in their own language, although an official Berber radio station continued to operate throughout. These problems have to some extent been redressed in later years in Morocco and Algeria; both have started teaching Berber languages in schools and universities, and Algeria has amended its constitution to declare Berber a fundamental aspect of Algerian identity (along with Islam and Arabness.) In Libya, however, any suggestion that Berber might be non-Arab remains taboo.

In the northern regions of Iraq (15-20%) and Syria (5-10%) lives the Kurds, a mountain people who speak Kurdish, a language closely related to Persian but with no discernible relationship to Arabic. The nationalist aspiration for self-rule or for a state of Kurdistan has created conflict between Kurdish minorities and their governments.

Somalia is a non Arab country. Although, Somalia is a member of the Arab league, the predominant language is Somali, and the population is predominantly Somali (85% of the population, with the remaining 15% being various Bantu groups), not Arab. For this reason, they are sometimes excluded from the definition of the Arab world. However, Somalia joined the Arab League in 1974 and 99% of its population is Muslim, resulting in close ties with decidedly Arab states.

Other examples of non-Arab peoples originating in what is often labelled the Arab world include the Turkmen of Iraq, Assyrians and Jews (most of whom fled to Israel after its creation in 1948). Since most Arab League states are products of colonialism, their borders rarely reflect distinct ethnic or geographic boundaries. Thus, many peripheral states of the Arab world have border-straddling minorities of non-Arab peoples. This is the case with Iranians in Iraq (most of whom fled in the Iraq-Iran War) and the non-Arab black (often called black Africans) peoples in Sudan.

Many Gulf Arab countries have sizeable (10 - 30%) non Arab population. Iraq, Bahrain, Kuwait, Qatar, United Arab Emirates and Oman has sizeable Persian speaking minority. The same countries also have Hindi-Urdu speakers and Philipinos as sizeable minority. Balochi speakers are a good size minority in Oman. Countries like Bahrain, UAE, Oman and Kuwait have significant non Muslim / non Arab minorities (10 - 20%) like Hindus and Christians from India, Pakistan, Bangladesh, Nepal and the Philippines.

Countries like Chad, Israel, Iran and Mali have sizeable Arab minorities.

[edit] States

While this has often been a matter of dispute, the following entities (19 states and two territories) are considered part of the Arab world as all use Arabic as one of their official state languages, and most of their inhabitants speak one or more of the Arabic languages and dialects (though ethnically quite varied):

Palestine and Western Sahara are not de facto sovereign countries, but are awaiting independence and are recognized as legitimate states by some countries and international organizations (for example Palestine is a full-fledged member of the Arab League and Western Sahara of the African Union). In addition to the countries listed, Djibouti, Somalia and the Comoros are all member states of the Arab League, although their inhabitants are not predominantly Arabic-speaking. On the other hand, the Maltese language is closely related to Tunisian Arabic, but Malta does not use standard Arabic and its inhabitants do not consider themselves Arabs. Chad, Eritrea, and Israel all recognize standard Arabic as an official language, but none of them are members of the Arab League (furthermore most Arab League members do not maintain diplomatic relations with Israel). Mali and Senegal recognize Hassaniya, the Arabic dialect of their Moorish minorities, as a national language, as does Egypt with respect to Masri, its own variant of Arabic, but grant them no official status.

Different forms of government are represented in the Arab World: Some of the countries are monarchies: Bahrain, Jordan, Kuwait, Morocco, Oman, Qatar, Saudi Arabia and the United Arab Emirates. The other Arab countries are all republics, and their official names may ostensibly indicate that they are democracies. In practice, however, the Arab states are ruled by either an absolute monarch, a male president or a single political party.

The borders of the various states were often drawn up by European colonial powers in the 19th and 20th centuries. They are often straight lines drawn on a map with complete disregard to the geographic and demographic characteristics of the land (see below). After World War II, the movement known as Pan-Arabism sought to unite all Arabic-speaking countries into one political entity. Only Syria, Iraq, Egypt, Libya and North Yemen attempted the short-lived unification. 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. Incidentally, Arab nationalism was unpopular in Egypt in the first decades of the 20th century (until Nasser), and was once again relegated by ethnic Egyptian nationalism after Anwar Sadat's assumption of power.

Arab Nationalist leaders included Gamal Abdel Nasser (Egypt), Ahmed Ben Bella (Algeria), Hafez al-Assad and Bashar al-Assad (Syria), Moammar al-Qadhafi (Libya) and Mehdi Ben Barka (Morocco). The various Arab states maintain close ties but national identities have been strengthened by the political realities of the past 60 years (much longer for Egypt), making a single Arab nationalistic state less and less feasible. The upsurge in Islam and the call for a single Islamic state or Caliphate in the Muslim world has grown leaving Arab nationalists behind. Islamic rhetoric as opposed to rhetoric about an 'Arab nation' holds more political currency among Arabs. Arab nationalists once persecuted Islamic & democratic parties, but now pander to them for political survival. [3]

[edit] Modern Boundaries

The modern borders of the Arab world are considered by Arab nationalists as largely artificial creations of European colonial powers during the 18th, 19th and early 20th century. However, some of the larger states--in particular Egypt and perhaps 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 the Mediterranean in the north to lower Nubia in the south; and between the Red Sea in the east and the oases of the Western/Libyan desert. The modern borders therefore are more than mere creations of European colonial powers, and are at least in part based on historically definable entities which are in turn based on certain cultural and ethnic identifications.

At other times, Kings, 'emirs' or 'sheiks' were placed as semi-autonomous rulers over the newly created nation states, usually chosen by the same colonial powers that for some drew the new borders, for services rendered to colonial entities like the British Empire e.g. Sherif Hussein ibn Ali. Many African States did not attain independence until the 1960's from France after bloody insurgencies for their freedom. These struggles were settled by the colonial 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 Britain and 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)". [4]

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 (new) Jordanians" [5]

Historian Jim Crow, of Newcastle University, has said:

"Without that imperial carve-up, Iraq would not be in the state it is in today...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." [6]

[edit] Modern Economies

The economies of the Arab states are mostly composed of developing economies, many of which rely on oil and gas as well as other raw material sales for export revenues. In recent years however the economy of the Arab World has been seeing growth. This is due mainly to an increase in oil and gas prices which tripled between 2001 and 2006, as well as an increase in industrial production, where steel production for example climbed from 8.4 to 19 million tons between 2004 and 2005 (source: Opening speech of Mahmoud Khoudri, Algeria's Industry minister, at the 37th General Assembly of the Iron & Steel Arab Union, in Algiers, May 2006). However even at 19 million tons per year, the Arab world's steel production still represents only 1.7% of the global steel production and remains inferior to the production of a single country like Brazil. (source:

The main economic organisations in the Arab world are the GCC (Gulf Cooperation Council) which regroups Gulf states, and the UMA (Union of the Arab Maghreb) which regroups the North African States. The GCC has achieved some results in financial and monetary terms, and there are plans within it to establish a common currency in the Arab Gulf. The UMA's main achievement since its foundation in 1989 is the establishment of a 7000km highway crossing North Africa from Mauritania to the Egyptian border of Libya, passing by Morocco, Algeria and Tunisia. The central part of the highway is expected to be completed in 2010, and it will cross Morocco, Algeria and Tunisia. In recent years a new term defining a greater economic region has been coined and is becoming increasingly popular especially with support from the current US administration: the MENA region, which stands for: Middle East and North Africa.

The top Arab economy in terms of total GDP remains Saudi Arabia, followed by Egypt in 2006. (source CIA World Factbook, GDP by country classification)

[edit] Geography

The Arab world stretches across more than 12.9 million square kilometers (5 million square miles) of North Africa and the part of Western Asia called the Middle East. The Asian part of the Arab world (including Arabia proper) is called the Mashreq. The North African part (excluding Egypt and the Sudan) of the Arab World is known as the Maghreb.

Its total area is the size of the entire Spanish-speaking Western Hemisphere (also 12.9 million square kilometers), larger than Europe (10.4 million), Canada (10 million), China (9.6 million), the United States (also 9.6 million), Brazil (8.7 million). Only Russia – at seventeen million square kilometers, the largest country in the world – and arguably anglophone North America (eighteen million square kilometers) are larger geocultural units.

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 the two largest countries of the African continent, Sudan (2.5 million square kilometers) in the southeast of the region and Algeria (2.4 million) in the center, each about three-quarters the size of India, or about one-and-a-half times the size of Alaska, the largest state in America. The largest country in the Arab Middle East is Saudi Arabia (two million square kilometers).

At the other extreme, the smallest autonomous mainland Arab countries in North Africa and the Middle East are Djibouti (23,000 square kilometers) and Lebanon (10,400), and the smallest island Arab countries are the Comoros (2,170) and Bahrain (665).

[edit] Historical boundaries

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 Turkey and Iran (Persia), and also leaving non-Arab minorities in Arab countries. However, the basic geography of sea, desert, and mountain provide the enduring natural boundaries for this region.

The Arab world straddles two continents, Africa and Asia, and is oriented mainly along an east-west axis, dividing it into African and Asian (Arabian, Middle Eastern) areas.

[edit] Arab Africa

Arab Africa—or more commonly Arab North Africa, though this is redundant—is roughly a long trapezoid, narrower at the top, that 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 (annexed and occupied 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 Iceland (13-22°W). 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 from Mauritania is Senegal, whose abrupt border belies the gradient in culture from Arab to black African that historically characterizes this part of West Africa.

Arab Africa's boundary to the north is again a continental boundary, the Mediterranean Sea. This boundary begins in the west with the narrow Strait of Gibraltar, the thirteen kilometer wide channel that connects the Mediterranean with the Atlantic to the west, and separates Morocco from 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 Tunisia begins the region of the Arab world known as the Maghreb.

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 Sicily and Malta lie just a hundred kilometers east of the Tunisian city of Carthage, which has been a point of contact with Europe since its founding in the first millennium B.C.E.; both Sicily and Malta at 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 colonization by France, Britain, Spain, and Italy. Another visitor from northern shores, Turkey, controlled the east of the region for centuries, though not as a colonizer. Spain still maintains two small enclaves, Ceuta and Melilla, 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 Africa to 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 Mediterranean coastline.

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 strait between Djibouti in Africa and 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 the Mediterranean or the narrow Bab al Mendeb strait. From northwest to southeast, Egypt, Sudan, and Eritrea form the African coastline, with 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 Africa has 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 stripe of scrubland known as the Sahel, that crosses the continent south of the Sahara, dipping further south in Sudan in the east.

[edit] Arabia and the Arab Middle East

Main articles: Arabia and Middle East

The Asian or Middle Eastern Arab world comprises of the Arabian Peninsula, Bilad al-Sham or the Levant, and Iraq, more broadly or narrowly defined. The peninsula is roughly a tilted rectangle that leans back against the slope of northeast Africa, the long axis pointing toward Turkey and Europe.

[edit] References

  • Hourani, Albert (1991). A History of the Arab Peoples. Cambridge, MA: Warner Books.
  • Reader, John (1997). Africa: A Biography of the Continent. New York: Vintage.
  • Saint-Prot, Charles, French Policy toward the Arab World Abu Dhabi: ECSSR, 2003

[edit] See also

[edit] External links

ca:Països àrabs cs:Arabský svět cy:Y Byd Arabaidd de:Arabische Welt es:Mundo árabe eu:Arabiar mundua fa:جهان عرب fr:Pays arabes it:Paesi arabi he:ארצות ערב nl:Arabische wereld oc:Païses Arabis ja:アラブ諸国 no:Den arabiske verden pl:Kraje arabskie fi:Arabimaailma zh:阿拉伯世界

Arab world

Personal tools
what is world wizzy?
  • World Wizzy is a static snapshot taken of Wikipedia in early 2007. It cannot be edited and is online for historic & educational purposes only.