The Middle East, also called the Near East, is a region that spreads across southwestern Asia and northeastern Africa. There are various definitions of what countries make up the Middle East. All definitions include the countries of Bahrain, Egypt, Iran, Iraq, Israel, Jordan, Kuwait, Lebanon, Oman, Qatar, Saudi Arabia, Syria, Turkey, the United Arab Emirates, and Yemen. The definitions also include the West Bank and the Gaza Strip, which, along with Israel, make up the historic region of Palestine. Some definitions of the Middle East include more countries.Afghanistan, Algeria, Cyprus, Libya, Morocco, Pakistan, Sudan, and Tunisia are the countries most often added.
Much of the Middle East is hot and dry, and it has large deserts. Plant and animal life is not as plentiful there as it is in some other regions of the world. Farmers and herders in the Middle East raise camels, cattle, goats, and sheep. Desert animals include many kinds of insects, spiders, reptiles, birds, and mammals.
The Arabian Desert covers much of the Middle East. The northern part of the Middle East has rugged mountain ranges. The Pontic Mountains and the Taurus Mountains rise in Turkey, and the Elburz and Zagros mountains extend across Iran.
Several arms of the Arabian Sea extend into the Middle East. These bodies of water include the Red Sea, the Gulf of Aden, the Persian Gulf (which Arabs call the Arabian Gulf), and the Gulf of Oman. The Suez Canal links the Red Sea with the Mediterranean Sea.
The Middle East has two major river systems—the Tigris-Euphrates and the Nile. The Tigris and Euphrates begin in Turkey and flow though Syria and Iraq. In Iraq, the rivers meet and form the Shatt al Arab, which empties into the Persian Gulf. The Nile flows north through Sudan and Egypt to the Mediterranean Sea.
Resources and products
The Middle East has huge quantities of petroleum, which ranks as the region’s most valuable natural resource. Saudi Arabia has the largest oil reserves in the world. The region’s major oil producers also include Iran, Iraq, Kuwait, Oman, Qatar, and the United Arab Emirates. Other minerals mined in the Middle East include coal, iron ore, natural gas, and phosphates.
Many people in the Middle East work on farms. The farmers live crowded together along the seacoasts and in river and mountain valleys, which have enough water for growing crops.Irrigation helps support farming. Wheat is the region’s chief grain crop. Farmers also grow barley, corn, and rice. Other important Middle Eastern crops include citrus fruits, cotton, dates, grapes, olives, tomatoes, and watermelons.
Tourism is a major source of income in many Middle Eastern countries. It is especially important in Egypt, Israel, and Turkey.
More than three-fourths of the people of the Middle East identify themselves as Arabs. They share a common culture, including a common language, Arabic. Jews make up a majority of the population in Israel, and Hebrew and Arabic are the national languages there. Other Middle Eastern peoples include Iranians, who speak Persian, also called Farsi; and Turks, who speak Turkish. A large majority of Middle Easterners, including most Arabs, Iranians, and Turks, are Muslims, followers of a religion called Islam.
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