Various concepts are often being paralleled to Middle East, most notably Near East, "Fertile Crescent and the Levant. Near East, Levant and Fertile Crescent are geographic concepts, which refer to large sections of the modern defined Middle East, with Near East being the closest to Middle East in its geographic meaning.
The countries of the "South Caucasus—"Armenia, "Azerbaijan, and "Georgia—are occasionally included in definitions of the Middle East.
The "Greater Middle East was a "political term coined by the "second Bush administration in the first decade of the 21st century, to denote various countries, pertaining to the "Muslim world, specifically "Iran, "Turkey, "Afghanistan and "Pakistan. Various "Central Asian countries are sometimes also included.
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The Middle East lies at the juncture of "Eurasia and "Africa and of the "Mediterranean Sea and the "Indian Ocean. It is the birthplace and "spiritual center of religions such as "Christianity, "Islam, "Judaism, "Manichaeism, "Yezidi, "Druze, "Yarsan and "Mandeanism, and in Iran, "Mithraism, "Zoroastrianism, "Manicheanism, and the "Bahá'í Faith. Throughout its history the Middle East has been a major center of world affairs; a strategically, economically, politically, culturally, and religiously sensitive area.
The world's earliest civilizations, Mesopotamia ("Sumer, "Akkad, "Assyria and "Babylonia) and "ancient Egypt, originated in the Fertile Crescent and "Nile Valley regions of the ancient Near East. These were followed by the "Hittite, "Greek and "Urartian civilisations of "Asia Minor, "Elam in pre-Iranian Persia, as well as the civilizations of the "Levant (such as "Ebla, "Ugarit, "Canaan, "Aramea, "Phoenicia and Israel), "Persian and "Median civilizations in Iran, "North Africa ("Carthage/Phoenicia) and the "Arabian Peninsula ("Magan, "Sheba, "Ubar). The Near East was first largely unified under the "Neo Assyrian Empire, then the "Achaemenid Empire followed later by the "Macedonian Empire and after this to some degree by the "Iranian empires (namely the "Parthian and "Sassanid Empires), the "Roman Empire and "Byzantine Empire. However, it would be the later "Arab Caliphates of the "Middle Ages, or "Islamic Golden Age which began with the Arab conquest of the region in the 7th century AD, that would first unify the entire Middle East as a distinct region and create the dominant "Islamic "ethnic identity that largely (but not exclusively) persists today. The "Mongols, the "Kingdom of Armenia, the "Seljuks, the "Safavids, the Ottoman Empire, and the British Empire also dominated the region.
The modern Middle East began after "World War I, when the Ottoman Empire, which was allied with the "Central Powers, was defeated by the British Empire and their allies and "partitioned into a number of separate nations, initially under British and French Mandates. Other defining events in this transformation included the establishment of Israel in 1948 and the eventual departure of European powers, notably "Britain and "France by the end of the 1960s. They were supplanted in some part by the rising influence of the United States from the 1970s onwards.
In the 20th century, the region's significant stocks of "crude oil gave it new strategic and economic importance. Mass production of oil began around 1945, with Saudi Arabia, Iran, Kuwait, Iraq, and the "United Arab Emirates having large quantities of oil. Estimated "oil reserves, especially in Saudi Arabia and Iran, are some of the highest in the world, and the international oil cartel "OPEC is dominated by Middle Eastern countries.
During the Cold War, the Middle East was a theater of ideological struggle between the two superpowers and their allies: "NATO and the United States on one side, and the "Soviet Union and "Warsaw Pact on the other, as they competed to influence regional allies. Of course, besides the political reasons there was also the "ideological conflict" between the two systems. Moreover, as "Louise Fawcett argues, among many important areas of contention, or perhaps more accurately of anxiety, were, first, the desires of the superpowers to gain strategic advantage in the region, second, the fact that the region contained some two thirds of the world's oil reserves in a context where oil was becoming increasingly vital to the economy of the Western world [...] Within this contextual framework, the United States sought to divert the Arab world from Soviet influence. Throughout the 20th and 21st centuries, the region has experienced both periods of relative peace and tolerance and periods of conflict particularly between "Sunnis and "Shiites.
"Arabs constitute the largest ethnic group in the Middle East, followed by "Turkic people. Native ethnic groups of the region include, in addition to Arabs, "Arameans, "Assyrians, "Baloch, "Berbers, "Copts, "Druze, "Kurds, "Lurs, "Mandaeans, "Persians, "Samaritans, "Shabaks, "Tats, and "Zazas.
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"Migration has always provided an important vent for labor market pressures in the Middle East. For the period between the 1970s and 1990s, the Arab states of the PersianGulf in particular provided a rich source of employment for workers from Egypt, Yemen and the countries of the Levant, while Europe had attracted young workers from North African countries due both to proximity and the legacy of colonial ties between Franceand the majority of North African states."  According to the "International Organization for Migration, there are 13 million first-generation migrants from "Arab nations in the world, of which 5.8 reside in other Arab countries. Expatriates from Arab countries contribute to the circulation of financial and human capital in the region and thus significantly promote regional development. In 2009 Arab countries received a total of 35.1 billion USD in "remittance in-flows and remittances sent to "Jordan, "Egypt and "Lebanon from other Arab countries are 40 to 190 per cent higher than trade revenues between these and other Arab countries. In "Somalia, the "Somali Civil War has greatly increased the size of the "Somali diaspora, as many of the best educated Somalis left for "Europe, "North America and other Middle Eastern countries.
Non-Arab Middle Eastern countries such as "Turkey, "Israel and "Iran are also subject to important migration dynamics.
A fair proportion of those migrating from Arab nations are from ethnic and religious minorities facing racial and or religious persecution and are not necessarily ethnic Arabs, Iranians or Turks.["citation needed] Large numbers of "Kurds, "Jews, "Assyrians, "Greeks and "Armenians as well as many "Mandeans have left nations such as Iraq, Iran, Syria and Turkey for these reasons during the last century. In Iran, many religious minorities such as "Christians, "Baha'is and "Zoroastrians have left since the Islamic Revolution of 1979.["citation needed]
The Middle East is very diverse when it comes to "religions, many of which originated there. "Islam is the largest religion in the Middle East, but other faiths that originated there, such as "Judaism and "Christianity, are also well represented. Christians represent 40.5% of Lebanon, where the "Lebanese president, half of the cabinet, and half of the parliament follow one of the various Lebanese Christian rites. There are also important minority religions like the "Bahá'í Faith, "Yarsanism, "Yazidism, "Zoroastrianism, "Mandaeism, "Druze, and "Shabakism, and in ancient times the region was home to "Mesopotamian religions, "Canaanite religions, "Manichaeism, "Mithraism and various "monotheist "gnostic sects.
The five top languages, in terms of numbers of speakers, are "Arabic, "Hebrew, "Persian, "Turkish and "Kurdish. Arabic and Hebrew represent the "Afro-Asiatic "language family. Persian and Kurdish belong to the "Indo-European language family. Turkish belongs to "Turkic language family. About 20 minority languages are also spoken in the Middle East.
Arabic, with all its dialects, are the most widely spoken languages in the Middle East, with "Literary Arabic being official in all North African and in most West Asian countries. Arabic dialects are also spoken in some adjacent areas in neighbouring Middle Eastern non-Arab countries. It is a member of the "Semitic branch of the Afro-Asiatic languages. Several "Modern South Arabian languages such as "Mehri and "Soqotri are also spoken Yemen and Oman. Another Semitic language such as "Aramaic and its dialects are spoken mainly by "Assyrians and "Mandaeans. There is also a "Oasis Berber-speaking community in Egypt where the language is also known as "Siwa. It is a non-Semitic Afro-Asiatic language.
"Hebrew is one of the two official languages of "Israel, the other being Arabic. Hebrew is spoken and used by over 80% of Israel's population, the other 20% using Arabic.
"Persian is the second most spoken language. While it is primarily spoken in "Iran and some border areas in neighbouring countries, the country is one of the region's largest and most populous. It belongs to the "Indo-Iranian branch of the family of "Indo-European languages. Other Western Iranic languages spoken in the region include "Achomi, "Daylami, "Kurdish dialects, "Semmani, "Lurish, amongst many others.
The third-most widely spoken language, "Turkish, is largely confined to Turkey, which is also one of the region's largest and most populous countries, but it is present in areas in neighboring countries. It is a member of the "Turkic languages, which have their origins in Central Asia. Another Turkic language, "Azerbaijani, is spoken by Azerbaijanis in Iran.
"English is commonly taught and used as a second language, especially among the "middle and "upper classes, in countries such as "Egypt, "Jordan, "Iran, "Kurdistan, "Iraq, "Qatar, "Bahrain, "United Arab Emirates and "Kuwait. It is also a main language in some Emirates of the United Arab Emirates.
"French is taught and used in many government facilities and media in "Lebanon, and is taught in some primary and secondary schools of "Egypt and "Syria. "Maltese, a Semitic language mainly spoken in Europe, is also used by the "Franco-Maltese diaspora in Egypt.
"Armenian and "Greek speakers are also to be found in the region. "Georgian is spoken by the Georgian diaspora. "Russian is spoken by a large portion of the Israeli population, because of "emigration in the late 1990s. Russian today is a popular unofficial language in use in "Israel; news, radio and sign boards can be found in Russian around the country after Hebrew and Arabic. "Circassian is also spoken by the diaspora in the region and by almost all Circassians in Israel who speak Hebrew and English as well. The largest "Romanian-speaking community in the Middle East is found in "Israel, where as of 1995[update] Romanian is spoken by 5% of the population.[note 3]
"Bengali, "Hindi and "Urdu is widely spoken by migrant communities in many Middle Eastern countries, such as Saudi Arabia (where 20–25% of the population is South Asian), the United Arab Emirates (where 50–55% of the population is South Asian), and Qatar, which have large numbers of "Pakistani, "Bangladeshi and "Indian immigrants.
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Middle Eastern economies range from being very poor (such as Gaza and Yemen) to extremely wealthy nations (such as Qatar and UAE). Overall, as of 2007[update], according to the CIA World Factbook, all nations in the Middle East are maintaining a positive rate of growth.
According to the "World Bank's World Development Indicators database published on July 1, 2009, the three largest Middle Eastern economies in 2008 were Turkey ($794,228,000,000), Saudi Arabia ($467,601,000,000) and Iran ($385,143,000,000) in terms of "Nominal GDP. Regarding nominal GDP per capita, the highest ranking countries are Qatar ($93,204), the UAE ($55,028), Kuwait ($45,920) and Cyprus ($32,745). Turkey ($1,028,897,000,000), Iran ($839,438,000,000) and Saudi Arabia ($589,531,000,000) had the largest economies in terms of "GDP-PPP. When it comes to per capita (PPP)-based income, the highest-ranking countries are Qatar ($86,008), Kuwait ($39,915), the UAE ($38,894), Bahrain ($34,662) and Cyprus ($29,853). The lowest-ranking country in the Middle East, in terms of per capita income (PPP), is the autonomous Palestinian Authority of Gaza and the West Bank ($1,100).
The economic structure of Middle Eastern nations are different in the sense that while some nations are heavily dependent on export of only oil and oil-related products (such as Saudi Arabia, the UAE and Kuwait), others have a highly diverse economic base (such as Cyprus, Israel, Turkey and Egypt). Industries of the Middle Eastern region include oil and oil-related products, agriculture, cotton, cattle, dairy, textiles, leather products, surgical instruments, defence equipment (guns, ammunition, tanks, submarines, fighter jets, UAVs, and missiles). Banking is also an important sector of the economies, especially in the case of UAE and Bahrain.
With the exception of Cyprus, Turkey, Egypt, Lebanon and Israel, tourism has been a relatively undeveloped area of the economy, in part because of the socially conservative nature of the region as well as political turmoil in certain regions of the Middle East. In recent years, however, countries such as the UAE, Bahrain, and Jordan have begun attracting greater number of tourists because of improving tourist facilities and the relaxing of tourism-related restrictive policies.
Unemployment is notably high in the Middle East and North Africa region, particularly among young people aged 15–29, a demographic representing 30% of the region's total population. The total regional unemployment rate in 2005, according to the "International Labour Organization, was 13.2%, and among youth is as high as 25%, up to 37% in "Morocco and 73% in "Syria.
"Abu Dhabi - UAE
"Amman - Jordan
"Ankara - Turkey
"Baghdad - Iraq
"Beirut - Lebanon
"Cairo - Egypt
"Damascus - Syria
"Doha - Qatar
"Dubai - UAE
"Istanbul - Turkey
"Jerusalem - Israel
"Kuwait City - Kuwait
"Manama - Bahrain
"Mecca - Saudi Arabia
"Ramallah - Palestine
"Riyadh - Saudi Arabia
"Sana'a - Yemen
"Tabriz - Iran
"Tehran - Iran
"Tel Aviv - Israel
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