The Greater Middle East includes such countries as Turkey, Syria, Lebanon, Israel, Jordan, Iraq, Saudi Arabia, Iran, the Persian Gulf, sheikhdoms, Yemen and Egypt. It embraces about 80 million people and covers an area of some six and one-half million square kilometers, located at the crossroads of the world between East and West and at the juncture of three continents. (Shwadran, 1955)
Most of these states, lacking in experience as well as appreciation and even understanding of the importance and basic significance as well as responsibilities of independence, and in the understanding of economic determinants and social forces, suffer from instability.
The Middle East as an oil-producing region as well as an area of great reserves has become increasingly significant in the last ten years. Not only in estimated reserves, but also in actual production, the Middle East has emerged in the last half dozen years as an important factor in the world oil market. (Keddi, 1973)
By all standards the region is backward and the different populations have a very low – though varying — standard of living. Excepting Israel, the region suffers from illiteracy, poverty, very bad health and sanitary conditions, poor housing, and a general sub-subsistence level. On the other hand, while the Middle East is not too rich in natural resources other than oil, it has huge supplies of land, water, and potential energy from oil and natural gas. By utilizing the direct income from the oil for the development of the water resources and the cultivation of the enormous land areas, it could become one of the promising areas of the world.
Nor have the Arab countries developed a sense of regional cooperation and responsibility; their rulers and peoples have not yet reached the stage where they are willing to pool their resources to develop the region for the good and welfare of all the Arabs. Indeed, even willingness to develop their countries for the good and welfare of the general population has not been realized by most of the rulers.
Looking at the region as a whole, it would seem that the oil revenues paid each year to the governments and rulers have been spent, at least in great measure, on non-productive undertakings, and thus the major natural resource of the area has been uselessly squandered. But as a result of the development of the oil industry, the region is stirring. The activities of the companies, the technological training of the employees, the standard of living introduced both for the native employees and for the foreign staff, the extravagances introduced by the ruling families, and the economic projects undertaken by the public authorities have brought about not only a desire for the better things in life, but a restlessness and discontent which have potential social and political explosiveness.
Petroleum has been a factor in revolutionizing modern civilization; it is the energy and motive power in the home, in industry and transportation, and it has been the most decisive force in war. The specific aspect of the petroleum impact on the Middle East has been the huge quantities of petroleum discovered in the area which has become a major source of supply to the world, and as such the mainspring of fabulous wealth to the region.
Nomadism was a prevalent form of existence of the ecology of these lands for much of the history of the region, and remains so on the margins. The Middle East surprises by the contrast of nomad and cities with modern architecture forms. The cities of the region have undergone profound changes over the twentieth century as they grew massively through the pressure of rural to urban migration and an increasingly dynamic demographic shift. As a result, the majority of the region’s citizens now live in cities: Middle Eastern societies have become, in only a few decades, urban societies. Urban environments are features shared throughout the region. It is this world of cities and urban societies which are now entering, if at different speeds and with different levels of infrastructural capacity and levels of internal conflict, the global world economy.
Many cities in the Middle East struggle with the challenge of poverty and the substandard houses that were built during periods of heavy rural to urban migration, and that are still built due to the urban demographic growth. Cities face a shortage of housing for its residents, an issue that governments have not been able to handle in the last decades. As a consequence, the illegal production of accommodation has become central to housing the poor and the lower middle classes. Contrary to preconceived notions, these informal (or semi-formal) settlements are often highly integrated into the fabric of the city in terms of social mobility, labour markets, industrial and services output ”“ even though they are also sites of urban poverty and tend to be perceived by some of the authoritarian regimes in the region as threat to security and order.
Shwadran B. (1955), The Middle East, Oil and the Great Powers, Frederick A. Praeger, New York, p.6
Keddi N. (1973), Is There a Middle East? International Journal of Middle East Studies,p.255 – 271.
Transitory Sites: Mapping Dubai’ “Forgotten”ť Urban Spaces, (2008), International
Journal of Urban and Regional Research, Volume 32, Issue 4, p. 968 ”“ 988.