Baylor College Medical School

149 1. The Modern Middle East

149 1. Most of the people in the Middle East are Muslims, but there are also Christian communities and the predominantly Jewish nation of Israel. Most countries also have large ethnic or religious minorities. The Kurds are an example of an ethnic minority. They live in Iran, Iraq, Syria, and Turkey and have faced discrimination in each country.

The Holocaust created Support for a Jewish homeland after World War II. In 1947, the UN dew up a plan to divide Palestine into an Arab and a Jewish state. In 1948, Jews proclaimed the independent state of Israel. This led to Arab-Israeli conflicts that forced 700,000 Palestinians from their homes. Despite the conflicts, Israel has developed rapidly due to a skilled workforce. Kibbutzim work on what is called a Kibbutz, or collective farm.

Resources and religion have led to conflicts in the Middle East. The region has the world's largest oil and gas reserves. As a result, it has strategic importance. Some Middle Eastern countries have adopted secular, or non-religious, government and laws. HOWEVER, MAN MUSLIM LEADERS ARGUE THAT A RENEWED COMMITMENT TO ISLAMIC DOCTRINE IS NEEDED. In Iran and Saudi Arabia, women are required to wear hejab, the traditional Muslim garments.

Egypt, the most populous Arab country, is important because it controls the Suez Canal. Under Gamal Abdel Nasser, Egypt fought two unsuccessful wars against Israel. His successor, Anwar Sadat, made peace with Israel. Islamists were angry about government corruption and the failure to end poverty. In 1981, Sadat was assassinated by Muslim fundamentalists.

In Iran, Shah Mohammad Reza Pahlavi ruled with the support of the United States, which helped oust one of his opponents, Mohammad Mosaddeq. The shah's secret police terrorized critics. In the 1970s, the shah's enemies rallied behind Ayatollah Ruhollah Khomeini. Protests forced the shah into exile, and Khomeini established an Islamic theocracy, or government ruled by religious leaders.

Saudi Arabia has the world's largest oil reserves and is the location of Islam's holy land. Kings from the Sa'ud family have ruled Saudi Arabia since the 1920s. Fundamentalists have criticized the kingdom's close ties to Western nations, and some opponents have adopted violent tactics that threaten to disrupt the Saudi oil industry.


1. What make the Middle East of strategic importance?

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Saudi Arabia has the world's largest oil reserves and is the location of Islam's holy land.