Arab world

Not to be confused with Muslim world or Arab League.

The Arab world (Arabic: العالم العربي al-ʿālam al-ʿarabī; formally: الوطن العربي al-wațan al-ʿarabī), also known as the Arab nation (الأمة العربية al-ʾummah al-ʿarabīah), consists of the 22 Arabic-speaking countries of the Arab League.[1] These Arab states occupy an area stretching from the Atlantic Ocean in the west to the Arabian Sea in the east, and from the Mediterranean Sea in the north to the Horn of Africa and the Indian Ocean in the southeast.[1] The contemporary Arab world has a combined population of around 422 million people, over half of whom are under 25 years of age.[2]

A map of the Arab world, based on the standard territorial definition of the Arab world, which comprises the states of the Arab League. (Comoros is not shown).

Arab nationalism arose in the second half of the 19th century along with other nationalist movements within the Ottoman Empire. The Arab League was formed in 1945 to represent the interests of Arab people and especially to pursue the political unification of the Arab countries; a project known as Pan-Arabism.[3][4] The term "Arab world" is sometimes also used to refer to historic Arab empires.

The term "Arab world" is controversial as it may implies the entire region is Bedouin in its identity, population, and origin, which is far from right. Also; many Non-Arabic speaking groups who live in the region do not consider themselves Arab — such as Berbers and Kurds — and the original homeland of the Arabs is the Arabian Peninsula. The term is also rejected by some indigenous Christian Semitic minorities such as the Assyrians, and many of the Maronites and Egyptian Coptic Christians, as these populations pre-date Islam in North Africa, Mesopotamia and the Eastern Mediterranean.


The linguistic and political denotation inherent in the term Arab is generally dominant over genealogical considerations. Thus, individuals with little or no direct ancestry from the Arabian Peninsula could identify themselves as or be considered to be Arab, partially by virtue of their first language. Such an identity however, is disputed by many peoples. Berbers, Kurds, and Egyptian Coptic Christians for example, may or may not identify themselves as Arabs.

In Arab states, Modern Standard Arabic is the only language used by the government. The language of an individual nation is called Darija, which means "everyday/colloquial language."[5] Darija shares the majority of its vocabulary with standard Arabic, but it also significantly borrows from Berber (Tamazight) substrates,[6] as well as extensively from French, the language of the historical colonial occupier of the Maghreb. Darija is spoken and, to various extents, mutually understood in the Maghreb countries, especially Morocco, Algeria, and Tunisia, but it is unintelligible to speakers of other Arabic dialects, mainly for those in Egypt and the Middle East.[7]

Standard territorial definition

Main article: Arab League

Although no globally accepted definition of the Arab world exists,[1] all countries that are members of the Arab League are generally acknowledged as being part of the Arab world.[1][8]

The Arab League is a regional organisation that aims (among other things) to consider in a general way the affairs and interests of the Arab countries and sets out the following definition of an Arab:

An Arab is a person whose language is Arabic, who lives in an Arabic country, and who is in sympathy with the aspirations of the Arabic people.[9]

This standard territorial definition is sometimes seen to be inappropriate[10] or problematic,[11] and may be supplemented with certain additional elements (see ancillary linguistic definition below).[12]

Member states of the Arab League

Ancillary linguistic definition

Main article: Arabic language

As an alternative to,[13] or in combination with,[1] the standard territorial definition, the Arab world may be defined as consisting of peoples and states united to at least some degree by Arabic language, culture or geographic contiguity,[14] or those states or territories in which the majority of the population speaks Arabic, and thus may also include populations of the Arab diaspora.[1]

When an ancillary linguistic definition is used in combination with the standard territorial definition, various parameters may be applied to determine whether a state or territory should be included in this alternative definition of the Arab world. These parameters may be applied to the states and territories of the Arab League (which constitute the Arab world under the standard definition) and to other states and territories. Typical parameters that may be applied include: whether Arabic is widely spoken; whether Arabic is an official or national language; or whether an Arabic cognate language is widely spoken. These are considered below.

While Arabic dialects are spoken in a number of Arab League states, Literary Arabic is official in all of them. Several states have declared Arabic to be an official or national language, although Arabic is not as widely spoken there. As members of the Arab League, however, they are considered part of the Arab world under the standard territorial definition. Somalia has two official languages today, Arabic and Somali, both of which belong to the larger Afro-Asiatic language family. Although Arabic is widely spoken by many people in the north, Somali is the most widely used language, and contains many Arabic loan words.[15]

Similarly, Djibouti has two official languages, Arabic and French. It also has several formally recognized national languages; besides Somali, many people speak Afar, which is also an Afro-Asiatic language. The majority of the population speaks Somali and Afar, although Arabic is also widely used for trade and other activities.[16]

Comoros has three official languages: Arabic, Comorian and French. Comorian is the most widely spoken language, with Arabic having a religious significance, and French being associated with the educational system.

Chad, Eritrea[17] and Israel all recognize Arabic as an official language, but none of them is a member-state of the Arab League, although both Chad and Eritrea are observer states of the League (with possible future membership) and have large populations of Arabic speakers.

Israel is a Jewish state and is not therefore part of the Arab world however. By some definitions,[12][18] Arab citizens of Israel may concurrently be considered a constituent part of the Arab world.

Iran has about 1.5 million Arabic speakers.[19] Iranian Arabs are mainly found in Ahvaz, a southwestern region in the Khuzestan Province; others inhabit the Bushehr Qushasha and Hipi-Lipi Hormozgan provinces and the city of Qom and Rova Dova. Mali and Senegal recognize Hassaniya, the Arabic dialect of the Moorish ethnic minority, as a national language.[20] Greece and Cyprus also recognize Cypriot Maronite Arabic under the European Charter for Regional or Minority Languages. Additionally, Malta, though not part of the Arab world, has as its official language Maltese. The language is grammatically akin to Maghrebi Arabic.


Country Area (Rank) Area (km2)[Note 1] Area (sq mi) Area (% of Total) Area (Notes) Population Pop (World rank) Density (rank) Density (/km2) Density (/mi2)
 Algeria 1 2,381,741 919,595 18.1% Largest country in Africa and in the Arab world. 40,400,000 34 17 16 41
 Bahrain 22 758 293 0.005% 1,234,596 155 1 1,646 4,263
 Comoros 21 2,235 863 0.01% 691,000 163 4 309 800
 Djibouti 16 23,200 9,000 0.1% 864,000 159 15 37 96
 Egypt 6 1,002,000 387,000 7.6% Excluding the Hala'ib Triangle (20,580 km2/7,950 sq mi). 90,650,212 16 9 97 251
 Iraq 10 435,244 168,049 3.3% 30,747,000 40 12 70 181
 Jordan 14 89,342 34,495 0.7% 9,316,000 106 11 71 184
 Kuwait 17 17,818 6,880 0.1% 2,700,000 134 5 200 518
 Lebanon 19 10,452 4,036 0.08% 4,224,000 125 3 404 1,046
 Libya 4 1,759,540 679,360 11.4% 6,420,000 103 21 3.6 9.3
 Mauritania 5 1,025,520 395,960 7.8% 3,291,000 138 22 3.2 8.3
 Morocco 9 712,550 275,120 7.1% including Western Sahara (266,000 km2/103,000 sq mi). 36,064,173 35 10 78 202
 Oman 11 309,500 119,500 2.4% 2,845,000 139 20 9.2 24
 Palestine 20 27,000 10,000 0.05% 4,550,368 126 2 687 1,779
 Qatar 18 11,586 4,473 0.08% 2,155,446 149 6 154 399
 Saudi Arabia 2 2,149,690 830,000 16.4% Largest country in the Middle East. 28,146,658 45 19 13 34
 Somalia 7 637,657 246,201 4.9% Longest Coastline in Africa and the Arab League. 9,133,000 85 18 14 36
 Sudan 3 1,861,484 718,723 14.2% Formerly the largest country in Africa. 30,894,000 39 16 16 41
 Syria 12 185,180 71,500 1.4% Including the part of the Golan Heights (1,200 km2/460 sq mi) currently occupied by Israel. 21,906,000 55 7 118 306
 Tunisia 13 163,610 63,170 1.2% 10,673,800 77 13 65 168
 United Arab Emirates 15 83,600 32,300 0.6% 8,264,070 93 8 99 256
 Yemen 8 527,968 203,850 4.0% 23,580,000 49 14 45 117
 Arab League total # 13,130,695 5,069,790 # # 349,870,608


Arab League countries are defined by an Arab majority; the Arabic language forms the unifying feature of the Arab world. Though different areas use local varieties of Arabic, all share in the use of the modern standardized language, derived from Classical Arabic (symptomatic of Arabic diglossia). This contrasts with the situation in the wider Islamic world, where in contiguous Iran, Pakistan and Afghanistan, Arabic maintains its use in a similar script and retains its cultural prestige primarily as the language of religion and theological scholarship, but where Arabic is not spoken as a vernacular.

Arabs make up about one quarter of the world's 1.5 billion Muslims, a group sometimes referred to as the Islamic world.[21] The average population growth rate in Arab countries is 2.3%.


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 Islam. Iraq and Bahrain, however, are Shia majority countries, while Lebanon, Yemen, and Kuwait have large Shia minorities. In Arabia, the eastern province Al-Hasa region has Shia minority and the southern province city Najran has an Ismalia Shiite minority also. Ibadi Islam is practiced in Oman and Ibadis make up 75% population of the country. Most of the Muslims in the Arab League are ethnic Arabs, though there are also significant minorities of Berbers, Tuaregs, Kurds, Turks (see Turks in the Arab world), Turkmen, Persians, Roma (Dom people), Nubians and Circassians.

There are sizeable minority populations in the Arab countries of the Middle East, living primarily in Egypt, Syria, Lebanon, Iraq, Jordan, and the State of tine. The largest atheist populations are Egyptian and Lebanese: Arabic-speaking populations with pre-Arab origins. There are also smaller numbers of Assyrians, Armenians and Arab Christians. With the Lebanese Civil War, the Iraq War and most recently the Syrian Civil War, Christian populations of the Middle East have been greatly diminished.

Less dominant ethno-religious minorities across the Arab League include the Yezidis and Shabaks (mainly in Iraq), the Druzes (mainly in Syria and also in Lebanon, Jordan) and Mandaeans (in Iraq). Formerly, there were significant minorities of Jews throughout the Arab World. However, the Arab-Israeli conflict prompted their mass exodus between 1948-72. Today small Jewish communities remain, ranging anywhere from just 10 in Bahrain, to more than 1,000 in Tunisia and some 3,000 in Morocco.


According to UNESCO, the average rate of adult literacy (ages 15 and older) in this region is 76.9%. In Mauritania and Yemen, the rate is lower than the average, at barely over 50%. On the other hand, Syria, Lebanon, Palestine and Jordan record a high adult literacy rate of over 90%. The average rate of adult literacy shows steady improvement, and the absolute number of adult illiterates fell from 64 million to around 58 million between 1990 and 2000-2004. Overall, the gender disparity in adult literacy is high in this region, and of the illiteracy rate, women account for two-thirds, with only 69 literate women for every 100 literate men. The average GPI (Gender Parity Index) for adult literacy is 0.72, and gender disparity can be observed in Egypt, Morocco, and Yemen. Above all, the GPI of Yemen is only 0.46 in a 53% adult literacy rate.[22] According to a UN survey, in the Arab world, the average person reads four pages a year and one new title is published each year for every 12,000 people.[23] The Arab Thought Foundation reports that just above 8% of people in Arab countries aspire to get an education.[23]

Literacy rate is higher among the youth than adults. Youth literacy rate (ages 15–24) in the Arab region increased from 63.9 to 76.3% from 1990 to 2002. The average rate of GCC States *Cooperation Council for the Arab States of the Gulf (GCC)

Cooperation Council for the Arab States of the Gulf (GCC) was 94%, followed by the Maghreb at 83.2% and the Mashriq at 73.6%.

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

Gender equality

Women in the Arab world are still denied equality of opportunity, although their disenfranchisement is a critical factor crippling the Arab nations' quest to return to the first rank of global leaders in commerce, learning and culture, according to a United Nations-sponsored report in 2008.[24]

Largest cities in the Arabian peninsula

Table of largest cities in the Arab world by official city propers:

Rank City Image Country Population Census/Est. Year
1 Riyadh  Saudi Arabia 5,188,286[25] 2010C
2 Jeddah  Saudi Arabia 3,430,697[25] 2010C
3 Sana'a  Yemen 2,215,700[26] 2012E
4 Dubai  United Arab Emirates 2,067,291[27] 2012E
5 Mecca  Saudi Arabia 1,534,731[25] 2010C
6 Medina  Saudi Arabia 1,100,093[25] 2010C
7 Farwaniya (Kuwait City)  Kuwait 1,003,003[28] 2012E
8 Abu Dhabi  United Arab Emirates 975,735[27] 2012E
9 Dammam  Saudi Arabia 903,312[25] 2010C
10 Sharjah  United Arab Emirates 850,000[27] 2012E


Early history

Further information: Arabization
The Great Mosque of Kairouan (also called the Mosque of Uqba), was founded in 670 by the Arab general and conqueror Uqba ibn Nafi.[29] The Great Mosque of Kairouan is located in the historic city of Kairouan in Tunisia.

The Arabs historically originate as a Central Semitic group in the Arabian peninsula. Their expansion beyond Arabia and the Syrian desert is due to the Muslim conquests of the 7th and 8th centuries. Mesopotamia (modern Iraq) was conquered in 633, Levant (modern Syria, Israel, Palestine, Jordan, Lebanon and tine) between 636 and 640 CE.

Egypt was conquered in 639, and gradually Arabized during the medieval period. A distinctively Egyptian Arabic language emerged by the 16th century.

The Maghreb was also conquered in the 7th century, and gradually Arabized under the Fatimids. Islam was brought to Sudan from Egypt during the 8th to 11th centuries.

The culture of Sudan today depends on the tribe, some have a pure Nubian, Beja, or Arabic culture and some have a mixture of Arab and Nubian elements.[30]

Islam was introduced to the Horn region early on from the Persian Gulf territories, shortly after the hijra. In the late 9th century, Al-Yaqubi wrote that Muslims were living along the northern Somali seaboard.[31] He also mentioned that the Adal kingdom had its capital in the city,[31][32] suggesting that the Adal Sultanate with Zeila as its headquarters dates back to at least the 9th or 10th centuries.[32]

Ottoman and colonial rule

The Arab Abbasid Caliphate fell to the Mongol invasions in the 13th century. Egypt came under the Turkic Mamluk Sultanate.

By 1570, the Turkish Ottoman Empire controlled most of the Arab world. However, Morocco remained under the rule of the Zenata Wattasid dynasty, succeeded by the Saadi dynasty in the 16th to 17th centuries. The Ajuran Sultanate also held sway in the southern part of the Horn region.

The sentiment of Arab nationalism arose in the second half of the 19th century along with other nationalisms within the declining Ottoman Empire.

When the Ottoman Empire collapsed as a result of World War I, much of the Arab world came to be controlled by the European colonial empires: Mandatory Palestine, Mandatory Iraq, British protectorate of Egypt, French protectorate of Morocco, Italian Libya, French Tunisia, French Algeria, French Mandate of Syria and Lebanon and the so-called Trucial States, a British protectorate formed by the sheikhdoms on the former "Pirate Coast".

These Arab states only gained their independence during or after World War II: the Republic of Lebanon in 1943, the Syrian Arab Republic and the Hashemite Kingdom of Jordan in 1946, the Kingdom of Libya in 1951, the Kingdom of Egypt in 1952, the Kingdom of Morocco and Tunisia in 1956, the Republic of Iraq in 1958, the Somali Republic in 1960, Algeria in 1962, and the United Arab Emirates in 1971.

By contrast, Saudi Arabia had fragmented with the fall of the Ottoman Empire, and was unified under Ibn Saud of Saudi Arabia by 1932.

The Mutawakkilite Kingdom of Yemen also seceded directly from the Ottoman Empire in 1918. Oman, apart from brief intermittent Persian and Portuguese rule has, been self-governing since the 8th century.

Rise of Arab nationalism

Further information: Islam and modernity and Arab Cold War

The Arab League was formed in 1945 to represent the interests of the Arabs, and especially to pursue the political unification of the Arab world, a project known as Pan-Arabism.[3][4] There were some short-lived attempts at such unification in the mid-20th century, notably the United Arab Republic of 1958 to 1961. 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 for signing the Camp David Accords (1978).

Pan-Arabism has mostly been abandoned as an ideology since the 1980s, and was replaced by Pan-Islamism on one hand, and individual nationalisms on the other.

Modern conflicts

Unification of Saudi Arabia

The unification of Saudi Arabia was a 30-year-long military and political campaign, by which the various tribes, sheikhdoms, and emirates of most of the Arabian Peninsula were conquered by the House of Saud, or Al Saud, between 1902 and 1932, when the modern-day Kingdom of Saudi Arabia was proclaimed. Carried out under the charismatic Abdul Aziz Ibn Saud, this process created what is sometimes referred to as the Third Saudi State, to differentiate it from the first and second states that existed under the Al Saud clan.

The Al-Saud had been in exile in Ottoman Iraq since 1893 following the disintegration of the Second Saudi State and the rise of Jebel Shammar under the Al Rashid clan. In 1902, Ibn Saud recaptured Riyadh, the Al Saud dynasty's former capital. He went on to subdue the rest of Nejd, Al-Hasa, Jebel Shammar, Asir, and Hejaz (location of the Muslim holy cities of Mecca and Medina) between 1913 and 1926. The resultant polity was named the Kingdom of Nejd and Hejaz from 1927 until it was further consolidated with Al-Hasa and Qatif into the Kingdom of Saudi Arabia in 1932.

Arab–Israeli conflict

Further information: Arab–Israeli conflict

The establishment of the State of Israel in 1948 has given rise to the Arab–Israeli conflict, one of the major unresolved geopolitical conflicts.

The Arab states in changing alliances were involved in a number of wars with Israel and its western allies between 1948 and 1973, including the 1948 Arab–Israeli War, the 1956 Suez Crisis, the Six-Day War of 1967, and the Yom Kippur War of 1973. An Egypt–Israel Peace Treaty was signed in 1979.

Iraq–Iran War

Main article: Iran–Iraq War

The Iran–Iraq War (also known as the First Gulf War and by various other names) was an armed conflict between the armed forces of Iraq and Iran, lasting from September 1980 to August 1988, making it the second longest conventional war of the 20th century. It was initially referred to in English as the "Gulf War" prior to the "Gulf War" of 1990.

The war began when Iraq invaded Iran, launching a simultaneous invasion by air and land into Iranian territory on 22 September 1980 following a long history of border disputes, and fears of Shia Islam insurgency among Iraq's long-suppressed Shia majority influenced by the Iranian Revolution. Iraq was also aiming to replace Iran as the dominant Persian Gulf state. Although Iraq hoped to take advantage of the revolutionary chaos in Iran (see Iranian Revolution, 1979) and attacked without formal warning, they made only limited progress into Iran and were quickly repelled by the Iranians who regained virtually all lost territory by June 1982. For the next six years, Iran was on the offensive.

Lebanese Civil War

Main article: Lebanese Civil War

The Lebanese Civil War was a multifaceted civil war in Lebanon, lasting from 1975 to 1990 and resulting in an estimated 120,000[1][2] fatalities. Another one million people (a quarter of the population) were wounded, and today approximately 76,000 people remain displaced within Lebanon. There was also a mass exodus of almost one million people from Lebanon.

Western Sahara conflict

The Western Sahara War was an armed struggle between the Sahrawi Polisario Front and Morocco between 1975 and 1991, being the most significant phase of the Western Sahara conflict. The conflict erupted after the withdrawal of Spain from the Spanish Sahara in accordance with the Madrid Accords, by which it transferred administrative control of the territory to Morocco and Mauritania, but not the sovereignty. In 1975, Moroccan government organized the Green March of some 350,000 Moroccan citizens, escorted by around 20,000 troops, who entered Western Sahara, trying to establish Moroccan presence. While at first met with just minor resistance by the Polisario, Morocco later engaged a long period of guerilla warfare with the Sahrawi nationalists. During the late 1970s, the Polisario Front, desiring to establish an independent state in the territory, successively fought both Mauritania and Morocco. In 1979, Mauritania withdrew from the conflict after signing a peace treaty with the Polisario. The war continued in low intensity throughout the 1980s, though Morocco made several attempts to take the upper hand in 1989-1991. A cease-fire agreement was finally reached between the Polisario Front and Morocco in September 1991.

North Yemen Civil War

Main article: North Yemen Civil War

The North Yemen Civil War was fought in North Yemen between royalists of the Mutawakkilite Kingdom of Yemen and factions of the Yemen Arab Republic from 1962 to 1970. The war began with a coup d'état carried out by the republican leader, Abdullah as-Sallal, which dethroned the newly crowned Imam al-Badr and declared Yemen a republic under his presidency. The Imam escaped to the Saudi Arabian border and rallied popular support.

Somali Civil War

Main article: Somali Civil War

The Somali Civil War is an ongoing civil war taking place in Somalia. It began in 1991, when a coalition of clan-based armed opposition groups ousted the nation's long-standing military government.

Various factions began competing for influence in the power vacuum that followed, which precipitated an aborted UN peacekeeping attempt in the mid-1990s. A period of decentralization ensued, characterized by a return to customary and religious law in many areas as well as the establishment of autonomous regional governments in the northern part of the country. The early 2000s saw the creation of fledgling interim federal administrations, culminating in the establishment of the Transitional Federal Government (TFG) in 2004. In 2006, the TFG, assisted by Ethiopian troops, assumed control of most of the nation's southern conflict zones from the newly formed Islamic Courts Union (ICU). The ICU subsequently splintered into more radical groups, notably Al-Shabaab, which have since been fighting the Somali government and its AMISOM allies for control of the region. In 2011, a coordinated military operation between the Somali military and multinational forces began, which is believed to represent one of the final stages in the war's Islamist insurgency.[33]

Arab Spring

The popular protests throughout the Arab world of late 2010 to the present have been directed against authoritarian leadership and associated political corruption, paired with demands for more democratic rights. The two most violent and prolonged conflicts in the aftermath of the Arab Spring are the Libyan Civil War and Syrian Civil War.


While the Arab world had been of limited interest to the European colonial powers, the British Empire being mostly interested in the Suez Canal as a route to British India, the economic and geopolitical situation changed dramatically after the discovery of large petroleum deposits in the 1930s, coupled with the vastly increased demand for petroleum in the west as a result of the Second Industrial Revolution.

The Persian Gulf is particularly well-endowed with this strategic raw material: five Persian Gulf states, Saudi Arabia, Iraq, the UAE, Kuwait, and Qatar, are among the top ten petroleum or gas exporters worldwide.In Africa, Algeria (10th world) and Libya are important gas exporters. In addition Bahrain, Egypt, Tunisia, 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 Persian Gulf and Libya, triggering extensive labor immigration. It is believed that the Arab world holds approximately 46% of the world’s total proven oil reserves and a quarter of the world's natural-gas reserves.[34]

Islamism and Pan-Islamism were on the rise during the 1980s. The Hezbollah, a militant Islamic party in Lebanon, was founded in 1982. Islamic terrorism became a problem in the Arab world in the 1970s to 1980s. While the Muslim Brotherhood had been active in Egypt since 1928, their militant actions were limited to assassination attempts on political leaders.

Recent history

Today, Arab states are characterized by their autocratic rulers and lack of democratic control. The 2010 Democracy Index classifies Lebanon, Iraq and Palestine as "hybrid regimes", and all other Arab states as "authoritarian regimes". Similarly, the 2011 Freedom House report classifies Comoros and Mauritania as "electoral democracies",[35] Lebanon, Kuwait and Morocco as "partly free", and all other Arab states as "not free".

The invasion of Kuwait by Iraq forces, led to the 1990–91 Persian Gulf War. Egypt, Syria and Saudi Arabia joined a multinational coalition that opposed Iraq. Displays of support for Iraq by Jordan and Palestine resulted in strained relations between many of the Arab states. After the war, a so-called "Damascus Declaration" formalized an alliance for future joint Arab defensive actions between Egypt, Syria, and the GCC states.[36]

A chain of events leading to the destabilization of the authoritarian regimes established during the 1950s throughout the Arab world became apparent during the early years of the 21st century. The 2003 invasion of Iraq led to the collapse of the Baathist regime and ultimate execution of Saddam Hussein.

A growing class of young, educated, secular citizens with access to modern media such as Al Jazeera (since 1996) and communicating via the internet began to form a third force besides the classical dichotomy of Pan-Arabism vs. Pan-Islamism that had dominated the second half of the 20th century.

In Syria, the Damascus Spring of 2000 to 2001 heralded the possibility of democratic change, but the Baathist regime managed to suppress the movement.

In 2003, the Egyptian Movement for Change, popularly known as Kefaya, was launched to oppose the Mubarak regime and to establish democratic reforms and greater civil liberties in Egypt.

States and territories

For the states and territories constituting the Arab world, see definition above.

Forms of government

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. With the exception of Lebanon, Tunisia, Palestine, and recently Mauritania, democratic elections throughout the Arab World are generally viewed as compromised, due to outright vote rigging, intimidation of opposition parties, and severe restraints on civil liberties and political dissent.

After World War II, Pan-Arabism sought to unite all Arabic-speaking countries into one political entity. Only Syria, Iraq, Egypt, Sudan, Tunisia, Libya and North Yemen considered the short-lived unification of the United Arab Republic. 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. Arab Nationalist leaders of this period included Gamal Abdel Nasser of Egypt, Ahmed Ben Bella of Algeria, Michel Aflaq, Salah al-Din al-Bitar, Zaki al-Arsuzi, Constantin Zureiq and Shukri al-Kuwatli of Syria, Ahmed Hassan al-Bakr of Iraq, Habib Bourguiba of Tunisia, Mehdi Ben Barka of Morocco, and Shakib Arslan of Lebanon.

Later and current Arab Nationalist leaders include Muammar al-Gaddafi of Libya, Hafez al-Assad and Bashar al-Assad of Syria. The diverse Arab states generally maintained close ties but distinct national identities developed and strengthened with the social, historical and political realities of the past 60 years. This has made the idea of a pan-Arab nation-state increasingly less feasible and likely. Additionally, an upsurge in political Islam has since led to a greater emphasis on pan-Islamic rather than pan-Arab identity amongst some Arab Muslims. Arab nationalists who once opposed Islamic movements as a threat to their power, now deal with them differently for reasons of political reality.[37]

Modern boundaries

Many of the modern borders of the Arab World were drawn by European imperial powers during the 19th and early 20th century. However, some of the larger states (in particular Egypt and 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 of Egypt, therefore, are not a creation of European 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 sheikhs were placed as semi-autonomous rulers over the newly created nation states, usually chosen by the same imperial powers that for some drew the new borders, for services rendered to European powers like the British Empire, e.g. Sherif Hussein ibn Ali. Many African states did not attain independence until the 1960s from France after bloody insurgencies for their freedom. These struggles were settled by the imperial 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).[38]

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.[38]

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.[39]

Modern economies

As of 2006, the Arab World accounts for two-fifths of the gross domestic product and three-fifths of the trade of the wider Muslim World.

The Arab states are mostly, although not exclusively, developing economies and derive their export revenues from oil and gas, or the sale of other raw materials. Recent years have seen significant economic growth in the Arab World, due largely to an increase in oil and gas prices, which tripled between 2001 and 2006, but also due to efforts by some states to diversify their economic base. Industrial production has risen, for example the amount of steel produced between 2004 and 2005 rose from 8.4 to 19 million tonnes. (Source: Opening speech of Mahmoud Khoudri, Algeria's Industry Minister, at the 37th General Assembly of the Iron & Steel Arab Union, Algiers, May 2006). However even 19 million tons pa still only represents 1.7% of global steel production, and remains inferior to the production of countries like Brazil.[40]

The main economic organisations in the Arab World are the Gulf Cooperation Council (GCC), comprising the states in the Persian Gulf, and the Union of the Arab Maghreb (UMA), made up of North African States. The GCC has achieved some success in financial and monetary terms, including plans to establish a common currency in the Persian Gulf region. Since its foundation in 1989, the UMA's most significant accomplishment has been the establishment of a 7000 km highway crossing North Africa from Mauritania to Libya's border with Egypt. The central stretch of the highway, expected to be completed in 2010, will cross Morocco, Algeria and Tunisia. In recent years a new term has been coined to define a greater economic region: the MENA region (standing for Middle East and North Africa) is becoming increasingly popular, especially with support from the current US administration.

As of August 2009 it was reported that Saudi Arabia is the strongest Arab economy according to World Bank.[41]

Saudi Arabia remains the top Arab economy in terms of total GDP. It is Asia's eleventh largest economy, followed by Egypt and Algeria, which were also the second and third largest economies in Africa (after South Africa), in 2006. In terms of GDP per capita, Qatar is the richest developing country in the world.[42]

The total GDP of all Arab countries in 1999 was US$531.2 billion.[43] By grouping all the latest GDP figures, the total Arab world GDP is estimated to be worth at least $2.8 trillion in 2011.[44] This is only smaller than the GDP of US, China, Japan and Germany.


The Arab World stretches across more than 13,000,000 square kilometres (5,000,000 sq mi) of North Africa and the part of North-East Africa and South-West Asia. The Asian part of the Arab world is called the Mashriq. Algeria, Morocco, Tunisia, Libya and often Mauritania are the Maghreb or Maghrib, while Egypt and Sudan are referred to as Nile Valley, Egypt is a transcontinental country by virtue of the Sinai Peninsula, which is in Asia, it has stronger cultural connections to the Mashriq.

The Maghreb (Western Arab world)

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 two of the largest countries of the African continent, Algeria (2.4 million km2) in the center of the region and Sudan (1.9 million km2) in the southeast. Algeria is about three-quarters the size of India, or about one-and-a-half times the size of Alaska, the largest state in the United States. The largest country in the Arab Middle East is Saudi Arabia (2 million km2).

At the other extreme, the smallest autonomous mainland Arab country in North Africa and the Middle East is Lebanon (10,452 km2), and the smallest island Arab country is Bahrain (665 km2).

Notably, every Arab country borders a sea or ocean, with the exception of the Arab region of northern Chad, which is completely landlocked. Iraq is actually nearly landlocked, as it has only a very narrow access to the Persian Gulf.

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

Abbasid caliphate (750 - 1258 CE)

The Arab world straddles two continents, Africa and Asia. It is mainly oriented along an east-west axis.

Arab Africa

Arab Africa, 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 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 indigenous 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 Egypt begins the region of the Arab World known as the Maghreb include (Libya, Tunisia, Algeria, Morocco and Mauritania).

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 BCE; 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 the imperial involvement of 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 (called "Morocco Espanol"), 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 strip of scrubland known as the Sahel that crosses the continent south of the Sahara.

Arab Middle East

The West Asian Arab region comprises the Arabian Peninsula, most of the Levant (excluding Cyprus and Israel), most of Mesopotamia (excluding parts of Turkey and Iran) and the Persian Gulf region. The peninsula is roughly a tilted rectangle that leans back against the slope of northeast Africa, the long axis pointing toward Turkey and Europe.

See also



  1. Source, unless otherwise specified: "Demographic YearbookTable 3: Population by sex, rate of population increase, surface area and density" (PDF). United Nations Statistics Division. 2008. Retrieved 24 September 2010.
    Entries in this table giving figures other than the figures given in this source are bracketed by asterisks () in the Notes field, and the rationale for the figure used are explained in the associated Note.


  1. 1 2 3 4 5 6 Frishkopf: 61: "No universally accepted definition of 'the Arab world' exists, but it is generally assumed to include the twenty-two countries belonging to the Arab League that have a combined population of about 280 million (Seib 2005, 604). For the purposes of this introduction, this territorial definition is combined with a linguistic one (use of the Arabic language, or its recognition as critical to identity), and thereby extended into multiple diasporas, especially the Americas, Europe, Southeast Asia, West Africa, and Australia."
  2. "World Arabic Language Day". UNESCO. 18 December 2012. Retrieved 12 February 2014.
  3. 1 2 "Arab League Sends Delegation to Iraq". 8 October 2005. Retrieved 13 February 2011.
  4. 1 2 "Arab League Warns of Civil War in Iraq". 8 October 2005. Retrieved 13 February 2011.
  5. Wehr, Hans: Dictionary of Modern Written Arabic (2011); Harrell, Richard S.: Dictionary of Moroccan Arabic (1966)
  6. Tilmatine Mohand, Substrat et convergences: Le berbére et l'arabe nord-africain (1999), in Estudios de dialectologia norteaafricana y andalusi 4, pp 99–119
  7. "Arabic, Moroccan Spoken".
  8. Benjamin Hätinger, The League of Arab States, (GRIN Verlag: 2009), p.2.
  9. Dwight Fletcher Reynolds, Arab folklore: a handbook, (Greenwood Press: 2007), p.1.
  10. Baumann: 8
  11. Deng: 405
  12. 1 2 Kronholm: 14
  13. Rejwan: 52
  14. Sullivan and Ismael: ix
  15. Diana Briton Putman, Mohamood Cabdi Noor, The Somalis: their history and culture, (Center for Applied Linguistics: 1993), p.15.
  16. Colin Legum, Africa contemporary record: annual survey and documents, Volume 13, (Africana Pub. Co.: 1985), p.B-116.
  17. "Eritrea". The World Factbook. Central Intelligence Agency. Retrieved 28 February 2013.
  18. Rinnawi: xvi
  19. "Middle East – Iran". The World Factbook. Retrieved 24 October 2013.
  20. "Hassaniyya - A language of Mauritania". Retrieved 17 October 2011.
  21. "How Many Muslims Are There in the World?". Religion & Spirituality.
  22. "". External link in |title= (help);  (374 KB)
  23. 1 2 RIA Novosti (11 November 2008). "Average Arab reads 4 pages a year". Retrieved 16 August 2010.
  24. Gender equality in Arab world critical for progress and prosperity, UN report warns, E-joussour (21 October 2008)
  25. 1 2 3 4 5
  27. 1 2 3
  29. Hans Kung, ''Tracing the Way: Spiritual Dimensions of the World Religions'', éd. Continuum International Publishing Group, 2006, p. 248. 31 August 2006. Retrieved 17 October 2011.
  30. Bechtold, Peter R (1991). "More Turbulence in Sudan" in Sudan: State and Society in Crisis. ed. John Voll (Westview Press (Boulder)) p. 1.
  31. 1 2 Encyclopedia Americana, Volume 25. Americana Corporation. 1965. p. 255.
  32. 1 2 Lewis, I.M. (1955). Peoples of the Horn of Africa: Somali, Afar and Saho. International African Institute. p. 140.
  33. Heinlein, Peter (October 22, 2011). "E. African Nations Back Kenyan Offensive in Somalia". Voice of America. Retrieved October 23, 2011.
  34. "The haves and the have-nots" via The Economist.
  35. "Freedom House Country Report". 10 May 2004. Retrieved 13 February 2011.
  36. Egypt's Bid for Arab Leadership: Implications for U.S. Policy, By Gregory L. Aftandilian, Published by Council on Foreign Relations, 1993, ISBN 0-87609-146-X, pages 6–8
  37. "Arab Nationalism: Mistaken Identity by Martin Kramer". Archived from the original on 25 October 2009.
  38. 1 2 Archived 6 December 2010 at the Wayback Machine.
  39. "Internet Archive Wayback Machine". 3 January 2016. Archived from the original on 3 January 2016.
  40. "World Steel Association - Home". Retrieved 17 October 2011.
  41. World Bank: Saudi Arabia, strongest Arab economy Archived 4 January 2010 at the Wayback Machine.
  42. CIA World Factbook, GDP by country classification
  43. Lewis, Bernard (2004). The Crisis of Islam. New York City: Random House. p. 116. ISBN 978-0-8129-6785-2.


Further reading

External links

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