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Middle East
Arabic: 'ash-sharq 'al-'awsat
Hebrew: ha-mizrakh ha-tikhon

1. Politics and Economy
2. Peoples and Languages
3. Religions

Second column: All figures in 1000's.
Last column: % of the population
Alevism 19,000 7.2%
Ahl-e Haqq 2.200 0.8%
Baha'i 605 0,3%
Christianity 5,500 2,4%
Druze 595 0,3%
Hinduism 740 0,3%
Islam 224,000 84.7%
Isma'ilism 900 0.3%
Judaism 4,680 2,0%
Mandeism 30 <0,1%
Samaritanism 0.6 <0,1%
Shabak 10 <0,1%
Yazidism 580 0,3%
Zoroastrianism 60 <0,1%

*) The total population of 230,000,000 in the Middle East: Bahrain, Iran, Iraq, Israel, Jordan, Kuwait, Lebanon, Oman, Palestine, Qatar, Saudi Arabia, Syria, Turkey, United Arab Emirates and Yemen.

Geographical area without clear borders, with its centre in the eastern Mediterranean basin. The most limited version of what the Middle East includes is set to Syria, Lebanon, Israel, Palestine and Jordan.
An equally often used version of Middle East, includes Cyprus, Turkey, Iraq, and Egypt.
An even larger Middle East includes Iran, Kuwait, Saudi Arabia, Bahrain, Qatar, United Arab Emirates, Oman, and Yemen.
In some cases, the Middle East is extended to include countries in North Africa with clear connection to Islam, like Libya, Tunisia, Algeria, Morocco, Mauritania and Sudan, Eritrea, Djibouti and Somalia. For the rest of Contents, the second interpretation of "Middle East" is used.

Politics and Economy
The Middle East has in periods housed some of the most advanced cultures of its time, like the Ancient Egyptian culture, the Muslim Caliphate, and the early stages of the Ottoman empire. Today the region is characterized by strong political tensions, like the issue of Palestine/Israel, the issue of Kurdistan, the issue of rights to water resources, as well as a number of smaller, yet important issues, like Syrian presence in Lebanon, border disagreements between Syria and Turkey, between Egypt and Sudan, between Saudi Arabia and Yemen, the civil rights of Shi'i minorities in Iraq and Bahrain and the security of Christians in Egypt.
The countries of the Middle East has passed through a couple of decades with relatively little economic progress, and wealth is unevenly distributed between the countries, with United Arab Emirates and Israel as the two offering highest living standards for the entire population, and Sudan and Yemen as offering the greatest economic problems for its entire population. Certain countries has seen some economic growth in periods, and the present, Egypt is the country with the highest growth, and this is a growth that benefits the entire population.

Peoples and Languages
The Middle East has a number of peoples, languages, and religions. Turks and Arabs are the largest population groups, Kurds third largest, and Jews the last of the larger. Of smaller peoples are Berbers (unless one use the widest interpretation of "Middle East", which includes all of North Africa), Nubians and Armenians.
The two dominating languages are Turkish and Arabic, with Kurdish as a strong number three. The fourth most important language is English, even if this only is used as first language by members of the expatriate communities. The fifth largest language is Hebrew. There are a good number of small languages, most of which are used only in local areas. These include Aramaic, Nubian, Berber languages and Persian (Farsi).

Islam is by all means the dominant religion of the region, and also the leading religion for culture, politics and to some extent even business. There are religious tensions in the region:
In Iran, there the Islamic government and the religious leaders continue their suppression and strong discrimination of the Baha'is. This has resulted in a high number of casualties, some killed randomly, and some killed by execution after being convicted in a trial.
In northern Iraq, there is still a canyon of distrust between the local Muslims and the Yazidis.
In Israel/Palestine, the Israeli state gives less privileges to Muslims compared to other religions.
In Palestine, since 1995, there have been many reports of harassment from the Muslim majority towards the Christians. A wave of Christian emigration has been the result.
In Lebanon, there is still hostility between peoples of different religions, even if the civil war has stopped.
In Saudi Arabia, the government still do not allow any form of buildings of other other religions than Islam.

By Tore Kjeilen