The Arab world stretches some 5,000 miles-nearly twice the distance between New York and San Francisco-from the Atlantic coast of northem Africa in the west to the Arabian Sea in the east, and from the Mediterranean Sea in the north to Central Africa in the south. It covers an area of 5.25 million square miles, compared to the 3.6 million square miles of the United States.

With seventy-two percent of its territory in Africa and twenty eight percent in Asia, the Arab world straddles two continents, a position that has made it one of the world's most strategic regions. Long coastlines give it access to vital waterways: the Atlantic Ocean, the Mediterranean Sea, the Arabian Gulf, the Arabian Sea, the Gulf of Men, the Red Sea and the Indian Ocean.
While the Arab world is dominated by dry climatic conditions, the existence of mountain ranges permits seasonal rainfall. The Atlas range in northwest Africa (Morocco, Algeria and Tunisia) forms a barrier between the Sahara Desert and the coastal areas. Other important mountain systems are the Lebanon and Anti-Lebanon ranges and the Zagros Mountains to the east of Iraq.
Given the preponderance of arid conditions, reliable sources of water are immensely important-be they springs, from which oases are formed, or rivers. Foremost among the river valleys are the Nile and the Tigris-Euphrates.
The population of the Arab world-approximately 150 million-is a youthful one. Almost half of the population is under fifteen years of age. Given the current annual rate of increase, the population will be approximately 280 million by the year 2000.
The concept of average population density has little meaning when applied to the Arab world. Since significant human settlement is found only where water supplies are adequate, the overwhelming majority of Arabs lives in relatively high concentrations along coastal areas and major river valleys. The most striking example of this is Egypt, where more than ninety percent of the population lives on less than five percent of the land.

  Agriculture is the primary economic activity in the Arab world. The most important food crops are wheat, barley, rice, maize and millet. These are largely consumed within the region, while cotton, sugarcane, sugar beets and sesame are exported as cash crops.

The distribution of petroleum and natural gas is highly localized, so that the Arab countries which possess these resources are relatively few. Other natural resources include iron, ore, lead, phosphate, cobalt and manganese.
The Arab world is the region where man first moved into a settled form of society, cultivating grain and raising livestock, establishing cities and promoting diverse skills and occupations. In such a setting, rich and complex cultures were nourished:

ancient Egypt, Sumer, Assyria, Babylonia and Phoenicia were great civilizations, legends even in their own day, whose traces continue to be uncovered in archeological sites throughout the region.

It was in this same area that the three great monotheistic religions-Judaism, Christianity and Islam-were established, in time spreading to all corners of the world. The followers of those faiths lived in harmony throughout the centuries in the Arab world, since all considered themselves the children of one God.

The Prophet Muhammad appeared in the seventh century, A.D., carrying the message of Islam. His Arab followers soon spread the new faith in the West, across North Africa into Spain and France, and in the East, to the borders of China. But these Muslim believers were not merely conquerors. They rapidly established a new and dynamic civilization that for centuries was the only bright light in an otherwise culturally and intellectually stagnant world. Indeed, while Europe was experiencing its "Dark Ages," the Arab/Islamic empire was at its apogee. It was the same Islamic civilization, with its many contributions to science and the humanities, that paved the way for the rise of the West to its present prominence.

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