Economic Life

Until very recently, about 60 percent of the population cultivated the traditional crops of the Mediterranean - cereals and olive and fig trees - whereas date palms and sugar cane predominated in the southern deserts. Antiquated and inequitable land-holding and tenancy systems have discouraged long-term development by individual farmers, and the traditional but excessive subdivision of land has worked against cost-effective production. This region still must remain vigilant for periodic swarms of destructive locusts, both Saharan and Arabian types, in addition to the pests that damage crops in other parts of the world.

Whereas most lands capable of cultivation have been planted with cereals, areas where water and good soil are lacking have been left to herders. Sheep are preponderant in all areas; goats also are kept in large numbers, especially in steppe and mountainous areas; and water buffalo have provided most animal power in the marshes of Iran and Iraq and the irrigated fields of Egypt. As transport has become increasingly mechanized, the use of the camel has declined, but the donkey still carries people and commodities everywhere. Neither cattle nor horses are important economically because of lack of pasturage. Mineral resources are limited, with the exception of petroleum in some states, and large-scale extraction has begun only relatively recently. Good-quality coal exists only in northwestern Turkey, but hydroelectric power and petroleum have been supplying energy for industrialization in recent decades.

The traditional handicrafts and manufactures of the Middle East and North Africa - metal working, glassware, textiles for articles of clothing, and woolen carpet-making - have suffered from the competition of foreign imports, but many countries are now promoting them for export. Four countries-

Egypt, Israel, Syria, and Turkey - no longer conform to the typical Third World economic pattern, in that one-fifth or more of their gross domestic product is derived from the manufacturing industry. Generally, however, the countries of the Middle East and North Africa belong to the Third World, being still heavily dependent upon the export of primary products and the import of food, consumer goods, equipment, and technology (Oxford Regional Economic Atlas 1964; Fisher 1971; Drysdale and Blake 1985).

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