The total population in 1984 of countries under consideration in the region, estimated at 257 million, was about 5.6 percent of the world population, in an area occupying about 10 percent of the Earth's surface. The largest populations were in Egypt, Turkey, and Iran, which comprised 52 percent of the inhabitants of the region.

Turkey was the only country in which population was distributed relatively evenly. Even at the mid-twentieth century, about 75 percent of the inhabitants lived in small villages scattered over the Anatolian Peninsula, whereas in other states, the population had already been concentrated along the seacoast or river banks, on oases, or around the countries' metropolitan centers. Since midcentury, population pressure on the land has reduced the percentage of people in agriculture and accelerated the move to urban centers. By 1984, it was estimated that 42 percent of the population of North Africa and 53 percent in the Middle East had gravitated to towns or cities. At the same time, 40 to 45 percent of the populations surveyed were under 15 years. (An overall annual growth rate of 2.8 percent means almost doubling the population in 25 years.)

About 93 percent of the people of the region are Muslim and about 57 percent speak Arabic; other important languages are Turkish, Persian, Hebrew, Kurdish, and Berber (Fisher 1971; Drysdale and Blake 1975).

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