North Africa, Southwest Asia, and Central Asia (Turkestan) are included in a the realm of North Africa and Southwest Asia, which is dominated by the religion of Islam, arid type B climates, and the export of oil and natural gas. Large, expansive deserts make up most of the physical areas of all three regions of the realm. Water is of particular importance, as most of the population has traditionally made a living from agriculture. Division, warfare, and conflict have been constant elements. The Arab Spring of 2011 included a wave of mass citizen demonstrations in many Arab countries where the people demanded political and economic reform.
The three main monotheistic religions of Judaism, Christianity, and Islam emerged from the Middle East and can be traced back to a common patriarch, Abraham. Most of the people in the realm are Muslims. The Five Pillars of Islam create a guide for Muslims to live by. Mecca, the holiest city for Muslims worldwide, is where the prophet Muhammad started the religion. The two main divisions of Islam are Sunni (84 percent) and Shia (15 percent). Other smaller divisions exist, such as Sufi.
North Africa includes the countries bordering the Mediterranean Sea and Sudan on the Red Sea. Most of the people in North Africa are Muslims. The high-population areas are along the coast or along the Nile River. The Maghreb is included in the region with the Atlas Mountains in the west. The Atlas Mountains trap moisture, which provides precipitation for agriculture in the mountain valleys. The countries of North Africa have all witnessed political uprisings in which the people have demanded democratic reforms and increased civil rights. Egypt is the most populous Arab country and the cornerstone of the Arab world.
The African Transition Zone is where the dry, arid conditions of the Sahara Desert meet the tropical conditions of Equatorial Africa. Islam is dominant in the north, and Christianity and tribal religions are dominant in the south. Sudan is one place where the two sides have clashed in warfare and division. Tribal Christian southern Sudan separated from the Arab Muslim north to create the independent country of South Sudan. Ethnic cleansing has been witnessed in the western part of Sudan in the region of Darfur.
Palestine was divided in half in 1945 into an Arab state and a Jewish state. The Jewish state became the nation of Israel in 1948. Since that time, there has been a constant struggle between the mainly Arab Palestinians and the Jewish State of Israel. The West Bank and the Gaza Strip are Palestinian regions that have worked to be recognized with equal sovereignty. The solution to this division is debated; both sides have claims that are incompatible with each other. The neighboring Arab states of Jordan, Syria, and Lebanon have their own unique political situations.
The Arabian Peninsula includes a number of states ruled by a single king, sultan, emir, or sheik, except Yemen, which has a democratically elected president. Saudi Arabia is the home of the two main cities of Islam, Mecca and Medina. Saudi Arabia is the largest country on the peninsula and has about 25 percent of all the known oil reserves in the world. Oil and natural gas are the main export products and the main source of income for the region. Yemen is mainly an agricultural country with high population growth and a rural majority.
Most people in Turkey are of Turkish ethnicity, and most people in Iran are of Persian ethnicity. The country of Turkey is what remains from the once expansive Ottoman Empire. Iran is a country of mountains and deserts that was once the center of the Persian Empire. Turkey has a portion of its country in Europe, and its largest part includes the expansive Anatolian Plateau in Asia. Turkey is a democratic republic with elected public officials. Iran is a religious state in which the Islamic leadership controls who can be included in the government. Both countries have large populations of about seventy million each.
Iraq was at the center of the Fertile Crescent of Mesopotamia, which spawned early human civilizations. Iraq was invaded by the United States in 2003 and has been working to establish a democratic government. The country is divided between a Shia majority and a Sunni minority. It is an Arab country with a large minority group of Kurds in the north. Iraq has enormous oil reserves that have not yet been developed for exploitation, which has attracted the attention of the world’s energy-dependent core regions.
Central Asia (Turkestan) is a landlocked region with mainly type B climates with cooler temperatures in the higher elevations of the eastern mountains. The prominently Muslim region has been transitioning from a Soviet-controlled domain to independent states. Some countries are making the transition with less difficulty than others. The Aral Sea has been one of the major environmental disasters in modern history. Globalization activities have targeted the region for its immense amount of natural resources—mainly oil, natural gas, and minerals.
Afghanistan has been conquered by many empires and was a buffer state between British and Russian colonial efforts. The country has a dry, rugged terrain and a devastated economy. The people are poor with little infrastructure. The many tribal groups have made it difficult for a centralized government to be effective. The United States invaded Afghanistan in 2001 to remove al-Qaeda training camps run by Osama bin Laden. North Atlantic Treaty Organization (NATO) forces have taken over the mission in Afghanistan to defeat the Taliban extremists and support stability for the country. Afghanistan has enormous amounts of mineral resources that are in high demand by the world’s core industrial regions.