Why Study MENA?
Often referred to as the “cradle of civilization, the Middle East and North Africa was of central importance in the development of agriculture, cities, mathematics, science, and western religious traditions. The first sedentary villages and proto-urban settlements occurred there as did the first written language, monumental architecture, long-distance trade, and a centralized state system. While Arab ethnicity and Islam dominate the region, it is nonetheless diverse in language, religion, and ethnic identity. In the contemporary period, while some MENA countries have the fastest-growing economies globally and the region is home to vast supplies of oil, over 88% of the people are under 24, poverty has not declined since 2005 due to rapid population growth, and inequality is growing. Globalization continues to have a deep and destabilizing effect on MENA governments, peoples, and cultures. Many MENA countries are undergoing extreme political instabilities and revolts continue to rock the region, engaging the concern and response of countries outside the MENA, including the United States. Syria, Iraq, Libya and Yemen are undergoing violent conflict that has devastated people’s lives, created a huge refugee population, and shattered infrastructure and national economies, and is spilling over to neighboring countries such as Jordan, Lebanon, and Israel. The rich oil- producing countries are stable currently, although they face problems of unemployment, skills disparities and undiversified economies. MENA turmoil is likely to impact US foreign and domestic policy for years to come.
In the most basic terms, the importance of events in the MENA region cannot be overemphasized.