LINGUISTIC AND COMMUNAL LOYALTIES OF THE MIDEAST AND CENTRAL ASIA: A THREE PART SERIES ON THE ARABS, PERSIANS, AND TURKS
PART I: THE SUNNI ARAB STATES
by A. Joseph Lynch
by A. Joseph Lynch
The map above depicts the Arab world in terms of language rather than ethnicity or in terms of the Sunni-Shia division of Islam. While the term "Arab world" is often haphazardly used to connote the entire Islamic world, defining the actual geographic limits of the Arab world is difficult to determine. The nations of the Mashriq ("the pace of sunshine"), or Islamic lands between the Mediterranean and Persia, may be Arab ethnically and linguistically but they are not all Sunni Arab states. Yemen, Iraq, Syria, Bahrain and Lebanon all boast either Shia majorities or large minorities. Given the recent turmoil in the region we may consider the following list as the Sunni Arab states of the Mashriq: Jordan, Kuwait, Qatar, United Arab Emirates, Oman, and Saudi Arabia.
The nations of the Maghreb ("where the sun sets") are considered "Arab" states despite their Berber ethnic ancestry. The Arabic language and Sunni Islamic faith, combined with its history in the first century of Islamic expansion between AD 632-732, roots the Maghreb firmly in the Arab world.
Sharing in a strong regional identity, the states of the Maghreb forged the Arab Maghreb Union in February 1989. (Algeria: 39 million pop.; Libya: 7 m; Mauritania: 3 m; Morocco: 32 m; Tunisia: 11 m.) Although there are rivalries and conflicts within the union, particularly over the fate of Western Sahara (part of Morocco or an independent state?), the AMU boasts a collective population of 88.5 million, and significant amounts of phosphate, oil, and gas. Its geographic location near western Europe and past relationship to the former French colonial empire makes it an important connector to mainland Europe.
With a population of 86 million, Egypt is by far the largest Sunni Arab state (Algeria by comparison ranks #2 at a population of 38.7 million, less than half that of Egypt). Although it is geographically in the Maghreb, its cultural and history tie it more closely to the Mashriq. Rather than being identified with either half, however, Egypt is treated as the center or heart of the Sunni Arab world. It is for this reason that the Arab League - the regional organization of Arab states - is headquartered in Cairo.
|MEMBER NATIONS OF THE ARAB LEAGUE|
It is to these Shiites and to the Persian civilization that we shall turn in part two of this series.