Exploring Our World: People, Places, and Cultures

Chapter 17: History and Cultures of North Africa, Southwest Asia, and Central Asia

Chapter Overviews

The people of ancient Egypt and Mesopotamia built civilizations in fertile river valleys in the region of North Africa, Southwest Asia, and Central Asia. Mesopotamia, located in an area called the Fertile Crescent in present-day Iraq, had large city-states as early as 3000 B.C. in an area known as Sumer. The Sumerians there developed calendars and cuneiform writing. Later, King Hammurabi would develop the world’s first code of law. In Egypt along the Nile River, small villages developed that would later be organized into a large empire under a series of pharaohs, or rulers. Egyptians also developed a form of writing called hieroglyphics. Both the Egyptian and the Mesopotamian civilizations had religion at the center of their society. These religions were polytheistic.

The region of North Africa, Southwest Asia, and Central Asia is the birthplace of three world religions—Judaism, Christianity, and Islam. Although they have important differences, all three religions are monotheistic. Since their beginnings thousands of years ago, these religions have spread throughout the world. They have also had a great impact on the history of the region, which is now primarily Muslim. Religious beliefs and traditions have influenced the language, arts, and daily lives of the people. Today, the arts are also influenced by secular subjects. Family life is also important throughout the region; in many areas men have the dominant role in the family and women are expected to obey their husbands, stay home, and raise children. In some countries, women’s roles are changing.

Standards of living vary across the area depending on whether a country has an economy based on oil or on manufacturing. These countries, like Saudi Arabia and Qatar, have prospered. Other countries such as Egypt and Algeria do not have these resources and have growing populations. Their citizens do not have high standards of living.

In recent times, political unrest and religious differences have troubled parts of this area, and these conflicts have an impact on the rest of the world. In response, many people of the region have turned to political movements based on Islam. The region has also witnessed the growth of terrorism, which has led to the U.S. war against Iraq.

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