*** Middle East and North Africa individual countries

Middle East and North Africa: Individual Countries

Aran shepherd boys
Figure 1.--Photographic images of the Arab countries in the 19th century show a people living in the medieval era, literally unchanged for a millenia. Arab sources tend to blame European imperialism, even though this was a relatively recent phenomenon. Few Arab sources consider their own culture or Islam as factors explaining technological backwardness and the resulting poverty. Here we see Algerian shepherd boys. Thisphotograph could easily have been taken in the 10th century. The photograph is captioned in the distinctive style of the Geiser studio, also with the blindstamp of Kuhn, a Paris retailer. Many of the prints in this series are dated in pen on the mount, with dates between 1866 and the early 1870s. We believe this is not the correct date for the print, which appear to be 1880s.

There are about 20 different countries in the Middle East and North Africa. The exact count depends on how one classifies some of the African countries like Somalia, Sudan, Chad, Niger, Mali, and Mauritania. The dominant ethnic group in most of these countries are the Arabs. But this is primarily a cultural construct involving the Arabic religion and Islam. Much of the North African population is of Berber origins. And the population of the Levant and Mesopotamia is of non-Arab origins. There is also the non-Arab countries, including Israel, Turkey, and Iran. The precise ethnic and cultural mix varies widely from country to country. The culture of the Middle East is of ancient origins, going back to the dawn of civilization. Ancient history was dominanted by the clash between Mesomptamia and Egypt. Three of the great monothesitic religions came out of the Levant, the area between Mesopotamia and Egypt. Persia (modern Iran) for a time dominated the region as did Greece and Rome. The area was conquered by the Arabs ealy in the Islamic period and about a milenia later, the Ottoman Turks. North Africa became a haven for the Barbary pirates, a situation which did not end until France began to colonize the area (19th century). Europeans dominated the Middle East for a short period after World War I. Since World War II the region has had a tulmultuous history. Arabs pursued a mixture of religious extremism and totalitarian ideologies. Prosperity has generally eluded countries unless blessed with oil. Turkey pursued a secular path after World War I with some success, but is increasingly turning to Islamic approsches. Iran has in recent years pursued a theocratic path and even with oil has failed economically. The most successful country in the region in ecomomic terms has been democratic Israel, despite the assault of its aran neighbors.


We do not yet have historical information on Algeria. Algeria was conquered by Arab invaders (8th century). Clothing styles appear to have become heavily influenced bu Arab styles for the next 13 centuries. We do not yet know if there were destinctive Algerian styles. Our information in these historical periods is very limited. We do have some modern information. Algeria has had a dual modern existence. From 1830 to 196?, Algeria was a French colony. The French community in Algeria as well as some Francophone Algerians adopted French fashions, including the boys. This was prominant in the major cities, but not in rural areas. Almost all of the French and many of the Franciphone Algerians had to return to France after independence. Modern Algerian fashions are similar to those in the non-fundamentalist Arab world.


Egypt and the Nile are of course an important foundation of Western civilization. We have done some work on Ancient Egypt, but have virtually no information about modern Egypt. Egypt was conquered by the Arabs in the 7th century. Egypt is the most populace country in the Arab world. Traditional clothes appear to be still widely worn in Egypt, especially in rural areas. We hope that Egyptian readers will help provide some information on Egyptian clothing styles. As far as we know, traditional clothing are generalized Arab and not specificlly Egyptian styles.


Iran was formerly called Persia. We have some information on Ancient Persia. We have very little information on modern Iran and do not yet have an individual country page. We do have a page on Zoriastrianism. It is one of the world's great relgious traditions and was the religion of the Persian Empire. We have very little information about Iranian schoolwear at this time. We have on image of schoolboys in Yzed about 1908. We believe that smocks have commonly been worn, primarily by girls. We have a biography on Vartan Gregorian, an Armenian Christian.


Iraq is perhaps the most westernized Arab country. Until Saddam seized power it was making considerable progress in building the infrastructure of a modern country. This was reflected somewhat in fashion trends. HBC has not acquired information about Iraqi boys' clothing. This is part because of Saddam's horific regime, few Iraqis have had access to the internet. We note almost note Iraqi visitors to HBC. Hopefully that is about to change. While we have received relatively little information from Arab and other Islamic countries, we have noted a good bit of internet traffic from those countries, including Iran, Pakistan, abd Saudi Arabia. Pakistani garment countries in particular are actively seeking business opportunities. From Iraq, however, we note virtually no activity on the internet.


A Jewish nation was the goal of the Zionist movement which was founded in Europe during the 19th century. Israel was formed out of the British mandate of Palestine. The United Nations oversaw the partition of Palestine into an Arab and Jewish state with a small international zone that included Jerusalem. This was not acceptable to the Palestinians and neighboring Arab states. When Israel declared independence (1948), the armoes of the Arabn states attacked, launching the Arb-Israeli conflict wjhich continues to this day. HBC has emcountered difficulties assessing Isreali boys' clothing. Much of the population of Israel was either born in other countries or have parents that were born in other countries. We have relatively limited information about boys who have actually grown up in Israel.


Climate has had a major impact on Jordan. In the modern era the climatec has been very arid, although not as arid as it is now. The northern highlands and the Jordan Valley receive sufficent enough rainfall to support agricuklture. Much of the rest of the country is extrenely arid, including desert area. The urban population of Jordan is located in the fertile areas. In the south and east birdering on Saudi Arabia, there is little rainfall and few peole. We have a page on Jordanian history. Jordan was conquered by the Ottmans (16th century) and remained a part of the Ottoman Empire until the end of World War I when it was occupied by the British and Arab Army organized by Colonel T.E. Lawrence. Jordan was briefly part of a unified Arab Kingdom centered at Damascus, but became part of the British League of Nation Mandate of Palestine. Then Abdullah established a partially indepdendent emirate in the eastern section of Palestine (1923). A treaty was signed with the British which gave the British the right to garison troops(1928). After World War II, the British mandate ended and Abdullah declared an independent kingdom (1946).


Kuwait is an Arab shiekdom at the head of the Persian Gulf, wedged between Iraq to the north and Saudi Arabia to the south. The ruling dynasty was founded in 1756. Kuwait souught British protection in 1896. Significant oil production began after World War II in 1946. Kuwait became independent in 1961. It was claimed by Sadam Husein as Iraq's 16 province and he invaded Kuwait (1980), resulting in the First Gulf War which liberated the country (1981). Both traditional Arab and Western clothing styles are worn. Arab clothing styles are prominent, especially among adults. We do not know of any destinctive Kuwati styles, but rather note genetal Arab styles. Many men an boys wear traditional garments like the disdash. There are no specifically boys' garments in Arab clothing. Rather the boys simply wear smller versions. A reader in Kuwait tells us about a celebration called " Guirgian ".


The Kurds are a people without a country. Her we have created a page on Kurdistan, even though we have little information on Kurdish clothing. A basic knowledge of the Kurds and their lack of a country is important in understanding both Iraq and the Middle East in general.


Lebanon is the Middle-Eastern country wedged between larger Syria and the Mediterrean Sea. Since the dawn of civilization, Lebanon has been a battleground for the larger more powerful nations which surround it. This began with the rise of powerful cultures in Mesopotamia and the Nile Valley. Lebanon was after World War I a French protectorate and French culture was of some importance for many years, including boys wear. This however is little in evidence in the chaotic current situation.


Libya is a North African country located between Egypt and Tunisia. The population is almost entirely Muslim. We do have much informtion on Libya. As far as we can tell, clothing styles are similar to Egypt and Tunisia, although Libya is less urbanized than Egypt. We think Arab-style clothing is somewhat more common than im Egypt, at least urban styles which are more Westernized. Oil was discoverted in Libya after World War II which for the first time since the Roman Empire had brought wealth into Libya. The Libyan Government has used the oil income for a variety of projrcts, including the military and terrorism, there seems to have been no real effort to develop a modern economy and the economy is almost entirely dependant on oil and gas exports. We have a Libyan history page.


Morocco is located at the northwesrern corner of Africa on the rim of the Saharan Desert. Our information on Morocco is still very limited. It has both Atlantic and Mediterranean coasts. We have also prepared a Moroccan history page. Arabs conquered the country (8th century). The country today is almost entirely Muslim. The country became independent after World War II. It is one of several Arab monsrchies. Like other North African countries, Moricco has serious economic probems. We have some information on schools. We have some information about the French living in Morocco during the protectorate period of the early- and mid-20th century. We note French boys wearing rompers. We have found a portrait from the late 19th century showing an unidentified boy in Tangier. He wears a rough shirt like garment had a shaved head with a single plited strand. We do not know how common this was. the rough shirt or tunic was probably common with the pooer. We are less sure about the hair.


Oman is located along the southeast Aabian Peninsula and occupies a narrow coastal plain along the Gulf of Oman and the Arabian Sea. Hills and a plateau are found inland. The country for many years was called Oman and Mucat. Muscat is the capital. Portugal controlled the coast in the 16-17th centuries (1508-1659). Ahmed ibn Said in Yemen founded the current royal line (1741). There was a lng-established treaty relationship with Britin. Oman was the most powerful Arab state on the Arabian Peninsula in the early-19th century and controlled the wealthy trading state of Zanzibar off East Africa as well as coastal areas of Persia (Iran) and Baluchistan (Pakistan). It was heavily involvd in thearan Indian Ocean slave trade. Besides trading, Oman was a largely agricultural country. Dates are an important crop in he far orth. Sugar cane and cattle are important crop in the southwest. Oman ceeded its last overseas possession, Gwadar, to Pakistan (1958). Traditional Arab style clothing are widely worn in Oman. We do not have a page on IOmani history, but we do have a page on the Omani role in East African slave trade. Ethnic groups include Arab, Baluchi, South Asian (Indian, Pakistani, Sri Lankan, Bangladeshi), and Africans


Palestine is located along eastern coast of the Mediterannean Sea. It is located south of Lebanon and north of the Siani between the Jordon River and the Mediterannean. It is first referred to as Caanan in the Bible. Palestine is especially interesting to historians because the Bible has proven to include considerable historical information. Palestine is perhaps the most fought-over territory in history. This is somewhat surprising given the fact that Palestine is not rich in natural resources or a particularly fertile land. Even so the number of great empires which conqured Palestine is extrodinary. The importance of Palestine to a large extent is due to its religious importance. Two of the world's great relgions (Judiasim and Christianity) were founded there and the region has a major Islamic site. This would be amazing enough in such a small land, but all three religions focus their attention on a small area of Jeruselum--explaining why the status of that city is such a difficult political issue. The most recent empires occupying Palestine have been the Ottomons and British which influence clothing trends as wll as the largely European Zionist immigration. The Palestinians are an Arab people and thus Arab clothing styles are very important.


Qatar is a peninsula jutting north into the Persian Gulf just north of the United Arab Emirates. The citizens are called Qataris. They are descended from several migratory tribes that noved into the peninsula during from the neighboring areas of Nejd and Al-Hasa (18th century). Other Qataris are from neighboring Gulf emirates and also from Persian merchants. The population is about 1.5 million people. Most live in the the cpital--Doha. Qatar is in the unusual position that most of the population is foreigners, Foreigners with temporary residence status comprises as much as 75 percent of the population. As there are many undocumented workers, the total population is even larger. The foreign workers come from many different countries. Many are South Asians (India ans Pakistan). Others are from other Asian states or Iran. Most foreign workers are single or individuals with families in their country of origin. There is also a Western community with technical skills. The Qatar economy was traditionally based on pearling, fishing, and commerce. Qatar in the early 20th century was the center of the Persian Gulf fishing fleet. After World War II when the Japanese developed a cultured pearl industry, the Qatari oearl industry declined. The petroleum industry was developed after World War II. The economy is now based on petroileum and the industries like banking and construction financed by oil income. Qataris are largely Sunni Muslims. Islam is the official religion and Islamic jurisprudence is the foundation of Qatari law. Civil courts have jurisdiction over commercial law. Arabic is the official language. Qatar has used its oil income to build an extensive education is system. Education is compulsory and free for all government employees' children from 6-16 years old. A substantial number of Qatari citizens are enoloyed byv the Government. Qatar has as a result a high literacy rate. Clothing was largely traditional until after World War II when the oil industry developed. Most boys noiw wear Western dress, but for special occasions wear traditional clothing.

Saudi Arabia

Saudi Arabia is a kingdom located on the Arabian Peninsula--perhaps the most austere geoographic location of any country. The country is best known for being the birthplace of the Prophet Mohammed and Islam. The two holiest shrines of Islam (Mecca and Medina) are both located in Saudi Arnia, the third (Jerusalem) is in nearby Jerusalem. The official title of the king of Saudi Arabia stems from the Hashemite title-Shefif, Custodian of the Two Holy Mosques. Sayyid Hussein bin Ali (1854-1931) was the Sharif of Mecca, and Emir of Mecca from 1908 until 1917, when he proclaimed himself King of Hejaz, a title which received international recognition. He led the Arab Revolt joined by the British whicvh helped free the Arab people from Ottomon control. He subsequently proclaimed himself Caliph of all Muslims. He ruled Hejaz until defeated by Abdul Aziz al Saud (1924). Ibn Saud founded the modern monarchy of Saudi Arabia after a 30-year campaign to unify the Arabian Peninsula. We have a Saudi history page. The country was very poor without a modern economy or education. The discovery of oil has brought vast wealth to the country, financing a rapid modernization campaign. To legitmize itself, the Saudi royal family has essentially connected itself to the Wahhabi religious establishment in Saudi Arabia, which influences almost every aspect of social life and in the Islamic tradition is deeply involved in politics. Wahhabism has been Saudi Arabia's dominant Islamic tradition for more than two centuries. Wahhabi is an austere Islamic tradition that insists on a literal interpretation of the Koran. As a result, political acticity, free expression, and women's rights are secerely retricted. The Saudi Government continues to promote ecomnomic development and foreign investment in the kingdom. The country has a rapidly growing population. Two major problems are aquifer depletion and an economy dependent on petroleum. We do not yet have much information on Saudi Arabia. We do have a page on a Saudi birthday party.


Syria is located at the heart of the Levant. It was located between the two great river valley civilizations, Mesopotamia and Egypt. Andcthe ancient struggle between Hittities and Egyptians shifted to a divide beteen the Turkish north and Arab south. The Eurphrates River waters the north and thus the north falls wihin the Fertile Cresent. Much of central and southeast Syrua is very arid approaching desert cinditions. The Anti-Lebanon mountains dominate the west and the Hauran Plains the southwest. The Hittite dominated northern Syrua and neighboring areas (9-13 centuries BC). They were followed by the Phonecians in coastal areas (about 1250 BC). There were Assyrian, Babylonian, and Egyptian invasions. Syria eventully became a sort of the Persian Empire. Alexander conquerd the area as part of his destruction of the Persian Empire (332-331 BC) followed by Seleucidae rule. Pompey conquered hge area for Roime (63 BC). After the division of the Roman Empire it became part of the Byzantine Empire. Syria was the first are of Christian land conquired by the Arab outburst (7th century AD) and became part of Baghdad-based Caliphate. The Crusader seized some areas, but were retaken by Saladin. The Mamelukes subsequently seized the Levant. Mongol invaders devestated the Arab heartlands (13th cetury). The Ottoman Empire seized the Levant (16th century). with the decline of the Ottoman Empire, Egyptian Ibrahim Pasha seized much of the Levant (early-19th century). The Ottomans reasserted their control of the Levant, but not Egypt. The Ottoman Empire entered World War I on the side of the Central Powers (1914). After two failed Ottoman offensives to seize Suez, the British Army seized Palestine and ended the War by reching Damascus (1918). The League of Nation awarded a mandate to France (1920). Lebanon was created as a separate state (1926). The Allies during World War II seized Syria from Vichy (1941). A republic was proclaimed in the same year. France granted indepedence (1944). Independence was marked by instbility, growing nationalim and anti-Western feeling. The result was Army dominance. Syria joined the other front-line states and invaded Israel (1948). The Army proved largely ineffective in the fighting.. A trade and arms agreement began a close relationship with the Soviet Union/Russia which still continues (1955). Communist influence grew in the army as Syria became a primary promoter of Arab socialism. It united with Egyot as the United Arab Republic. An Army coup was executed (1966). A mutual defense pact was signed with Egypt in the same year. Ground squirmishes and air actions led up to the Six Days War (1967). As a result, Israel seized the Golan Heights commading the Sea of Galilee. The country has been dominated by the Assad family for decades which has used military force to upress opposition. They are currently being challenged by the Arab Spring uprising. We have done some work on Syrian history. The country is primarily agrarian and pastoral. Pipelines from Iraq and Saudi Arabia provide some income. Syria has languished economically, in part because the Assad family which has dominated the country for decades has proven to be basically a crime ring demanding bag money from Syrians desiring to do business. Syria is a good example of the juxtaposition of supressing political and economic freedom resulting in poverty and economic failure. The Arabs are the dominant ethnic group with a Druse minority in the south. The country is predominately Muslim. Sunnis dominate, but there is a substantial Alawite minority. The Sunnis geneally look down on the Alawites as backward and even heretical. [Ajami], p. A17. There is also a Christian minority. The Assads have brought the Alawites to power. There is an ethnic/geographic faultline between the Alawite mountains and the Sunni planes. The ethnic, politica and religious difference broke out into a brutal civil war (2011).

Figure 2.--Nubia has played a historical role since ancient times. Here we see Nubian children in what is now Sudan during 1881. Notice how this same photograph avil habe been taken a mllinnium earlier. These impages of the arab world are fascinating. The arabs blame their modern state on the Europeans. It is interesting to see what the Arab worls looked like before the Europeans had a major impact.


Sudan is located in northeast Africa. It staddles North and Central Africa and thus has a mixed Aran-African population as well as a Muslim north and Christian south. It is a huge coutry--the largest country in Africa, It borders Chad and the Central African Republic in the west, Egypt and Libya in the north, Ethiopia and Eritrea in the east, and Kenya, Uganda, and Democratic Republic of the Congo in the south. There is also 500 mile Red Sea coast in the east. The principal river is the Nile which traverses the country from north to south by the Nile. All of the Nile tributaries are located at leaast in part within the Sudan. The country includes a huge swith of te Sahara and large areas are very arid. We have little information about the Sudan at this time. The ethnic and religious diversity has resuted in terrible civil strife since independence. The sitiation has been exacerbted by the stern, fundamentalist outlook by the Arab-dominated Sudanese central government. For years the Arabs conducted a brutal war in the south to supress the Christian Arabs. In more recent years the Arabs have conducted a genocidal war against the people of Darfur who are Muslims, but ethnically African. The narrow-minded Islamic outlook was demonstrated by the 2007 teddy incident.


Tunisia is the smallest of the North African countries of the Magreb. It is located beween Libya and Algeria in the center of Mediterranean Africa. Tunisia is immediately to the south of Italy and Malta. It has an extensive Mediterranean coast north of the vast Sahara Desert. A great salt lake dominates the south and separates the country from the Sahara. The Atlas mountains which cross Morocco and Algeria end in the north. The two major ports are Tunis and Bizerte. The country has a fascinating history shaped largely because of its strategic geograpohic position beginning with the Phonecians and Carthage. There are well preserved Roman ruins. Roman Carhage was an important Roman imperial center. It became a center for Barbary piracy. France occupied the country (1881). Tunisia was the locations of major World War II battles, where the Axis (Germans and Italians) made a last stand in Africa. More recently it was one of the countries where the people overthrew and autocratic ruler as part of the Arab Spring (2001),the outcome of which is still reverberating around the Middle East. We do have a Tunisian history page. Exports include oasis crops (dates, cereals, olives, and grapes). Mineral resources incluse phospates (the largest imports), iron ore, lead, zinc, and silver.


HBC has begun to collect information on Turkey. It is of corse the modern seccesor state to the mighty Ottomn Empire. We have developed some historical information because the Ottoman Empire played a major role in Greece, the Balkans, Anatolia, and the near East. Thus an understanding of the Ottomans is important to understanding historical and cultural trends in these countries. Turkey is intresting as one of the more moderal Middle Eastern states and one of the few Muslim sates to develop a democratic state. We have not yet been able to collect much information on the clothing worn by Turkish boys. We have little historic information on Turkey. We do note that the warm Medditeranean climate of Turkey is an important factors as was centuries of rule by the Ottoman Turks. After the fall of the Ottoman Empire and the rise of the modern secular state after World War I, European fashions began to have greater influence. Boys in Turkey have largely adopted Western dress. We note, however, that more Turkish girls are adopting Islamic head scarves and longer skirts. The Turks do have very distinctive kilt folk costumes. HBC has been unable to find much information on Turkish boys clothes and would bevery interested in any information that Turkish visitors to our site may be able to offer. We have only limited information on Turkey.

Uninted Arab Emirates

Arabs tend to view history with the rise of Islam which began after Mohammed seized Mecca (630 AD). The location of the Arabian Peninsula between Europe and the Far East conveyed great importance in terms of trade. Goods coveted by the Europeans from China, the Spice Island and India until the European maitime outburst passed throufg Arabia. This gave the Arans a huge trading advantage. With the decline of the Caliphate, the Turks exerted increasing influence, eventially seizing the Arab Lands. At the same time, the Europeans rounded the cape of Good Hope and defeated Arab sea power in the Indian Ocean (16th century). The Bedouin remained in control of the sandy desert interior, but the change in trade flows made the Arab lands a cultural and economic backwater. The bedouin seized control of Abu Dhabi and Dubai, but without the previous lucrative trade flows they were poor centers compared to the days when trade fom the East flowed through them. The British in an effort to stop the Indian Ocean slave trade and to safegard the Suez Canal signed treaties with the various emirates. The area became known as 'The Trucial States'. The Emirates agreed to end the slave trade and not to dispose of any territory except to the British. They also agreed not to negotiate any agreement with any foreign government other than the Britain without its consent. The British in return promised to protect the Emirates from foreign attack. The Emirates were some of the poorest communities in the world. Technology was virtually unchanged from medieval times. The pearling industry was a rare economic success, but hurt by the Great Depression (1930s) and the Japanese developmnt of a culture pearl industry. The population was semi-nomadic, pearling in the summer and gardening in the winter. The economic situation began to change when Western oil companies initiated geological surveys. Crude oil exports began (1962). We have little information on the clothes worn in the United Arab Emirates (UAE). We note boys commonly wearing traditional styles.


Yemen is very mountainous and located at the southern tip of the Arabian Peninsula. Yemen dominates the Straits of Bab al Mandeb straits between the Arabian Peninsula and Arabian Sea/Indian Ocean. The populsation is mostly Siunni Muslem with a Shia minority. Despite being located on important world trade routes, Yemen is a very conservative part of the Arab world with few modern influences. The economy is largely agricultural, although the climate is arid. Major crops are fruits, grains, coffe, and qat. Incomes levels are very low. We do not know a great deal about clothing and fashion, but traditional Arab styles are very common. Literacy and educational levels are very low, even by Arab standards.


Ajami, Fouad. "Syria's war hits the hiuse of Assad," Wall Street Journal (July 19, 2012), p. A17.


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Created: 5:25 AM 4/20/2010
Last updated: 4:19 AM 3/30/2016