While definitions of what constitutes the Middle East vary somewhat, most commonly included in this region is the area or Asia from Iran westward, excluding the Caucasus nations (such as Azerbaijan), but including Egypt and Turkey. This zone has been of great historical importance since it was the “Cradle of Civilization,” is the place where many of the world’s most important religions were founded, and stands at the cross-roads of Europe, Africa, and Asia.
The economies of the region range from “dirt poor” to “super rich,” and much of the wealth that exists stems from oil exports. Nations like Saudi Arabia, Kuwait, and the UAE rely almost solely on oil revenue, but others like Turkey, Egypt, and Israel have diversified, broad-based economies. The three largest GDP’s in the Middle East in 2008 were: Turkey’s ($794 billion), Saudi Arabia’s ($467 billion), and Iran’s ($385 billion. The largest GDP per capita rates fell to: Qatar ($93,000), the UAE ($55,000), and Kuwait ($45,000). The most important industries in the Middle East are: petrochemicals, agriculture, cotton and textiles, leather, military equipment production, banking (especially in Bahrain and the UAE), and tourism. Tourism is restricted largely to a few major nations, however, due to the dangers of the region. Those nations are: Israel, Lebanon, Egypt, and Turkey.
In many respects the infrastructure of the Middle East is underdeveloped, especially the rail lines. Egypt has 41,000 km (25,000 mi) of rail, Turkey went from 11,000 km (6,600 mi) in 2008 to 12,000 km (7,200 mi) in 2011, and Iran had 13,000 km (7,800 mi) in 2014. The next step down, however, is a mere 2,000 km (1,200 mi) for both Syria and Iraq. There are roads connecting all the major cities, and even the deserts are traversed by highways- except for the uninhabited Rub-al-Khali of the south-central Arabian Peninsula.
Dubai of the UAE is the busiest seaport in the area, the seventh largest port in the world, and the biggest man-made harbor on the planet. It handles 93 million tons of freight and container traffic a year. The Suez Canal is one of the busiest waterways in the world. It is only single lane, with ships passing and “taking turns” in the Ballah Bypass and in Great Bitter Lake. There are many other major seaports as well. Dubai International is the busiest airport in the Middle East and the fifth-busiest in Asia, but other important airports are found in all the main cities.
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