GEOG101 Study Guide

Unit 8: North Africa and Southwest Asia

8a. Identify basic physical and cultural traits that countries in North Africa and Southwest Asia have in common

  • How does climate influence the realm of North Africa and Southwest Asia?
  • How does religion define the countries of North Africa and Southwest Asia?
  • What natural resources does this realm contribute to the world's core economic regions?

Although type B climates dominate this realm, there are type H climates in the highland areas and type C climates in the coastal regions.

  • The arid regions, such as the Sahara, Libyan, and Nubian Deserts of North Africa and the Arabian Desert of Southwest Asia, are sparsely populated. Kazakhstan, Uzbekistan, and Turkmenistan in Central Asia also have vast areas with arid conditions (type B).
  • Isolated highlands rise about these arid regions. The Atlas Mountains of Morocco, Algeria, and Tunisia, the Iranian Plateau, and the Mountains of Central Asia exhibit type H climates because the conditions are so different from those at their base.
  • There are narrow swaths of the type C (Mediterranean) climate along the coasts of Morocco, Algeria, and Tunisia in North Africa and Israel, Lebanon, Syria and Turkey in Southwest Asia. These areas are more densely populated than the arid and highland regions of this realm.

The prevalence of arid climates throughout this realm means that the countries in this realm view water as a valuable resource. The region's oil, natural gas, and mineral resources make it indispensable to other regions.

Islam is the dominant religion in this realm. It is also a strong cultural force that both unifies and divides people in the region. Many Muslims go about their day-to-day activities according to the tenets of Islam, which shapes everything from diet to work schedules. Islam has had a profound affect on art, architecture, and music.

Review Introducing the Realm.


8b. Explain how the events of the 2011 Arab Spring have affected North Africa and Southwest Asia

  • Why did citizens engage in protests and demonstrations against their governments around the North African and Southwest Asian realm?
  • How has the 2011 Arab Spring changed the countries of North Africa and Southwest Asia?

Protests against police brutality and corruption that started in December 2010 in Tunisia triggered the 2011 Arab Spring. These protests empowered citizens in other countries in the realm to protest their governments' failure to recognize the needs of the people. The people expressed their frustration with their governing structure's lack of transparency and oppression of free speech. Although some countries experience democratic progress in the years immediately following the Arab Spring, only Tunisia has sustained that progress. The gains Egypt and Libya made were short-lived. In Syria, Yemen, and Bahrain, conditions have worsened.



8c. Summarize the origins the three major monotheistic religions of North Africa and Southwest Asia

  • What are the similarities between Islam, Judaism, and Christianity?
  • How did Islam become one of the world's major religions?

The religions of Islam, Judaism, and Christianity are monotheistic; a tenet fundamental to these religions is that there is only one god. They all recognize Abraham as a founding patriarch and Moses as a major prophet. They have similar creation stories. There are, of course, major differences between them, including, for example who brought them the word of God.

Muhammad's return to the city of Mecca from Medina positioned Islam at a trade center. From there, Islam spread geographically throughout the North American and Southwest Asian realm and beyond, a process known as the principle of spatial diffusion. The following map shows the diffusion of Islam as people expanded the reach of Muhammad's teachings along trade routes. Islam also spread through relocation when people migrated great distances. Indonesia, for example, now has the largest Muslim population of any country in the world.



8d. Describe the origin of the African Transition Zone and why it is important

  • What role does the Intertropical Convergence Zone (ITCZ)  play in the position of the African Transition Zone?
  • Why are colonial political borders in conflict with the seasonal shifts in the African Transition Zone?

The African Transition Zone, also known as the Sahelis a climate phenomenon that shifts depending on the seasons. 

  • It is where the subtropical high pressure belt, which contributes to the arid conditions of the Sahara Desert, meets the Intertropical Convergence Zone (ITCZ), an equatorial low pressure zone, which makes the tropics wet.
  • Because the ITCZ shifts seasonally, the African Transition Zone also shifts. 
  • In the summer, it shifts north, making the conditions wetter. In the winter, it shifts south, making the conditions drier.

There are variations to this pattern when these high and low pressure belts can stall for other environmental reasons periodically leaving the Sahel with no moisture.

For thousands of years humans in the Sahel have followed the moisture, migrating north in the summer and south in the winter, unencumbered by political borders. When the colonial powers imposed political boundaries on the landscape, they curtailed the movement of these nomads and, in some cases, divided them. Many of the conflicts ongoing in the African Transition Zone can be traced to this clash between traditional practices and interference from outside powers.



8e. Explain the division between the West Bank, the Gaza Strip, and Israel

  • What was Israel called before 1948 and who controlled it?
  • What happened to the Palestinians living in Israel when it was officially declared a state in 1948?
  • Under the two-state solution, what territory would the State of Palestine include?

Before 1948, the end of the British Mandate, the area that is now the State of Israel was known as Palestine. Given the area's location between the Jordan River and the Mediterranean Sea, Palestine has been a crossroads between the European realm and the North African and Southwest Asian realm. Thus, many powers through the ages have coveted it. The Ottoman Empire controlled Palestine until it was awarded to the British at the close of World War I. The British turned control of Palestine over to the United Nations in 1947.

When the Jewish state of Israel was officially recognized in 1948 following the UN Partition Plan, Palestinians living there were forced to leave their homeland for the designated Arab portion or neighboring Arab countries.

  • The Gaza Strip and the West Bank were part of what the UN proposed as an Arab State
  • The Palestinians, with the support of neighboring Arab countries, rejected the UN partition plan, setting off a series of wars in the coming years.
  • Through these wars, Israel has been able to expand its territory. 
  • The Gaza Strip remains under Palestinian control, although trade access is severely limited leading to deteriorating living conditions.
  • The West Bank is a complicated landscape of islands of Palestinian control and Jewish settlements.

A two-state solution to the conflict of the area once known as Palestine would consist of two states, the State of Israel and the State of Palestine. The latter would include the Gaza Strip and the West Bank but the specifics of the borders will require intense negotiations.

Review Israel and Its Neighbors.


8f. Describe the physical features of the Arabian Peninsula

  • Given that there are no natural lakes or permanent rivers, what are the sources of freshwater on the Arabian Peninsula?
  • Where are the Arabian Peninsula's mineral and oil resources found?

The Arabian Peninsula is dominated by type B climates. Like the Sahara Desert of North Africa, the Arabian Desert lies mostly in the tropics, making it a very hot desert.

  • Between May and September, the average temperature ranges from 100 to 107° F. The Rub' al-Khali (the Empty Quarter) is too hot and dry even for desert nomads. 
  • Freshwater on the Arabian Peninsula comes from nonrenewable groundwater and seawater desalination
  • There is runoff from rainfall in the mountains, which is collected in renewable aquifers and ephemeral streams. This surface water is, however, limited to the west and southwest of the Arabian Peninsula.

The Arabian Peninsula's oil fields are in the east and northeast, intersecting Saudi Arabia, Kuwait, Bahrain, Qatar, UAE (United Arab Emirates), Oman, and Iraq. There are oil fields to the south, in Yemen, but the ongoing war has left its fossil fuel deposits untapped. Mineral resources such as copper, gold, and iron ore are found along the west side of the Arabian Peninsula, including the Hijaz and Asir Mountains.

Review The Arabian Peninsula.


8g. Describe the main economic activities of each country within the Arabian Peninsula

  • Why do so many foreign workers live in Saudi Arabia?
  • Why is Kuwait able to enjoy such a high standard of living?
  • How have Bahrain, Qatar, UAE, and Oman facilitated globalization in their countries?
  • How has Yemen's economy differed from its neighbors on the Arabian Peninsula?

With the exception of Yemen, oil and gas revenues are vital to the economies of the countries on the Arabian Peninsula. Although Yemen has recently begun to export oil and gas, it was largely dependent on agriculture. Yemen's civil war has, however, curtailed its ability to produce oil and gas. Unlike Yemen, the other countries on the Arabian Peninsula enjoy a high standard of living. Kuwait, for example, uses its substantial oil revenues to benefit its small population through free education.

The thriving oil and gas economies of these countries attract migrants and investment from all over the world.

  • Saudi Arabia, for example, has millions of foreign workers in the petroleum industry.
  • The influx of foreign workers and investment has influenced some countries' efforts at globalization policies.
  • To varying degrees, Bahrain, Qatar, UAE, and Oman have sought to balance their Arab traditions with modernization, such as building shopping malls and resorts, improving infrastructure, and allowing American franchises. 
  • Some of these countries are diversifying their economies through global banking opportunities, free-trade zones, tourism, and, in the case of Qatar, welcoming a U.S. military installation.

Review Arabs, Islam, and Oil.


8h. Describe the types of governments found in the Arabian Peninsula

  • What countries on the Arabian Peninsula are governed by a type of monarchy?
  • How does Saudi Arabia differ from other monarchies on the Arabian Peninsula?
  • What type of government did Yemen choose following its unification in 1990?

With the exception of Yemen, all of the countries on the Arabian Peninsula have a type of monarchy.

  • Yemen is a democracy, although the current governing administration is a provisional one due to the ongoing civil war.
  • The Sultanate of Oman is an absolute monarchy, which means one person has complete power and is not restrained by laws or a legislature. In Oman, a hereditary sultan rules the country.
  • The Kingdom of Saudi Arabia is also an absolute monarchy but the king must comply with Islamic law (Sharia) and the Koran. The country's constitution consists of the Koran and Muhammad's traditions and practices (Sunnah).
  • Kuwait and the Kingdom of Bahrain both have constitutional monarchies. In this form of government, a monarch shares power with a constitutionally organized government that, in the cases of Bahrain and Kuwait, are greatly influenced by the monarch.
  • Qatar is a semi-constitutional monarchy, which means that it does have a constitution but that constitution defers to the monarch to the extent that it is closer to an absolute monarchy.
  • The United Arab Emirates (UAE) is a federal elective monarchy. Because UAE is a federation of seven emirates, governance occurs through a supreme council composed of the ruling sheiks of each emirate.

Islamic law is, to varying degrees, the source of legislation and governs the legal systems of these countries.

Review Arabs, Islam, and Oil.


8i. Describe women's rights and circumstances in the countries of the Arabian Peninsula

  • Although Islam is the dominant religion on the Arabian Peninsula, why do women's rights vary from country to country?
  • What is the relationship between women's rights and household size?

Although Islam is the dominant religion in the countries of the Arabian Peninsula, women's rights vary because it is local tradition that curtails their freedom not the doctrine of Islam. Indeed, many women are using Sharia to fight for equality.

  • Qatar allows women to vote but traditional interpretations of Islam require women get permission from a male guardian before traveling or gaining access to their children's identification credentials, among many other aspects of their daily lives.
  • Bahrain has allowed women to vote since 2002 and allows them to stand for elections. 
  • Saudi Arabia severely limits the activities of women and segregates the population based on gender.
  • The United Arab Emirates provides women more freedom than Saudi Arabia, for example, but male consent is still required for many activities.
  • In Kuwait and Oman, women enjoy many freedoms denied women in other Arab countries, including the right to bank and own property, for example. There is, however, still an undercurrent of bias against independent women.
  • Although women have full constitutional and legal protection in Yemen, they still struggle to exercise their rights. Patriarchal traditions associated with agrarian and tribal societies, however, persist in Yemen.

Family sizes of the countries on the Arabian Peninsula are all higher than the global average of 4.9. The expectation that the role of women is to bear and raise children continues in these countries, where patriarchal traditions dominate. Thus, household size continues to be inversely related to the rights women have in this region.



8j. Explain the divisions between each of the major branches of Islam

  • What originated the divide in the Islamic faith?
  • How does the Sufi branch of Islam differ from the Sunni and Shia branches?

The division of Islam between Sunni and Shia occurred following Muhammad's death because he left no direction for who should carry on his work.

  • Muslims who followed Muhammad cousin and son-in-law, Ali, became known as Shia Muslims. Muslims who followed Muhammad's close companion, Abu Bakr, became known as Sunni Muslims.
  • This division determines the role the imam, or leader, plays. For Sunni Muslims, the imam leads them in worship, provides religious guidance, and serves as a community leader. For Shia Muslims, the imam has divine knowledge and authority and must be from the lineage of Muhammad.

There are also many smaller branches of Islam, including Sufism, defined as a form of Islamic mysticism. Sufi Muslims focus their thoughts inward so that they can increase their spiritual closeness to God.

Review Muhammad and Islam.


Unit 8 Vocabulary

This vocabulary list includes terms that students need to know to successfully complete the final exam for the course.

  • absolute monarchy 
  • African Transition Zone (Sahel)
  • Arab Spring
  • Arab State
  • Arabian Peninsula 
  • Arabian Desert
  • Asir Mountains 
  • Atlas Mountains 
  • British Mandate
  • constitutional monarchies
  • democracy
  • ephemeral streams
  • federal elective monarchy
  • Gaza Strip
  • highlands
  • Hijaz Mountains 
  • imam 
  • Iranian Plateau
  • Islam
  • Islamic law (Sharia)
  • Israel 
  • Intertropical Convergence Zone (ITCZ)
  • Jewish settlements 
  • Jordan River
  • Koran
  • Libyan Desert
  • Mediterranean Sea 
  • monarchy
  • monotheistic
  • Mountains of Central Asia
  • Muhammad
  • nonrenewable groundwater
  • Nubian Desert
  • Ottoman Empire
  • patriarchal traditions
  • renewable aquifers 
  • Rub' al-Khali
  • Sahara Desert
  • seawater desalination
  • semi-constitutional monarchy
  • Shia Muslims
  • spatial diffusion
  • Sufism
  • Sunni Muslims
  • two-state solution
  • type B climates
  • type C climates
  • type H climates
  • United Nations
  • West Bank