Spanning from Saharan Africa to the western edge of Asia, the Middle East's nations share four general characteristics: shared water resource interests, shared religion (with the exception of Israel, which only has a 15% Muslim population), the birth rate is exceeding the death rate, and the vast wealth from minerals and oil. The dominance of fossil fuel and mineral deposits on the area's economy constitutes 88 percent of the region's Gross Domestic Product, where two-thirds of the world's oil resides. These are all contributing factors to a growing population expected to double within 50 years.
The Middle East and North Africa, defined in this report to include Algeria, Bahrain, Egypt, Iran, Iraq, Israel, Jordan, Kuwait, Lebanon, Libya, Morocco, Oman, Palestine, Qatar, Saudi Arabia, Syria, Tunisia, the United Arab Emirates (UAE) and Yemen, is an area of 18 nations covering approximately 4.3 million square miles. It was home to 326 million people in 2002.
In contrast, the United States has 3.7 million square miles with 287 million people. The region includes geographical giants such as Algeria, with almost one-fourth the land area of the United States, and Bahrain, which is smaller than the five boroughs of New York City. Populations also vary greatly from Qatar, with less than one million people, to Egypt, with 71 million individuals.
High fertility rates, worker immigration, and low mortality rates have resulted in rapid population growth as well as a very young population. The region's population has more than tripled, from 106 million to 319 million people since 1960. The largest increase was in Iran, which grew by almost 45 million people.
Religion may be a factor in the birth rate. Most nations in the Middle East and North Africa adhere to Islamic law, which stress familial obligations for women. As a result, women...