Much of the Middle East is in rapid transition, being jerked by the power of oil money from a feudal society into the modern world. Construction of hotels, office buildings, schools, and hospitals proceeds at a furious rate, the work being done by non-residents who arrive by plane, stay a few months or years and return home with their earnings. In some of the oil emirates foreigners outnumber the nationals.
Slavery may still exist in part of the Middle East. The Old Sultan of Oman, who ruled until 1970, fought modernization of his country. He allowed himself an automobile but would not buy gas. Slaves pushed his car. No schools were built during his reign, because, he said, Britain’s mistake in India was in educating the people. Neither were hospitals built, because, he said, they kept too many people alive.
The oil kingdoms bordering the Persian Gulf (Bahrain, Qatar, Oman, and the Emirate sheikdoms) in the 1950s were destitute, having lost their importance as trade centers and no longer able to pursue the slave trade. The people lived largely on fish and dates. The value of pearls that had made many families rich was no longer profitable. Cultured pearls from Japan had reduced the value of those found in the sea by 90 percent.
When the value of oil multiplied, the greatest transfer of wealth in history began. It continues today. Literally millions of dollars a day pour into these tiny countries. Nonetheless the oppressive heat and humidity make visiting this part of the world attractive only to the business person and the adventurous.
Lebanon, once called the Paris of the Middle East, is now a violence-ridden shambles. Iran and Iraq are at war. Afghanistan, never much of a tourist destination, is occupied by the Russians. The Arabian Peninsula countries, Syria and Jordan have never attracted the pleasure traveler in number.
As a matter of information, Figure 10.2 lists some basic statistics on Middle Eastern countries.
Saudi Arabia is the largest country in area its size being somewhat less than one-third that of the United States. Turkey, with 46.7 million people, is the most populous.
Women traveling alone in Southern Europe, North Africa and especially in the Mid-East should be aware that the men feel that all American women are available. In some cases the wolf whistles, cat calls, and out-right propositioning is, in the eyes of the male, a form of flattery. Any kind of response on the woman’s part may be taken as a come-on. The best advice: ignore the would-be Romeos; be rude if necessary. In real emergencies call for help. Avoid riding alone in train compartments, especially at night. Wear a bra; avoid halter tops and shorts.
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