Friday, March 27, 2009

Traveling Alone In The Middle East

The Middle East is not a real continent, but rather contains part of at least two continents, tha largest part being officially part of Asia. This part of the world often is in the news, most notably unfortunately due to the war in Iraq and other civil unrest in countries like Israel, Lebanon and Yemen. The area has no consequent borders but usually includes at least the Arabian Peninsula, Iran, Iraq, Jordan, Syria, Lebanon, Israel and Palestina. Sometimes also Egypt (or Sinai as part of Egypt) and/or Sudan and Libya are included. And even Turkey and Afghanistan sometimes join on the map. Still, most people roughly know which part of the world is meant.

Despite having no consequent borders, there are huge similarities between many of the countries. Like mentioned above, huge parts are arid. But grasslands, fertile river beds and moutainous areas are not absent at all. The southern part of the Arabian Peninsula mainly consists of sandseas and mountains. Especially the southwest of Saudi Arabia and parts of Oman and Yemen have high moutains with possible snowfall in winter. More to the north, the mountains are lower and sand makes places for rocks and gravel and lowlying deserts like the Syrian desert and Dasht-e Lut can get extremely hot in summer and cold in winter. High mountains can be found in the west and north of Iran as well, with ski slopes just an hour away from Tehran. Many of the countries are bordered by waters. The Mediterrean Sea in the west, the Black Sea and Caspian Sea to the north and the Red Sea, Persian Gulf and Indian Ocean to the south all form borders of the Middle East. Rivers like the Euphrates and Tigris form the backbone of Iraq and most people live along these rivers.

Middle East Countries

  • Bahrain

  • Egypt

  • Iran

  • Iraq

  • Israel

  • Jordan

  • Kuwait

  • Lebanon

  • Oman

  • Qatar

  • Saudi Arabia

  • State of Palestine

  • Sudan

  • Syria

  • Turkey

  • United Arab Emirates

  • Yemen Arab Republic

  • Ethnic Groups
    Ethnically, the region is extremely mixed. Arabs, Jews, Persians and Turks are the largest groups, but there are several substantial minorities — Kurds, Armenians and others — with their own languages, customs and sometimes their own countries. Every invading army — from Alexander and the Romans through Genghis Khan to the 19th century colonial powers — has left descendants behind. There are also substantial numbers of workers from other countries coming to the region for higher pay — mainly Afghan, Pakistani for jobs like construction labourer, with Egyptians, Philipinos, more Pakistanis, and some westerners in the more skilled jobs.

    Almost every country in the Middle East has a Muslim majority (with the notable exception of Israel which has a Jewish majority), with Iran, Iraq and Bahrain mainly Shia, other areas mainly Sunni, and both with minorities of the other — and the legal systems in most of these countries are influenced by Islamic Law; a few are entirely based on it.

    Arabic is the primary language of the region, and the main language in all Middle Eastern countries except Iran (where Persian predominates), Turkey (Turkish) and Israel (Hebrew). Even in those countries, Arabic is fairly common as a second language; in Israel, Arabic is a second official language. Yiddish, Kurdish, Azeri, Armenian and several other languages are also spoken in some regions.

    English is moderately common in tourist areas and generally rare elsewhere. In Turkey, some German is spoken because many Turks work in Germany.

    Visas, Documentation and Healthcare
    Before travelling it is essential to monitor the political situation in your chosen destination(s) by checking the Foreign & Commonwealth Office (FCO) Travel Advice site.

    For The Traveller
    Middle East may be one of the world's most politically volatile regions, but for adventure-thirsty travellers that makes the thrill all the more worthwhile. A trip to the enigmatic Middle East is one for the hardcore traveller and not something many westerners can put on their CVs...

    Unfortunately, much this region gets an unfairly bad press - tarred with the stigma that comes with the polemics of the modern age. Contrary to popular belief, the Middle East is surprisingly diverse and although sensitive, welcomes visitors with warmth and pride.


    Added to the beautiful deserts, mountains, luscious oases and utopian stretches of coastline that make up the Middle East's natural landscape, is the insurmountable history of this area of the world. Commonly thought of as the birthplace of the first human civilisations - in Egypt and Mesopotamia - it was also the birthplace of Islam, Christianity and Judaism, among other religions, and has contributed much more to the modern world than we ever give it credit for

    Cultural Differences
    The trafficking of drugs or pornography are not the only crimes to carry the death sentence in extreme cases. Homosexuality is highly illegal in most of the Middle East and, although Christianity is tolerated in most countries, attempts to convert Muslims can also carry very serious consequences.

    But it's not all doom and gloom - Travellers who employ common sense and a large helping of respect and consideration for Islamic culture will enjoy a trouble-free trip. Below are some other basic pointers.

    Appropriate Dress
    It's a myth that western women have to wear headscarves, tourists are recognised as tourists and as such are generally exempt from any such obligations. Women should however, dress conservatively at all times, especially if travelling alone.

    The Sanctity of Marriage
    Unmarried women over the age of 25 tend to attract endless pity. If you'd prefer to avoid such attention, as well as excessive male attention, wear a wedding ring.

    Leave the Girls Alone
    Guys, it's not a good idea to even contemplate relieving a girl of her honour, even a carelessly long glance can be very risky.

    A Bit of Decorum
    Try not to swear or blaspheme, even in English - it tends to be dimly looked upon and considered disrespectful.

    Always Haggle
    That's the way of the Arab world - and never pay more than one third of the original asking price.

    Calling Home
    Get a prepaid international sim card rather than using the expensive local telephone networks.

    Important Links

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