Middle East and North Africa

Figure 1.--This Middle Eastern image is unidentified. One source dates it to the late 19th century, but we are not sure about that. While many adults wear traditional clothing in the Arab world, Western-style clothing is widely worn by children.

We are preparing a series of pages on national clothing styles. We now have over 100 countries listed in our country section. Most have a linked page with at least some basic information on clothing in that country. We have developed detailed information for several mostly European counties and the United States. Many of the other country pages, however, are just being sketched out at this time. We have a lot of other pages to do, so it will be a while before we can focus on all the countries on our list. Of corse here we need your assisatnce. HBC does not have the capability to visit or even reserach all of these countries. Do let us know if you have any text or images to contribute about your country. We are interested in adding information about every different countries around the world. The current Euro-centric focus of HBC is because European readers have been the most willing to contribute information. We have tried to create a page for each country, even if only limited information is available. This provides a location for collecting information. We hope that our readers will contribute insights into fashion trends in their own countries. HBC has collected information on more than individual countries. The information on most of these countries still sketchy. The Middle Eastern countries are the arc of Islamic countries from Morocco west to Iran. They encompass both North African and south western Asian countries. We have relatively few pages from these countuies. Interestingly, traditional dress styles persist there more than any other region. In fact traditional styles seem more popular in the 21st century than in the mid-20th century. This is especially true in the Arab countries. This appeas to be a reflection of the strength of Islam and the rejection of Western culture. The Arabs are especially important in the Middle East, although outside Arabia this is more a cultural than an ethic concept.

The Arabs

The Arabs are the dominant people of the Middle East and North Africa. They total avout 0.4 billion people and dominate the population of most countries in the region with only a few exceptions (Iran, Israel, and Turkey). The Arabs are not an ethnic group, but rather a multi- or pan-ethnic cultural group. The primary shared cultural element is the Arab language, a Semitic language originating in Arabian peninsula. It was spread with the Aran outburst (7th century) through a rocess of Arabization and Islamization. The Arabs in the different countries have different hustories and ethnic origina. The ethnic Arabs were a relatively small population origninating from Arabia. The Arabs are of different religious backgrounds althoufg Islam is dominant and in reason years rising Islamic intolerance has reduced the non-Islamic Arab communities. Arab idennties from aPan-Arab counity to a range of tribal, religious, and national identites, Several Western authors complain that the Arabs are poorly understood in the West and discuss revances held toward the West. Part of the grevances are the economic failures of the Arab states not blessed with oil. Islamic extremists maintain that the ecomomic and political failures result from the theWest and the domestic failure to fully embrace Islam and Sharia. Other observers believe the failure of the Arabs is primarily due to the widespread devoltion to medeival cultural institutions and the inability to embrace democracy, decular education, human rights, abd free market capitalism. Traditionjal clothing is worn in many Arab countries, especially the countries of the Arabian Peninsula or close to it. The principal traditional garment is the 'thawb". It is essentially a white shirt, but a very long white shirt extending to the shoes. The head scarf is the 'kaffyeh'. The black cord is the 'igal'. Both white and Red checkered head scarfs are worn in Qatar, Kuwait but mainly checkered in Saudi Arabia.

Individual Countries

There are about 20 different countries in the Middle East and North Africa. The exact count depends on how one classifies some of the African countries like Somalia, Sudan, Chad, Niger, Mali, and Mauritania. The dominant ethnic group in most of these countries are the Arabs. But this is primarily a cultural construct involving the Arabic religion and Islam. Much of the North African population is of Berber origins. And the population of the Levant and Mesopotamia is of non-Arab origins. There is also the non-Arab countries, including Israel, Turkey, and Iran. The precise ethnic and cultural mix varies widely from country to country. The culture of the Middle East is of ancient origins, going back to the dawn of civilization. Ancient history was dominanted by the clash between Mesomptamia and Egypt. Three of the great monothesitic religions came out of the Levant, the area between Mesopotamia and Egypt. Persia (modern Iran) for a time dominated the region as did Greece and Rome. The area was conquered by the Arabs ealy in the Islamic period and about a milenia later, the Ottoman Turks. North Africa became a haven for the Barbary pirates, a situation which did not end until France began to colonize the area (19th century). Europeans dominated the Middle East for a short period after World War I. Since World War II the region has had a tulmultuous history. Arabs pursued a mixture of religious extremism and totalitarian ideologies. Prosperity has generally eluded countries unless blessed with oil. Turkey pursued a secular path after World War I with some success, but is increasingly turning to Islamic approsches. Iran has in recent years pursued a theocratic path and even with oil has failed economically. The most successful country in the region in ecomomic terms has been democratic Israel, despite the assault of its aran neighbors.


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Created: 2:11 AM 7/10/2004
Last updated: 7:04 AM 8/19/2010