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People

Way of Life

Due to the growth of the petroleum industry and accompanying modernization, traditional ways of life largely disappeared from most parts of the Middle East in the 20th century. For instance, the pastoral nomads that symbolize the Middle East to many people account for less than 1 percent of the regionís population. The few remaining nomads reside in the vast deserts of Syria, Iraq, and the Arabian Peninsula, and some Kurdish and Persian tribes still migrate back and forth from summer to winter pastures. The majority of the population now lives in either urban settlements of more than 10,000 people or in smaller rural villages.

With the first wave of modernization came a general trend toward secularism. Islam exerted less influence on social conduct, and religious practice was gradually relegated from the public to the private sphere. One of the most visible effects was an increase in gender equality. Women gained more opportunities for education and employment, especially in the urban centers. Since the late 1960s the rise of Islamic fundamentalism, which, among other things, reasserts values that emphasize the subordination of women to men, has begun to have an adverse effect on these developments.

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