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conservative states, Middle Eastern countries, Infant mortality rates, internal conflicts, Population density

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The Middle East has a population (1997 estimate) of about 291.9 million. Population density varies greatly throughout the region. In most countries, there has been a steady migration of people from rural to urban areas since the 1940s, so today the majority of people live in urban areas. In Iraq, for example, about 61 percent of the population lived in rural areas in 1957, compared with 25 percent in 1996. Similarly, half of all workers in Lebanon were employed in agriculture in 1959; by the mid-1990s, only about 8 percent of the workforce had jobs in agriculture. The largest cities in the region are Cairo, Egypt (6.8 million), Tehran, Iran (6.5 million), Baghdad, Iraq (3.8 million), and Istanbul, Turkey (7.6 million).

The population of the Middle East tripled between 1950 and 1994 primarily because of the introduction of modern medicine and agricultural techniques from Western nations. Modern medicine decreased mortality rates, while new agricultural techniques improved food productivity. The growth rate remained high by world standards through the mid-1990s with an average annual rate of 2.4 percent between 1990 and 1995. Infant mortality rates vary greatly from country to country in the 1990s, though overall they have improved considerably since the 1970s. This variation reflects the different levels of wealth and development in countries of the Middle East. In the highly developed country of Israel the infant mortality rate was 8 deaths per 1000 live births in 1997. By comparison, the rate per 1000 live births was 71 in less-developed Egypt and 75 in Yemen.


Most Middle Eastern countries provide free primary and secondary education. University education is either free or subsidized by scholarships for those in need. Although in theory primary education is compulsory in all countries, internal conflicts and remoteness of many areas from urban centers often prevent full attendance. Nearly all school-aged females participate in the primary and secondary education, but far fewer continue to university level. In more conservative states such as Saudi Arabia, Qatar, and the United Arab Emirates, the sexes are educated separately at all levels. Although literacy has improved significantly in recent years, it remains low in much of the Middle East by Western standards. In the mid-1990s literacy rates for people aged 15 or older were 38 percent in Yemen, 51 percent in Egypt, 58 percent in Iraq, 63 percent in Saudi Arabia, 71 percent in Syria, and 72 percent in Iran.

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