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Spanning from Saharan Africa to the western edge of Asia the Middle Easts nations share four general characteristics shared water resource interests shared religion with the exception of Israel which only has a 15 Muslim population the birth rate is exceeding the death rate and the vast wealth from minerals and oil The dominance of fossil fuel and mineral deposits on the areas economy constitutes 88 percent of the regions Gross Domestic Product where two-thirds of the worlds oil resides These are all contributing factors to a growing population expected to double within 50 years The Middle East and North Africa defined in this report to include Algeria Bahrain Egypt Iran Iraq Israel Jordan Kuwait Lebanon Libya Morocco Oman Palestine Qatar Saudi Arabia Syria Tunisia the United Arab Emirates UAE and Yemen is an area of 18 nations covering approximately 43 million square miles It was home to 326 million people in 2002 In contrast the United States has 37 million square miles with 287 million people The region includes geographical giants such as Algeria with almost one-fourth the land area of the United States and Bahrain which is smaller than the five boroughs of New York City Populations also vary greatly from Qatar with less than one million people to Egypt with 71 million individuals High fertility rates worker immigration and low mortality rates have resulted in rapid population growth as well as a very young population The regions population has more than tripled from 106 million to 319 million people since 1960 The largest increase was in Iran which grew by almost 45 million people Religion may be a factor in the birth rate Most nations in the Middle East and North Africa adhere to Islamic law which stress familial obligations for women As a result women are encouraged to marry young and to have many children although in many nations such traditions are diminishing For example the median age
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