languages, and understandings of their histories. They
experience a variety of different ways of life.
Women in Saudi Arabia, for example, where there are
strict rules about how women dress and move around,
live very different lives from their counterparts in
Turkey, where women are used to more European styles
of dress and have a more public role. In Iran, society
includes city dwellers in Tehran, a city of fourteen
million, as well as nomads who live in the desert. In
Egypt, Syria, and Lebanon, there are large Christian
minority populations as well as Muslims. The religion
of Islam (which is the identity most frequently associated
A park in Tehran, Iran
with the Middle East) is understood and practiced in
many different ways across the region. The landscape
also varies—from sparsely populated arid deserts to vast urban metropolises to green forests, mountains, rivers, and marshes.
The great variation in culture, history, and geography influences the societies, governments, businesses, and some of the tensions in the area. This diverse and complex region plays an important role in U.S. foreign policy.
The U.S. role in the Middle East is a subject of debate in the United States. The United States has had an active role in the Middle East for three main reasons. First, the United States wants to ensure the steady flow of oil, the fuel which currently drives much of the global economy. Second, the United States is concerned about long-term stability and wants to retain power and influence in this important area of the world. The U.S. involvement in Iraq and its concerns about Iran’s nuclear program fall under this category. Finally, the United States has long been involved in the dispute between Israel and the Palestinians. Each of these reasons overlaps with the others, making the U.S. role in the Middle East very complicated. Within the United States, there is often strong disagreement about the best approach to these issues.