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November 17, 1869: The Suez Canal, a crucial communication and transportation link between the Mediterranean and Red Seas, opens in Egypt.

Designed to give European powers better access to Middle Eastern, East Asian, and South Asian markets, the Suez Canal is built by France (using Egyptian workers) over 10 years. The French later sell the Canal to the British, who control it for 84 years before Egypt nationalizes it. It is wide enough to accommodate most ships and, at 120 miles long, is the longest canal in the world without locks.


1902: Egypt's Aswan Dam, built by the British, opens.

The original Aswan Dam, or Aswan Low Dam, is built by the British. In 1970, it will be determined that the Aswan Low Dam is neither large enough nor strong enough to control extreme flooding, and a second High dam will be built.


May 1908: Oil is discovered in Persia (Iran).

British adventurer William Knox D'Arcy strikes oil in 1908, seven years after obtaining drilling rights to the land from the Persian government. In 1909, D'Arcy joins with Burmah Oil to form the Anglo-Persian Oil Company in 1909. By 1917, the British government, which owns 51 percent of the company, is the most influential power in Persia. Britain uses the company's reserves during World War I.


1909: Tel Aviv is built by the Jews.

A group of Jews intent on founding an alternative city to the crowded, predominantly Arab port city of Jaffa buy uninhabited sand dunes to the north and create a garden suburb. They name it Tel Aviv, which translates to "Hill of Spring." Tel Aviv becomes the first modern Jewish city, with a population of 35,000 by 1921 and 200,000 by 1948.


1930s-1950s: Oil exploration begins in the desert, and later offshore, of what is now the United Arab Emirates (UAE).

Only 150,000 people, many of them nomadic Bedouins, inhabit the land that will comprise the UAE. With no roads, schools, hospitals, or factories, these people experience one of the lowest standards of living in the developing world until oil is discovered in the region.


1930: The pearl market collapses, leaving Qatar's economy in ruins.

The world pearl market collapses with the Japanese invention of cultured pearls, devastating the already weak pre-oil economy of Qatar. Although present-day Qatar enjoys a high standard of living, the sparsely populated region was one of the poorest in the Arab world before the discovery of oil, with an economy almost entirely reliant on the pearl industry.


1938: Oil is discovered in Saudi Arabia.

When oil is discovered in Saudi Arabia in 1938, the U.S. founds the Arabian American Oil Company (Aramco). By 1980, Saudi Arabia has gained full control over the company.


May 14, 1948: The State of Israel is established.

After World War II, a showdown is looming between Jews and Arabs in Palestine. Despite their numerical superiority (1.3 million Arabs to 650,000 Jews), the Arabs are less prepared for conflict than the Jews, who have a government under David Ben-Gurion and an army. The Palestinian Arabs are still in disarray from the Arab Revolt, and most of their leaders have been exiled. By 1947, mounting violence, including terrorist acts by both Arabs and Jews, leads Britain to declare its mandate over Palestine unworkable. Britain makes plans for its withdrawal and leaves the question of what to do with Palestine to the UN. In August, the United Nations Special Committee on Palestine (UNSCOP) recommends the creation of independent Jewish and Arab states. The plan divides Palestine into roughly equal halves, with Jerusalem and religiously significant surrounding sites under the control of a separate international authority. The report also calls for the Arab and Jewish states to form a united economic bloc. The Jews accept this plan, but the Palestinian Arabs do not. The partition plan is approved by majority vote of the UN General Assembly on November 29. Britain completes its withdrawal from Palestine in early May 1948, and on May 14, the State of Israel is declared, with David Ben-Gurion as its first prime minister. Both the United States and the USSR immediately recognize the new state. In support of the Palestinian Arabs, however, neighboring Arab nations -- Egypt, Iraq, Transjordan, Lebanon, and Syria -- declare war on Israel the next day. The Israelis repel the Arab attack. The 1948 War, also known as the Israeli War of Independence, ends in July 1949. Israel signs separate cease-fire agreements with Transjordan, Syria, and Egypt and now controls about 70 percent of what had been Mandatory Palestine. Egypt holds the Gaza Strip, Jordan annexes the West Bank, and Syria retains the Golan Heights.


March 1951: Mossadeq nationalizes the oil industry.

To prevent foreign interests from controlling the Iranian economy, Prime Minister Mohammed Mossadeq nationalizes the oil industry. This move meets with tremendous resistance, especially from the British, who own substantial oil interests. Mossadeq becomes a national hero to many Iranians and gains international prestige -- Time magazine names him Man of the Year for 1951.

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October 31-November 7, 1956: Suez Crisis: Israel, Britain, and France attack Egypt after the Egyptian president Nassar nationalizes the Suez Canal.

Britain and France conspire to recapture the canal they once owned, with Israeli assistance. Israel invades Sinai, and Britain and France "intervene" and occupy the canal zone. They withdraw under U.S. and Soviet pressure, unsuccessful in their attempt.

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1959: Oil is discovered in Libya.

The oil boom provides Libya with newfound financial independence, transforming a country with one of the lowest standards of living into one full of opportunities, with growing employment and plans for improved housing, health care, and education. Investing much of its oil profits in other parts of the economy, Libya expands its industry, mining, and agricultural base, irrigating new areas of the desert. Most of the large farms, which are owned by the government, produce foods that were formerly imported, including corn, wheat, and citrus fruits, as well as cattle, sheep, and poultry.

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1959: The first big oil reserve is discovered just off the coast of Abu Dhabi (now part of the United Arab Emirates).

Oil is first discovered off of Abu Dhabi in 1959. Just a year later, oil is also found in Abu Dhabi's desert. Dubai, Sharjah, and Ras al-Khaimah follow with discoveries of their own over the next several years. Abu Dhabi, once known as a fishing village, is today the richest of all the emirates. Dubai, originally known for its pearl trade, is the second richest.

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September 10-14, 1960: Iraq, Iran, Kuwait, Saudi Arabia, and Venezuela form OPEC, a federation of oil-producing nations.

The Organization of the Petroleum Exporting Countries (OPEC) forms as a group of developing oil-producing countries seeking to enter the international oil market. Its objective today is to coordinate oil policies and to secure fair prices for its member countries (which now number 13) and dependable supply to its customer nations.

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1962: Abu Dhabi begins to export petroleum.

Massive amounts of money flow into Abu Dhabi (now part of UAE) when it begins to export petroleum. Because the small local population cannot meet the need for planned construction projects (e.g., of hospitals, roads, schools), foreign workers are hired by the hundreds of thousands.

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1966: A banking crisis hits Beirut and temporarily slows Lebanon's vibrant economy.

A commercial banking crisis slows the go-go banking industry of Beirut, which at mid-century had been the repository of choice for oil money from Saudi Arabia and the Gulf states. Beirut, the "Switzerland of the Middle East," was also a favored destination of the European and American elite. After the banking crisis settles, the Lebanese economy will be strong again until the civil war in 1975.

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June 5, 1967: Egypt closes the Suez Canal in conjunction with the Six-Day War.

Closed during the Six-Day War by the Egyptians, the Suez Canal becomes part of the boundary separating Egypt and the Israeli-occupied Sinai Peninsula after the war. Remaining closed for the next eight years, Egypt loses considerable revenue. Many ships built after the closing (especially tankers) are too large to navigate the canal.


1967: Southern Yemen accepts Soviet economic aid, becoming the first and only Marxist Arab state.

The People's Democratic Republic of Yemen (Southern Yemen) is in economic shambles with the closure of the Suez Canal following the Six-Day War and the loss of British trade. The country accepts aid from the Soviet Union and other communist countries to stay afloat.

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1970s: Libya nationalizes its manufacturing and private-sector industries.

Food-processing, textiles and traditional handicrafts, and the banking industries in Libya are among those put under government control. The economy depends primarily on revenues from the oil sector, and although Libya enjoys immense oil revenues coupled with a small population, most of the money stays within the centralized government, and little flows to the general population.

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1972: Saudi Arabia negotiates for control of 25 percent of the Arabian American Oil Company (Aramco).

Until the early '70s, Aramco is owned by California Arabian Standard Oil Company (Casoc), Texaco, Standard Oil Company of New Jersey (later renamed Exxon), and Socony-Vacuum (now Mobil Oil Company). In 1968 the Saudi minister of petroleum and mineral resources had publicly broached the idea of Saudi participation in Aramco, and after long negotiations, it is agreed that the Saudi government will buy 25 percent of the company. Over the next 16 years, Aramco will be converted to a totally Saudi-owned company called Saudi Arabian Oil Company (Saudi Aramco).


June 1972: Iraq becomes the first Arab country to nationalize a Western oil corporation.

Prior to 1972, U.S. and British companies held a three-quarter share in Iraq's oil production. Soviet petroleum experts help Iraq develop its oil industry to the extent that Baghdad ends its reliance on Western companies; the Soviets also help Iraq nationalize the Iraq Petroleum Company. In the ensuing years, Iraq rapidly increases its oil output, becoming the world's second largest exporter of oil by 1979.


November 1973: Saudi Arabia leads an oil boycott against the U.S. and other Western countries.

A supporter of Egypt, Jordan, and Syria in the 1967 Six-Day War against Israel, Saudi Arabia still harbors resentment when the Yom Kippur War (October War) erupts. In retaliation for U.S. support of Israel, Saudi Arabia participates in a 1973 Arab oil boycott of the U.S. and other Western nations. The price of oil quadruples, dramatically increasing Saudi Arabia's wealth and political influence.

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1977: The UAE University, the country's first university, opens in al-Ain.

By 1998, 15,000 students will attend UAE University (UAEU). The Higher Colleges of Technology, today with 10 campuses, open in 1988, providing a further 10,000 students with advanced technical training. These universities, like other development projects, are funded by oil money.


1978: Ali Abdullah Saleh is elected president and embraces a Western-style market economy for Northern Yemen.

While Northern Yemen practices a market economy, Southern Yemen's economy is controlled by the state. Saleh will rule for two decades before being declared senile and removed from power.


1980s: Most Libyans enjoy educational opportunities, health care, and housing that are among the best in Africa and the Middle East.



1986: Commercial extraction of Yemen's natural oil reserves begin.

Earnings from oil production and refinement will result in significant contributions to the Yemeni economy over the next decade. Talks of the reunification of Northern and Southern Yemen accelerate.


1989: Qatar issues its first tourist visas and begins to build its tourism industry.

In the mid-1980s, a number of museums open, including the Ethnographical Museum and the Qatar National Museum in Doha. Qatar Airways is established in 1994, carrying passengers to and from points in the Middle East, Asia, and Europe. Though still not a popular destination for tourists, Qatar hosts a number of conferences, summits, and athletic competitions each year.


May 1989: Oman's Muscat Stock Exchange opens.

This popular stock exchange attracts investors from the Gulf and from the West.


August 2, 1990: Iraq, led by Saddam Hussein, invades neighboring Kuwait.

Iraq's invasion of Kuwait is triggered in part because of Iraq's inability to repay more than $20 billion in loans to Kuwait, but also because of other issues related to historical border disputes. By a vote of 14-0, the UN Security Council condemns the invasion and demands unconditional withdrawal of Iraqi troops from Kuwait. On August 6, the UN imposes sanctions on Iraq, ending all trade with the aggressor nation. A U.S.-led coalition forms to forcibly remove Iraq from Kuwait. The Persian Gulf War will cost $8.1 billion and 383 U.S. lives before it ends in March 1991.

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September 1990: Saudi Arabia sends 600,000 Yemeni workers home over Persian Gulf sentiments.

Many Yemenis had long sought work in Saudi Arabia, as Yemen produces few goods for export and depends on jobs outside the country for good wages. When the Yemeni government calls for an "Arab solution" to the conflict in the Gulf and insists on Western troop withdrawal from the region, Saudi Arabia orders Yemeni workers home. The Yemeni workforce and the country's economy suffer greatly as a result.


April 1991: Facing foreign pressures, Egypt launches an economic reform program.

In return for foreign lenders agreeing to wipe out $10 billion in debt, Egypt promises to adopt a sales tax, cut fuel subsidies, and slash tariffs on foreign goods. For the first time since Egypt nationalized major industries in the 1960s, the government also lets foreigners buy Egyptian property, control Egyptian banks, and even own and operate Egyptian power stations and highways.

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1991: The UN deems Iraq a pre-industrial state as a result of its recent wars.

The war with Iran from 1980-88 and the recent Gulf War, together with the subsequent imposition of international sanctions, has a devastating effect on Iraq's economy and society. UN reports describe living standards as being at subsistence level. Some 47,000 children under 5 years of age are believed to have died from war-related causes following the Gulf War alone.

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Summer 1991: Scandal rocks Abu Dhabi's Bank of Credit and Commerce International in the UAE.

Riddled by fraud, Abu Dhabi's Bank of Credit and Commerce International (BCCI) fails, creating huge liability claims from international investors with accounts there. Twelve bank officials are sent to jail and fined $9 billion in damages.

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February 26, 1993: A van bomb explodes in the garage of the World Trade Center in New York City.

At approximately 12:00 noon, a bomb in a van, planted by terrorists allegedly backed by Osama bin Laden, explodes in the underground garage of the World Trace Center, North Tower. Six people are killed, and more than 1,000 injured. Millions of dollars' worth of damage is sustained. Six Islamic extremist conspirators are convicted of the crime in 1997 and '98, receiving prison sentences of 240 years each.

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1994: Saudi production of desalinated water reaches cities in the center of the kingdom.

Because of its lack of fresh water resources, Saudi Arabia develops a process to remove salt from sea water (desalination) to serve the water needs of its people. Saudi Arabia currently produces more desalinated water than any other country in the world. This water is used both for drinking water and agricultural irrigation. In 1994, the production capacity for desalinated water had reached 714,218,000 gallons per day -- enough water to cover the needs of the cities on the eastern and western coasts as well as some cities inland. By 2000, the capital city of Riyadh would receive desalinated water from the Gulf, 500 kilometers away.

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1994: The Lebanese economy rebounds four years after the end of the civil war.

Inflation drops from 75 percent to 18 percent as the economy rebounds after the end of the civil war. Beirut's absence from the international banking scene has led to the ascendance of Amman and Tel Aviv as Middle East banking centers, but the Lebanese government instates financial and commercial measures that will return Beirut to prominence in banking and tourism in the 1990s.

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1995: Omani ruler Sultan Qaboos emphasizes economic reform in his country.

Oman has less oil than other Gulf states, and its reserves are running low. Additionally, its deficit is climbing. Sultan Qaboos is trying to diversify Oman's economy in part by reducing its dependence on oil and encouraging its private sector to be more competitive and efficient.

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1995: The U.S. imposes oil and trade sanctions against Iran.

The U.S. imposes oil and trade sanctions on Iran for allegedly sponsoring terrorism, seeking to acquire nuclear arms, and promoting hostility to the Israeli-Palestinian peace process. Iran denies the charges.

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1995: The United Arab Emirates joins the World Trade Organization.

Membership in the World Trade Organization (WTO) gives the UAE a voice in future commercial policymaking decisions that could help boost its economy.

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June 22, 1995: Oman and the U.S. each pledge $3 million to build a Middle East Desalination Research Center in Oman.

The shortage of fresh water is a growing problem for Oman and other Gulf states. Many states get fresh water by desalination, the process of purifying salt water. Oman, which has built dams to collect rainwater that runs down mountains, continues to look for other ways to collect more fresh water.

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October 1995: Qatar is the first Gulf nation to open economic relations with Israel.

Qatar becomes the first Gulf nation to have economic relations with Israel, supplying Tel Aviv with natural gas.


1998-2002: Years of severe drought create a food crisis in Afghanistan.

Crop and livestock losses threaten more than three million Afghans with starvation. A way of life is also in jeopardy: Eighty-five percent of the population of Afghanistan depends directly on agriculture for employment, but most households will soon be left without breeding stock or work animals. The current food shortage is compounded by two decades of civil instability.

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February 16, 2000: Haifa al-Baker becomes the first woman lawyer in Qatar.



2000: The United Arab Emirates establishes Internet City, a free-trade zone located in Dubai for Internet businesses.

Similarly, Media City, a hub for global media companies, opens in 2001, also in Dubai.


July 28, 2000: The leader of Afghanistan's Taliban regime bans the growing of opium poppy.

Before the beginning of the November planting season, Mullah Muhammad Omar, the Taliban's supreme leader, bans poppy growing in Afghanistan. He augments the ban with a religious edict declaring the crop to be contrary to the tenets of Islam. According to the United Nations, in 2000 Afghanistan produced nearly 4,000 tons of opium, about 75 percent of the world's supply.

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August 2000: Natural gas is discovered off the coast of Israel.

Should the recently discovered reserves of natural gas off of Israel's coast prove large, tapping them could reduce the country's immense dependence on foreign suppliers of energy, as could Israeli research into solar and wind power. Currently, for political reasons, Israel's energy demand is met by suppliers outside of the Arab world.


2001: Analysts predict that Israel's booming economy will slow down as a result of its political situation.

The outbreak of the second Palestinian intifada in September 2000, the collapse of Ehud Barak's government in December, and the worldwide slowdown in the high-tech industry, lead some experts to suggest that Israel's surging economy will soften. Part of the economic boom in the 1990s has been attributed to the influx of scientific and economic professionals who emigrated from the former Soviet Union at the end of the 1980s.

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June 2001: Israel divests Merhav, the largest joint Arab-Israeli commercial venture to date.

The Israeli company Merhav announces that it has sold its 20 percent share in the Middle East Oil Refinery Ltd. (MIDOR) to the National Bank of Egypt, ending what had been the largest Arab-Israeli joint commercial venture to date.


November 9-13, 2001: The World Trade Organization meets in Doha, Qatar, to discuss the developing world's economy.

The meetings produce the Doha Development Agenda, which ensures that industrialized nations aid developing nations by providing markets for their agricultural and manufactured goods. Violent anti-globalization demonstrations that occurred at the 1999 Seattle meeting are not repeated in Doha, but threats are made against Qatar for inviting Israel to participate.

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2002: Saudi Arabia's unemployment rate stands at between 15 and 20 percent.

Foreign migrants continue to account for some 65 percent of the Saudi work force, raising fears that unemployed youth could be increasingly drawn to radical Islamist groups.

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