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Science and Technology


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.

1906: Excavations in Turkey uncover the ruins of an ancient city.

The city unearthed by the excavations near Angora (now Ankara), Turkey, is the ancient Hittite city Hattusas, the capital of the Hittite Empire during the second millennium B.C.E. Though the Hittites inhabit Anatolia (the Asian part of what is now called Turkey), they are not the first Turks. The first Turks, nomadic tribes who bring Islam from Persia, will not settle in Anatolia until about 1030 C.E.

1907: The first major underwater archaeological exploration takes place off the coast of Tunisia.

The Tunisian Antiquities Service finds bronze Greek statues from a ship believed to have sunk en route from Greece to Italy around 100 B.C.E.

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.

November 26, 1922: A British archaeologist opens King Tutankhamun's tomb.

British archaeologist Howard Carter discovers the undisturbed tomb of "King Tut" in Egypt's Valley of the Kings after a decade-long search. Known as the "Boy King," Tutankhamun became Pharaoh at the age of 10. He ruled Egypt more than 3,000 years ago.

1923: Oil is discovered in Iraq.

The first oil strike floods the countryside with oil for 10 days before workers can bring it under control. The well produces 80,000 barrels of oil a day. In 1934, the first oil pipeline connects Iraq with Tripoli in Lebanon. A second line to Haifa, Palestine, opens in January 1935.

February 10, 1925: The first of many institutions devoted to scientific research is established in Haifa.

The Technion-Israel Institute of Technology is established in Haifa. The Hebrew University of Jerusalem follows in April, and the Weizmann Institute of Science in 1946. In addition to its advances in irrigation, agriculture, and the medical sciences, Israel also leads research into solar power.

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.

1947: The Middle East Science Cooperation Office (MESCO) is established to foster scientific work in the region.

MESCO is established in Cairo as part of UNESCO. Like UNESCO, its goal is to resuscitate international and regional scientific research and policy after World War II. Its specific goals are tailored to regional needs such as water conservation and the development of arable land.

1949: Qatar begins to produce and export oil.

Oil is produced and exported for the first time, 10 years after its initial discovery. Offshore oil production begins in 1964.

1953: The Society for the Protection of Nature in Israel (SPNI) is founded.

The Society for the Protection of Nature in Israel (SPNI) is founded to promote sustainable development of the land. SPNI sponsors tours, research, educational activities, and public campaigns for environmental protection and historic preservation.

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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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1965: Archaeologists working in Qatar discover signs of human life dating back to 4000 B.C.E.

A Danish archaeological expedition uncovers signs of human habitation on the Qatar peninsula going back to 4000 B.C.E. A British team in 1973 and a French team in 1976 continue the dig and add to its findings.

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1971: Natural gas is discovered in northeast Qatar.

The North Gas Field is among the top five largest natural gas reserves in the world.

November 11, 1974: State-owned Oman Television begins broadcasting.

Oman TV, which is operated by the Ministry of Information, broadcasts one channel in Arabic. The Omani government prohibits the establishment of privately owned radio or television companies, but people are allowed to use satellite dishes to access many foreign channels.

1982: Oman launches programs designed to combat pollution and prevent other environmental catastrophes.

During the 1980s in Oman, oil and tar from passing ships cover the country's beaches, pollution endangers many of its migratory birds, and corals are being damaged by anchors, fishing nets, and other equipment. One plan to eliminate oil spills focuses on building an area where tankers can safely discharge their ballast.

June 17, 1985: Sultan Salman al-Saud of Saudi Arabia is the first Arab in space.

Sultan Salman al-Saud flies aboard the space shuttle Discovery as a payload specialist.

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.

March 16, 1988: Iraq uses chemical weapons against the Kurds.

The Kurdish areas of northern Iraq have long been in conflict with the Baghdad regime. In the Kurdish town of Halabjah, Iraq unleashes chemical weapons, killing between 50,000 and 100,000 people.

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August 29, 1988: The first Afghan travels in space.

A talented pilot in the Afghan air force, Abdul Ahad Mohmand, is chosen to train as a Russian cosmonaut and travel to the Mir space station as part of International Group 6. Mohmand remains in space for nine days.

1991: Smoke from burning oil wells in Iraq causes severe health and environmental problems throughout the Middle East.

The entire Middle East region, even those countries not directly involved in the fighting, suffers a toll from the Gulf War. Weather patterns are disrupted, black rain (from oil residues and acids) destroys crops, and the number of respiratory ailments soars.

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March 1993: President Clinton establishes the cooperative U.S.-Israel Science and Technology Commission.

The U.S.-Israel Science and Technology Commission aims to encourage and oversee cooperative scientific, agricultural, and environmental research and projects. The 1990s sees a number of cooperative efforts between the U.S. and Israel, in areas including food industry regulation, cosmetics production standards, intellectual property rights, and information technology.

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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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November 1994: The Atat¸rk Dam opens in Turkey.

The Atat¸rk Dam is one of 22 planned dams and 19 planned hydroelectric plants on the Euphrates and Tigris Rivers. The overall project costs exceed $34 billion and result in the displacement of largely Kurdish populations.

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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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1996: Israel's Supreme Court rules that qualified women cannot be excluded from air force pilot training.

Israel's Supreme Court makes this ruling after hearing a case brought by Alice Miller against the Israeli air force. Although the Israeli Defense Forces (IDF) had allowed women officers to train male soldiers, women themselves had been excluded from combat prior to the ruling. By some estimations, 60 percent of the women serving in the armed forces never get beyond desk work.

November 1996: Al-Jazeera, the Qatar-based television network, launches.

The Al-Jazeera network broadcasts Arab-related news and current-affairs programming. It is the first Arab TV news outlet that is not state-censored. Known as "Arab CNN" to some, Al-Jazeera becomes well known in the West when it airs a videotape of Osama bin Laden responding to U.S. air strikes against Afghanistan and celebrating the September 11 attacks.

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November 1996: The Pharos lighthouse, one of the Seven Wonders of the Ancient World, is rediscovered in Egypt.

Archaeologists find the ruins of the Pharos lighthouse, which was toppled in the 1300s after a series of earthquakes, submerged off Alexandria, Egypt. Dating to about 285 B.C.E., the lighthouse stood on the island of Pharos. It was the tallest building on Earth at the time, and its light, reflected off a mirror, was visible from more than 35 miles away.

April 1999: Egypt has more than 200,000 Internet users and 52,000 online subscribers.

These figures represent an increase of nearly 50 percent since December 1998. There are four Internet service providers in Egypt.

April 1999: Saudi Arabia reportedly has 112,500 Internet users and 45,000 online subscribers.

These figures represent a rapid increase in subscribers of 140 percent since December 1998.

April 1999: Qatar's personal-computer market grows steadily.

Qatar's growth in the personal-computer market is ranked third behind that of China and Egypt. Among a population of 650,000, there are 27,500 Internet users and 11,000 online subscribers.

April 1999: Technosphere '99 is organized to discuss the impact of science and technology on Arab women.

Participants in the three-day conference Technosphere '99 come from 20 Arab countries. They resolve to expand technological and vocational education for women in the Arab world.

December 10, 1999: The Egyptian American scientist Ahmed Zewail wins the Nobel Prize for chemistry.

Dr. Zewail won the prize for his studies of the transition states of chemical reactions using femtosecond spectroscopy.

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2000: One-sixth of the Israeli population is online.

Internet and telecommunications companies thrive in a nation known for its vigorous cell-phone use.

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.

January 28, 2001: Egypt, Lebanon, Syria, and Jordan sign an agreement on a $1 billion gas pipeline project.

The project promises to build two pipelines to transport Egyptian natural gas to Middle East partners and to European markets.

April 9-11, 2001: An international commission gathers in Lebanon to discuss sustainable development.

The Economic and Social Commission for Western Asia (ESCWA) convenes a Thematic Round Table in Beirut to discuss regional concerns about sustainable development, fresh water supplies, land use, poverty, standards of living, and technology. The commission representatives prepare for the "Rio + 10" World Summit on Sustainable Development.

November 2001: Egypt launches its first privately owned satellite network.

Dream TV is launched with two channels: Dream 1 targets youth viewers, while Dream 2 shows movies and variety programming. A third channel, Dream 3, is set to launch at a later date.

February 2002: Saudi Arabia's authorities shut down more than 400 Internet sites.

The Saudi government fails to provide a clear explanation for the censorship. Internet users, a fast-growing group that numbered 112,500 in April 1999, are largely undeterred, and can still obtain unauthorized Internet access through neighbors Bahrain and the United Arab Emirates.

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