After being conquered by the followers of Muhammad, most of the peoples of the region adopted Islam and the Arabic language, but some continued to practice other religions and maintain their cultural identities.
For over 150 years Islam governed these peoples as one political region, but beginning in the tenth century, the empire began to fall apart.
Turks, led by the Seljuks, conquered almost all of the Middle East, adopting Islam and ruling for more than four hundred years before being replaced by the Ottoman Turks.
The Ottomans did not impose Islamic law on non-Muslims.
Beginning in the late 1700s, discontent and ethnic and religious rivalry caused Ottoman power to deteriorate.
European nations, eager to exert political influence in the Middle East and gain new markets for their products, called the Ottoman Empire “the sick man of Europe.”
During and after the Israeli war of independence in 1948, as many as 500,000 Palestinian refugees fled to neighboring Arab countries. Some Palestinian refugees found jobs and housing, but others remained in crowded refugee camps.
In the mid-1960s, many of these camps became bases for the Palestinian Liberation Organization, which demanded that Palestine be liberated, and attacked and killed Israeli civilians.
More and more Israelis settled in the occupied territories, which caused Palestinian support for the PLO in the West Bank and Gaza to grow.
Palestinians began uprisings, called intifadas, in 1987 and again in 2000, after peace talks with Israel stalled.
Since independence from France in 1943, power has been divided between Maronite Christians, Sunni Muslims, Shiite Muslims, Orthodox Christians, and Druze based on the sizes of their populations.
The Maronites had the highest population and held the most power, but population growth among Muslims and growing economic inequalities between groups created more tensions.
Civil war broke out in 1958 and again in 1975, and in 1982, Israel invaded to drive out the PLO.
An international peacekeeping force was sent in to maintain order, but after several hundred United States Marines were killed, all American troops were withdrawn and the country slid into anarchy, or lawlessness.
The militias, or citizen armies of each faction of Lebanese society, stopped fighting each other in the early 1990s when a new power-sharing agreement was created.
Lebanon has begun to rebuild its infrastructure and economy, and Israel withdrew its troops in 2000.
In Oman and Yemen, life for most people has changed little since ancient times.
Yemen has only begun processing its oil deposits, while Oman has used oil revenues to improve life for its people, although it did not undergo the large-scale modernization that Saudi Arabia and Kuwait did.
Yemen was formed in 1990 from North Yemen and South Yemen, and while Sanaa is the political capital, Aden is the economic capital.
Most people in Yemen and Oman are farmers or herders, and many farmers depend on an ancient system of underground and surface canals called the falaj system for water.
The government of Oman has used oil money to improve the standard of living there, although it is setting up new industries in order to lessen dependence on oil.