A Guide to 45 Must-Know Facts about the Middle East

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1School fire

School fire

In 2002, a fire at a girls' school in Mecca, Saudi Arabia killed 15 girls. It has been strongly suggested that their deaths occurred due to the involvement of the "religious police," who prevented them from leaving the building because the girls were not wearing correct Islamic dress.


2. 3 men from Yemen tried to sue NASA for invading Mars, claiming they had inherited it from their ancestors 3,000 years ago.


3. In the village of Kuskoy in Turkey, people talk to each other using a whistled language that can be heard from up to half a mile away.


4. In 1993, the golden covering of the Dome of the Rock in Jerusalem was refurbished following a donation of $8.2 million by King Hussein of Jordan who sold one of his houses in London to fund the 80 kilograms of gold required.


5. In 1983, Saudi Arabian developers tore down Ajyad Fortress, a centuries-old Turkish fortress that was once used to protect Mecca and the Kaaba from invaders and bandits, to build a Megahotel complex.


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6Dubai license plates

Dubai license plates

In Dubai, license plates are bought and sold for upwards of $14 million in order to show status, with 1 being the most desired, then 2, then so on.


7. As a man, you can be arrested in Iran for wearing shorts.


8. In 1168.AD., Fustat, the then-capital of Egypt was ordered to be burnt to the ground by its own vizier to stop it falling into the hands of the crusaders.


9. A natural gas vent in Iraq known as The Eternal Fire has been burning continuously for over 4,000 years and is mentioned by Herodotus, Plutarch, and in the Old Testament's Book of Daniel.


10. 350 million years ago, there existed a species of 20-foot tall mushroom in Saudi Arabia. It was likely the largest living thing on dry land at that time.


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11Socotra

Socotra

Due to its isolation, a third of the plant life on the island of Socotra (Yemen) is found nowhere else on the planet. It has been described as "most alien-looking place on Earth."


12. You can't file for Bankruptcy in Dubai. In turn, people abandon their exotic sports cars in the airport parking lot while fleeing. About 2,000 to 3,000 cars including Ferrari, Porche, Land Rover, and Mercedes are abandoned each year to gather dust in the desert heat.


13. In 1973, Syria had such a powerful air defense system, it almost destroyed the Israeli air force in just 18 days. In 1982 the rebuilt Israeli air force launched the largest air battle since the Korean war, destroying nearly the entire Syrian air defense and air force in under 2 hours.


14. Up to 95% of the historic structures in the city of Mecca have been demolished over the last three decades. Many of the sites were over 1000 years old and many were connected to the life and times of the prophet Muhammad and his companions.


15. In ancient Egypt, any books found in ships coming into port would be brought immediately to the library of Alexandria and be copied. The original would be kept in the library and the copy given back to the owner.


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16King Abdullah University

King Abdullah University

King Abdullah University of Science and Technology which opened in 2009 is the first mixed-gender university campus in Saudi Arabia. The religious police do not operate on-site, and women are allowed to mix freely with men and to drive on campus, and they are not required to wear veils.


17. There is a youth orchestra called the West-Eastern Divan Orchestra made up of top Israeli and Palestinian musicians to promote peace in the Middle East.


18. A mentally disabled Iranian girl named Leyla Mafi was prostituted by her mom at an young age. At the age of 9 and 14, she gave birth to children. At the age of 19, she got sentenced to death for “immoral behavior.” A lawyer was able to intervene and got the sentence reduced to public beating and imprisonment.


19. During the Siege of Baghdad, The Grand Library of Baghdad, containing countless precious historical documents and books on subjects from medicine to astronomy, was destroyed along with the House of Wisdom. The Tigris waters ran black with ink from the huge quantities of books that were flung into the river.


20. Turkey imprisons more journalists than China and Iran combined.


21Saddam Hussein

Saddam Hussein

Israel planned to assassinate Saddam Hussein in 1992. Plans were canceled when they accidentally killed their fellow commandos while simulating the method of their attack.


22. Camp 1391 is a secret prison, which is located an hour out from Tel Aviv. It has been dubbed “the Israeli Guantanamo.” It was discovered by accident in 2003 by an Israeli historian who was researching old British police buildings.


23. Sesame is a particle accelerator that is currently being built (as of 2018) in the Middle East. Modeled after the CERN which was set up after World War 2 to bring together scientists from former adversaries in Europe, it will allow researchers from openly hostile countries to collaborate. Israel, Iran, and Palestine are its founding members.


24. The Leper King of Jerusalem: Baldwin the fourth ruled Jerusalem from 1174-1185. He refused to hide his leprosy from his subjects and took an active part in the wars and crusades of that time until his disease progressed enough to cripple and blind him.


25. The state of Kuwait is banned from the Olympics due to government legislation that permits the state to interfere in elections of sporting organizations. As a result, Kuwaiti athletes compete as independent athletes under the Olympic Flag instead of their own flag.

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