When using statistics, there are six main areas that need to consider
·Deciding which figures would be useful
·Finding the figures you want, or alternatives if the ideal is not available
·Understanding what the figures refer to and what they don’t
·Assessing the quality of the sources
·Ensuring figures from different sources are compatible with each other
·Analysing them to help answer the question you are asking
I want to understand how the different parts of the Middle East fit together so knowing where they are geographically, how big they are and how wealthy their populations are seemed a good start. But even before that, there is the question of definition. My reading had suggested that it would be useful to focus on a central area populated mainly by Arabs and Persians and the Jewish state of Israel. This area is the focus of much of the conflict and is where most of the oil is to be found. I also decided to include Afghanistan since conflict was happening there too.
An interesting fact struck me as soon as I looked at Afghanistan on the map. It is away from the central area and it has no oil. So my decision to include it in the analysis of the Central Middle East is perhaps questionable.
I also decided to examine countries immediately surrounding this central area (arguably – Afghanistan fits more comfortably in this category). Most of the countries in this area are very populous: Pakistan, Egypt, Turkey and the fact that they are peripheral to the central zone sets them apart. Also since they are of a different order of magnitude from the others, they were better treated separately from an analytical point of view.
Finally, I decided to add an analysis of the countries in North Africa because it can be argued that Algeria, with its battle against the French and its subsequent civil war, was where it the current conflict began. So if we look at the map (found in the main part of this report, provided by the CIA – easy to find on Google by typing in “map middle east” - we have a terrific starting point. You can see the physical size of most of the countries we shall examine – and we shall see later that their physical size reflects neither their population nor their economic importance. The ones that are missing or partly missing from the map are Afghanistan, (a part of which is on the Eastern edge of the map), Pakistan (which is beyond Afghanistan) and the North African States (which are strung westwards along the Southern shore of the Mediterranean, beyond Egypt, and are close to the Southern Countries of the EU. A second map gives a better picture of the whole area but lacks detail. I have decided to include both.
Next I dug out the population statistics. The first site I came across was www.mideastweb.org/geogpop.htm which provided a handy little table giving population, land area, population density, and percentage of arable land. It usefully showed the proportion of non-nationals which is very high in some of the smaller countries.
Its source is the CIA World Book 2006. I have used this book many times before and found it to be reliable, so I decided to see if the original was available on line. Another reason for doing this is that, I discovered mideastsweb appeared to be an Israeli one. Further investigation showed that it is devoted to “Middle East dialogue and peace education efforts.” It seemed to claim impartiality, but material needed to be checked for potential bias particularly since its bipartisan credentials were a little dented since none of its founding members had Arab-sounding names. Nevertheless, it was a rich source of material to be borne in mind later. It also had lots of other information so I had an idea of the sort of material that was available. Definitely a site to be bookmarked.
Before I went off to the CIA, I found that the material on this website was copiable directly into Excel. It arrived as a table, so I had all the information in a directly analysable form – and there was more on oil reserves, literacy, income per head, mortality etc.
It would be natural to be suspicious about information supplied by the CIA what with vanishing weapons of mass destruction and its general reputation for playing fast and loose. However, the sort of information on population, income etc. is also available from other sources, so it would be counterproductive for the CIA to disseminate duff data in this area. The reason for using the CIA world book is that the material has been collected systematically, it is presented in an easily accessible form and efforts will have been made to ensure that it is reasonably comparable from one country to another. This saves a lot of work in going through national statistics and checking the footnotes – which is what you must do if you collect material from individual country data. Take it from one who has cut his teeth doing exactly that sort of grinding work – it is brilliant if someone has done it for you.
The CIA World Book has four advantages over the Mideastweb: it is more up to date, it fills in some missing countries, and there is more information. Also mideastweb was prone to making silly mistakes when copying data. And above all the World Book has information about numbers of Shia andSunni muslims by country.
It is always important when using statistics to read the footnotes and explanations that are scattered about. They alert you to weaknesses in the data and help to stop you from falling into traps.
Other major sources of international statistics are:
·The United Nations, whose yearbooks tend to be a bit old.
·The OECD, which provides good and up-to-date information – but only for the world’s largest economies.