The 1001 Richness of the Middle East’s Hidden Treasures

Image credits: Flag Holder is a painting by Lebanese artist Wael Hamadeh showing Lebanese men dressed in traditional clothing. holding the Lebanese flag.

Some look at the Middle East and see a series of political issues and wars, an endless storyline of tyrannies and dictatorships hidden behind oceans and deserts, far from everyone to see but close enough to inspire one-thousand-and-one-night folk tales.

By Marita Kassis
Coffee in hand during a casual conversation about the world, and you say, “I’m from the Middle East,” the person in front of you is both fascinated and worried. Thoughts rush in about what the Middle East stands for and how it perpetually comes in constant collision with wanting to retain a mesmerising and fascinating culture while also incorporating values and lifestyles from abroad.

The reaction is mind-blowing. Some people react with intrigue, others with distance. There is a notion of magic that lies behind the words the Middle East; some know little, others not enough, and those that have visited it have so much colour and humanity to share about it.

The region has a rich history of cross-cultural integration, with heritage and eras that have left a visible mark in different territories.

Values from the region are still mostly upheld and create a source of interest for others, with principles proving to be part of the lifestyle and hospitality that so many are fascinated by.

I agree; being Middle Eastern has a charm far beyond news headlines and endless war coverage. It’s a dual path that is not necessarily in collision but more so in competition. An enchanting 3D model at its best that builds on an ancestral heritage, a present that goes in every direction, and a face-lifted future that wants to incorporate a techy outlook with a charming past.

We’re seeing new generations more attached to their cultural upbringing and colourful Middle Eastern traits. Young Arabs now wear jewellery with Arabic calligraphy; a few years ago, the hype was about Latin letters. Now, it’s not only tourists and foreigners that are fascinated by the smooth cornerless lettering of the Arabic alphabet, but it’s also a sign of identity to those coming from Arabic-speaking countries.

Countries are getting on the romanticising bandwagon, making it clear that the region is far richer than people’s stereotypes and assumptions.

Lebanon’s tourism and nightlife made the headlines around the world… The United Arab Emirates, with its desert rides and breathless skyscrapers, is a must-visit magical place. Saudi Arabia is now becoming a captivating destination for wellness and futuristic-rising cities. Jordan and Egypt’s archaeological sites and holy trails have left the world in awe.

Cities, deserts, and mountainous spaces are among the most extraordinary landscapes worldwide. With awe-inspiring natural sceneries and exquisite ancient sites, the Middle East might just be a cradle for civilisations.

The region has known the rise and fall of many empires, from the Sumerians, Babylonians, Assyrians, and Persians, to the Phoenicians, Romans and Ottomans; they all amassed armies and wealth with aspirations to push their control even further.

They left behind languages, ruins, tombs, and astonishingly decorated architecture, adorned with stones and sandy colours - still visible today, symbolising the countries’ richness and immense impact on the geopolitical level.

With an ever-changing map, new names, and borders being redrawn over the years, the region has known inter-countries amalgamation like no other. Mesopotamia changed, the Ottoman Empire crumbled, Lebanon was puzzled, Syria was created, other countries were divided, and many tribes were displaced.

In true reflection of what was happening on the ground, cultural heritage was never motionless but has learned to adapt without corrupting its original birthplace. A lot of the authentic traits remain, and so many were added.

Whomever you meet has a family tree that returns to different roots, with a household resembling a treasure trove filled with pictures and artefacts passed down through generations. The more rural you move, into the natural lifestyle and sceneries of the countries, to closer you get to experiencing the raw culture that has survived through years of alterations.

The historical splendour of the region overflows with beautiful trademarks, from mosques, churches, museums, and temples, to natural landscapes. You can’t escape the richness of historical details and the tales of kings and emperors that have ruled the region.

Some might consider the region ripe for statements like “tradition and modernity are in violent collision”, and there was a time when that was true. Being home to several communities and religions, it is not simple to look in the same direction.

This will always be challenging; being open to change or adding new aspects to one’s culture will always be welcomed by some and draw backlash from others. Yet the world is now keener to incorporate the characteristically beautiful women of the region. Influencers, models, beauty, and fashion houses are taking the industry by providing this oriental, captivating, and fierce femininity in international brands.

Oil might make the world go around and establish political alliances for stability and national security. Still, maritime passageways and trade routes are national treasures that draw even the most powerful countries to agree on deals and understandings.

Investment companies provide forecasts and opportunities to anyone wishing to invest. The Middle East has vast virgin lands, with the right technology and financial sources to make anything happen. NEOM, in Saudi Arabia, might have been a radical vision of bringing together an unparalleled workforce with technological advancements from around the world - but it is also now an investment hub attracting the biggest firms in every industry.

It is no secret that the world faces an all-encompassing recession in almost every sector. However, according to the International Monetary Fund, the region still records overall growth, even if slightly lower than in 2022.

Countries in the region definitely differ culturally, economically, politically, and socially. Still, they all carry immense opportunities, with traditions and authentic traits that directly enrich today’s modernity.

 

Marita Kassis

Marita is a political analyst focusing on the Middle East, Security, and Counter-Terrorism. She is currently pursuing a PhD in Business Administration and International Studies. She has published various digital and print articles, and works in media and communication. She was previously Managing Editor for AI-Monitor in Beirut.
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