The Middle East is a transcontinental region
which generally includes Western Asia
(except for Transcaucasia
), all of Egypt
(mostly in North Africa
), and Turkey
in Southeast Europe
). The term has come into wider usage as a replacement of the term Near East
(as opposed to the Far East
) beginning in the early 20th century. The broader concept of the "Greater Middle East
" (aka the Middle East and North Africa
or the MENAP) also includes the Maghreb
, the Comoros
, and sometimes Transcaucasia and Central Asia
into the region. The term "Middle East" has led to some confusion over its changing definitions.
Most Middle Eastern countries (13 out of 18) are part of the Arab world
. The most populous countries in the region
are Egypt, Iran
, and Turkey, while Saudi Arabia
is the largest Middle Eastern country by area. The history of the Middle East
dates back to ancient times
, with the geopolitical importance of the region being recognized for millennia. Several major religions have their origins in the Middle East, including Judaism
, and Islam
constitute the majority ethnic group in the region, followed by Turks
, Iraqi Turkmen
, and Greek Cypriots
The Middle East generally has a hot, arid
climate, with several major rivers providing irrigation
to support agriculture
in limited areas such as the Nile Delta
in Egypt, the Tigris
watersheds of Mesopotamia
, and eastern Syria
), and most of what is known as the Fertile Crescent
. Most of the countries that border the Persian Gulf
have vast reserves of crude oil
, with monarchs of the Arabian Peninsula
in particular benefiting economically from petroleum exports. Because of the arid climate and heavy reliance on the fossil fuel industry, the Middle East is both a heavy contributor to climate change
and a region expected to be severely negatively impacted by it.
The term "Middle East" may have originated in the 1850s in the British India Office
. However, it became more widely known when American
naval strategist Alfred Thayer Mahan
used the term in 1902 to "designate the area between Arabia and India". During this time the British
and Russian Empire
s were vying for influence in Central Asia
, a rivalry which would become known as The Great Game
. Mahan realized not only the strategic importance of the region, but also of its center, the Persian Gulf
. He labeled the area surrounding the Persian Gulf as the Middle East, and said that after Egypt's Suez Canal
, it was the most important passage for Britain to control in order to keep the Russians from advancing towards British India
. Mahan first used the term in his article "The Persian Gulf and International Relations", published in September 1902 in the ''National Review
'', a British journal.
Mahan's article was reprinted in ''The Times
'' and followed in October by a 20-article series entitled "The Middle Eastern Question," written by Sir Ignatius Valentine Chirol
. During this series, Sir Ignatius expanded the definition of ''Middle East'' to include "those regions of Asia which extend to the borders of India
or command the approaches to India." After the series ended in 1903, ''The Times'' removed quotation marks from subsequent uses of the term.
Until World War II
, it was customary to refer to areas centered around Turkey
and the eastern shore of the Mediterranean as the "Near East
", while the "Far East
" centered on China
and the Middle East then meant the area from Mesopotamia
, namely the area between the Near East and the Far East. In the late 1930s, the British established the Middle East Command
, which was based in Cairo
, for its military forces in the region. After that time, the term "Middle East" gained broader usage in Europe and the United States, with the Middle East Institute
founded in Washington, D.C.
in 1946, among other usage.
The corresponding adjective is ''Middle Eastern'' and the derived noun is ''Middle Easterner''.
While non-Eurocentric terms such "Southwest Asia" or "Swasia" has been sparsedly used, the inclusion of an African country, Egypt, in the definition questions the usefulness of using such terms.
Criticism and usage
The description ''Middle'' has also led to some confusion over changing definitions. Before the First World War
, "Near East" was used in English to refer to the Balkans
and the Ottoman Empire
, while "Middle East" referred to Iran
, the Caucasus
, Central Asia, and Turkestan
. In contrast, "Far East" referred to the countries of East Asia
With the disappearance of the Ottoman Empire in 1918, "Near East" largely fell out of common use in English, while "Middle East" came to be applied to the re-emerging countries of the Islamic world
. However, the usage "Near East" was retained by a variety of academic disciplines, including archaeology
and ancient history
, where it describes an area identical to the term ''Middle East'', which is not used by these disciplines (see Ancient Near East
The first official use of the term "Middle East" by the United States government
was in the 1957 Eisenhower Doctrine
, which pertained to the Suez Crisis
. Secretary of State John Foster Dulles
defined the Middle East as "the area lying between and including Libya
on the west and Pakistan
on the east, Syria
on the North and the Arabian peninsula to the south, plus the Sudan
In 1958, the State Department
explained that the terms "Near East" and "Middle East" were interchangeable, and defined the region as including only Egypt
, Saudi Arabia
, and Qatar
The Associated Press
Stylebook says that Near East formerly referred to the farther west countries while Middle East referred to the eastern ones, but that now they are synonymous. It instructs:
Use ''Middle East'' unless ''Near East'' is used by a source in a story. ''Mideast'' is also acceptable, but ''Middle East'' is preferred.
The term ''Middle East'' has also been criticised as Eurocentric
("based on a British Western perception") by Hanafi (1998).
There are terms similar to ''Near East'' and ''Middle East'' in other European languages, but since it is a relative description, the meanings depend on the country and are different from the English terms generally. In German
the term ''Naher Osten
'' (Near East) is still in common use (nowadays the term ''Mittlerer Osten'' is more and more common in press texts translated from English sources, albeit having a distinct meaning) and in Russian Ближний Восток
or ''Blizhniy Vostok'', Bulgarian Близкия Изток
'' or Croatian
'' (meaning ''Near East'' in all the four Slavic languages) remains as the only appropriate term for the region. However, some languages do have "Middle East" equivalents, such as the French Moyen-Orient
, Swedish Mellanöstern
, Spanish Oriente Medio or Medio Oriente
, and the Italian Medio Oriente
[In Italian, the expression "Vicino Oriente" (Near East) was also widely used to refer to Turkey, and ''Estremo Oriente'' (Far East or Extreme East) to refer to all of Asia east of Middle East]
Perhaps because of the influence of the Western press, the Arabic equivalent of ''Middle East'' (Arabic: الشرق الأوسط ''ash-Sharq al-Awsaṭ'') has become standard usage in the mainstream Arabic press, comprising the same meaning as the term "Middle East" in North American and Western European usage. The designation, ''Mashriq
'', also from the Arabic root for ''East'', also denotes a variously defined region around the Levant
, the eastern part of the Arabic-speaking world (as opposed to the ''Maghreb
'', the western part). Even though the term originated in the West, apart from Arabic, other languages of countries of the Middle East also use a translation of it. The Persian
equivalent for Middle East is خاورمیانه (''Khāvar-e miyāneh''), the Hebrew is המזרח התיכון (''hamizrach hatikhon'') and the Turkish is Orta Doğu.
Territories and regions
Territories and regions usually considered within the Middle East
Traditionally included within the Middle East are Iran
(Persia), Asia Minor
, the Levant
, the Arabian Peninsula
, and Egypt
. In modern-day-country terms they are these:
:a. Jerusalem is the proclaimed capital of Israel, which is disputed and the actual location of the Knesset, Israeli Supreme Court, and other governmental institutions of Israel. Ramallah is the actual location of the government of Palestine, whereas the proclaimed capital of Palestine is East Jerusalem, which is disputed.
:b. Controlled by the Houthis due to the ongoing war. Seat of government moved to Aden.
Other definitions of the Middle East
Various concepts are often being paralleled to Middle East, most notably Near East, Fertile Crescent
and the Levant. Near East, Levant and Fertile Crescent are geographic concepts, which refer to large sections of the modern defined Middle East, with Near East being the closest to Middle East in its geographic meaning. Due to it primarily being Arabic speaking, the Maghreb
region of North Africa is sometimes included.
The countries of the South Caucasus
, and Georgia
—are occasionally included in definitions of the Middle East.
The Greater Middle East
was a political
term coined by the second Bush administration
in the first decade of the 21st century,
to denote various countries, pertaining to the Muslim world
, specifically Iran
. Various Central Asian
countries are sometimes also included.
The Middle East lies at the juncture of Eurasia
and of the Mediterranean Sea
and the Indian Ocean
. It is the birthplace and spiritual
center of religions such as Christianity
, and in Iran, Mithraism
, and the Baháʼí Faith
. Throughout its history the Middle East has been a major center of world affairs; a strategically, economically, politically, culturally, and religiously sensitive area. The region is one of the regions were agriculture was independently discovered, and from the Middle East it was spread, during the Neolithic, to different regions of the world such as Europe, the Indus Valley and Eastern Africa.
Prior to the formation of civilizations, advanced cultures formed all over the Middle East during the Stone age
. The search for agricultural lands by agriculturalists, and pastoral lands by herdsmen meant different migrations took place within the region and shaped its ethnic and demographic makeup.
The Middle East is widely and most famously known as the Cradle of civilization
. The world's earliest civilizations, Mesopotamia (Sumer
), ancient Egypt
in the Levant, all originated in the Fertile Crescent and Nile
Valley regions of the ancient Near East. These were followed by the Hittite
civilisations of Asia Minor
civilizations in Iran
, as well as the civilizations of the Levant
(such as Ebla
) and the Arabian Peninsula
). The Near East was first largely unified under the Neo Assyrian Empire
, then the Achaemenid Empire
followed later by the Macedonian Empire
and after this to some degree by the Iranian empires
(namely the Parthian
and Sassanid Empire
s), the Roman Empire
and Byzantine Empire
. The region served as the intellectual and economic center of the Roman Empire and played an exceptionally important role due to its periphery on the Sassanid Empire
. Thus, the Romans
stationed up to five or six of their legions in the region for the sole purpose of defending it from Sassanid and Bedouin raids and invasions.
From the 4th century CE onwards, the Middle East became the center of the two main powers at the time, the Byzantine empire
and the Sassanid Empire
. However, it would be the later Islamic Caliphates
of the Middle Ages
, or Islamic Golden Age
which began with the Islamic conquest of the region in the 7th century AD, that would first unify the entire Middle East as a distinct region and create the dominant Islamic Arab
ethnic identity that largely (but not exclusively) persists today. The 4 caliphates that dominated the Middle East for more than 600 years were the Rashidun Caliphate
, the Umayyad caliphate
, the Abbasid caliphate
and the Fatimid caliphate
. Additionally, the Mongols
would come to dominate the region, the Kingdom of Armenia
would incorporate parts of the region to their domain, the Seljuks
would rule the region and spread Turko-Persian culture, and the Franks
would found the Crusader states
that would stand for roughly two centuries. Josiah Russell estimates the population of what he calls "Islamic territory" as roughly 12.5 million in 1000 – Anatolia
8 million, Syria
2 million, and Egypt
From the 16th century onward, the Middle East came to be dominated, once again, by two main powers: the Ottoman Empire
and the Safavid dynasty
The modern Middle East began after World War I
, when the Ottoman Empire, which was allied with the Central Powers
, was defeated by the British Empire and their allies and partitioned
into a number of separate nations, initially under British and French Mandates. Other defining events in this transformation included the establishment of Israel in 1948 and the eventual departure of European powers, notably Britain
by the end of the 1960s. They were supplanted in some part by the rising influence of the United States from the 1970s onwards.
In the 20th century, the region's significant stocks of crude oil
gave it new strategic and economic importance. Mass production of oil began around 1945, with Saudi Arabia, Iran, Kuwait, Iraq, and the United Arab Emirates
having large quantities of oil. Estimated oil reserves
, especially in Saudi Arabia and Iran, are some of the highest in the world, and the international oil cartel OPEC
is dominated by Middle Eastern countries.
During the Cold War, the Middle East was a theater of ideological struggle between the two superpowers and their allies: NATO
and the United States on one side, and the Soviet Union
and Warsaw Pact
on the other, as they competed to influence regional allies. Besides the political reasons there was also the "ideological conflict" between the two systems. Moreover, as Louise Fawcett
argues, among many important areas of contention, or perhaps more accurately of anxiety, were, first, the desires of the superpowers to gain strategic advantage in the region, second, the fact that the region contained some two-thirds of the world's oil reserves in a context where oil was becoming increasingly vital to the economy of the Western world ..
Within this contextual framework, the United States sought to divert the Arab world from Soviet influence. Throughout the 20th and 21st centuries, the region has experienced both periods of relative peace and tolerance and periods of conflict particularly between Sunni
s and Shiite
constitute the largest ethnic group in the Middle East, followed by various Iranian peoples
and then by Turkic speaking groups
, and Iraqi Turkmen
). Native ethnic groups of the region include, in addition to Arabs, Arameans
, Greek Cypriots
, and Zazas
. European ethnic groups that form a diaspora in the region include Albanians
), Crimean Tatars
, and Iraqi Turkmens
. Among other migrant populations are Chinese
, and Afro-Arab
"Migration has always provided an important vent for labor market pressures in the Middle East. For the period between the 1970s and 1990s, the Arab states of the Persian Gulf in particular provided a rich source of employment for workers from Egypt, Yemen and the countries of the Levant, while Europe had attracted young workers from North African countries due both to proximity and the legacy of colonial ties between France and the majority of North African states."
According to the International Organization for Migration
, there are 13 million first-generation migrants from Arab nations
in the world, of which 5.8 reside in other Arab countries. Expatriates from Arab countries contribute to the circulation of financial and human capital in the region and thus significantly promote regional development. In 2009 Arab countries received a total of US$35.1 billion in remittance
in-flows and remittances sent to Jordan
from other Arab countries are 40 to 190 per cent higher than trade revenues between these and other Arab countries. In Somalia
, the Somali Civil War
has greatly increased the size of the Somali diaspora
, as many of the best educated Somalis left for Middle Eastern countries as well as Europe
and North America
Non-Arab Middle Eastern countries such as Turkey
are also subject to important migration dynamics.
A fair proportion of those migrating from Arab nations are from ethnic and religious minorities facing racial and or religious persecution and are not necessarily ethnic Arabs, Iranians or Turks. Large numbers of Kurds
as well as many Mandean
s have left nations such as Iraq, Iran, Syria and Turkey for these reasons during the last century. In Iran, many religious minorities such as Christians
have left since the Islamic Revolution of 1979
The Middle East is very diverse when it comes to religions
, many of which originated there. Islam
is the largest religion in the Middle East, but other faiths that originated there, such as Judaism
, are also well represented. Christians represent 40.5% of Lebanon, where the Lebanese president
, half of the cabinet, and half of the parliament follow one of the various Lebanese Christian rites. There are also important minority religions like the Baháʼí Faith
, and Shabakism
, and in ancient times the region was home to Mesopotamian religions
, Canaanite religions
and various monotheist gnostic
The five top languages, in terms of numbers of speakers, are Arabic
, and Hebrew
. Arabic and Hebrew represent the Afro-Asiatic language family
. Persian and Kurdish belong to the Indo-European
language family. Turkish belongs to Turkic
language family. About 20 minority languages are also spoken in the Middle East.
Arabic, with all its dialects, are the most widely spoken languages in the Middle East, with Literary Arabic
being official in all North African and in most West Asian countries. Arabic dialects are also spoken in some adjacent areas in neighbouring Middle Eastern non-Arab countries. It is a member of the Semitic branch
of the Afro-Asiatic languages. Several Modern South Arabian languages
such as Mehri
are also spoken Yemen and Oman. Another Semitic language such as Aramaic
and its dialects are spoken mainly by Assyrians
. There is also an Oasis Berber
-speaking community in Egypt where the language is also known as Siwa
. It is a non-Semitic Afro-Asiatic language.
is the second most spoken language. While it is primarily spoken in Iran
and some border areas in neighbouring countries, the country is one of the region's largest and most populous. It belongs to the Indo-Iranian branch
of the family of Indo-European languages
. Other Western Iranic languages spoken in the region include Achomi
, amongst many others.
The third-most widely spoken language, Turkish
, is largely confined to Turkey, which is also one of the region's largest and most populous countries, but it is present in areas in neighboring countries. It is a member of the Turkic languages
, which have their origins in Central Asia. Another Turkic language, Azerbaijani
, is spoken by Azerbaijanis in Iran.
is one of the two official languages of Israel
, the other being Arabic. Hebrew is spoken and used by over 80% of Israel's population, the other 20% using Arabic.
is one of the official languages of Akrotiri and Dhekelia. It is also commonly taught and used as a second language, especially among the middle
and upper class
es, in countries such as Egypt
, United Arab Emirates
. It is also a main language in some Emirates of the United Arab Emirates.
is taught and used in many government facilities and media in Lebanon
, and is taught in some primary and secondary schools of Egypt
, a Semitic language mainly spoken in Europe, is also used by the Franco-Maltese diaspora
speakers are also to be found in the region. Georgian
is spoken by the Georgian diaspora. Russian
is spoken by a large portion of the Israeli population, because of emigration in the late 1990s
. Russian today is a popular unofficial language in use in Israel
; news, radio and sign boards can be found in Russian around the country after Hebrew and Arabic. Circassian
is also spoken by the diaspora in the region and by almost all Circassians in Israel who speak Hebrew and English as well. The largest Romanian
-speaking community in the Middle East is found in Israel
, where Romanian is spoken by 5% of the population.
[According to the 1993 ''Statistical Abstract of Israel'' there were 250,000 Romanian speakers in Israel, at a population of 5,548,523 (census 1995).]
are widely spoken by migrant communities in many Middle Eastern countries, such as Saudi Arabia (where 20–25% of the population is South Asian), the United Arab Emirates (where 50–55% of the population is South Asian), and Qatar, which have large numbers of Pakistan
i and India
Middle Eastern economies range from being very poor (such as Gaza and Yemen) to extremely wealthy nations (such as Qatar and UAE). Overall, , according to the CIA World Factbook, all nations in the Middle East are maintaining a positive rate of growth.
According to the World Bank
's ''World Development Indicators'' database published on July 1, 2009, the three largest Middle Eastern economies in 2008 were Turkey ($794,228), Saudi Arabia ($467,601) and Iran ($385,143) in terms of Nominal GDP
[The World Bank: World Economic Indicators Database. ''GDP (Nominal) 2008.'']
Data for 2008. Last revised on July 1, 2009.
Regarding nominal GDP per capita, the highest ranking countries are Qatar ($93,204), the UAE ($55,028), Kuwait ($45,920) and Cyprus ($32,745). Turkey ($1,028,897), Iran ($839,438) and Saudi Arabia ($589,531) had the largest economies in terms of GDP-PPP
[The World Bank: World Economic Indicators Database. ''GDP (PPP) 2008.'']
Data for 2008. Last revised on July 1, 2009.
When it comes to per capita (PPP)-based income, the highest-ranking countries are Qatar ($86,008), Kuwait ($39,915), the UAE ($38,894), Bahrain ($34,662) and Cyprus ($29,853). The lowest-ranking country in the Middle East, in terms of per capita income (PPP), is the autonomous Palestinian Authority of Gaza and the West Bank ($1,100).
The economic structure of Middle Eastern nations are different in the sense that while some nations are heavily dependent on export of only oil and oil-related products (such as Saudi Arabia, the UAE and Kuwait), others have a highly diverse economic base (such as Cyprus, Israel, Turkey and Egypt). Industries of the Middle Eastern region include oil and oil-related products, agriculture, cotton, cattle, dairy, textiles, leather products, surgical instruments, defence equipment (guns, ammunition, tanks, submarines, fighter jets, UAVs, and missiles). Banking is also an important sector of the economies, especially in the case of UAE and Bahrain.
With the exception of Cyprus, Turkey, Egypt, Lebanon and Israel, tourism has been a relatively undeveloped area of the economy, in part because of the socially conservative nature of the region as well as political turmoil in certain regions of the Middle East. In recent years, however, countries such as the UAE, Bahrain, and Jordan have begun attracting greater numbers of tourists because of improving tourist facilities and the relaxing of tourism-related restrictive policies.
Unemployment is notably high in the Middle East and North Africa region, particularly among young people aged 15–29, a demographic representing 30% of the region's total population. The total regional unemployment rate in 2005, according to the International Labour Organization
, was 13.2%, and among youth is as high as 25%, up to 37% in Morocco
and 73% in Syria
File:Abu dhabi skylines 2014.jpg|Abu Dhabi – United Arab Emirates
File:View of Abdali.jpeg|Amman – Jordan
File:YDA-Center-03.jpg|Ankara – Turkey
File:فندق بغداد روتانا.jpg|Baghdad – Iraq
File:Beirut Corniche from University Tower.jpg|Beirut – Lebanon
File:Flickr - archer10 (Dennis) - Egypt-2A-007.jpg|Cairo – Egypt
File:Damascus from Qasiyon.JPG|Damascus – Syria
File:Doha skyline in the morning (12544910974).jpg|Doha – Qatar
File:Dubai skyline 2015 (crop).jpg|Dubai – United Arab Emirates
File:Levent, Istanbul at night.jpg|Istanbul – Turkey
File:Jerusalem Dome of the rock BW 14.JPG|Jerusalem – Israel
File:Kuwait City cropped.jpg|Kuwait City – Kuwait
File:Manama, Bahrain Decembre 2014.jpg|Manama – Bahrain
File:MAKKAH - panoramio.jpg|Mecca – Saudi Arabia
File:The gate to Muscat (8727196402).jpg|Muscat – Oman
File:Nicosia skyline July 2018.jpg|Nicosia – Cyprus
File:Ramallahskyline.jpg|Ramallah – Palestine
File:Sanaa HDR (16482367935).jpg|Sana'a – Yemen
File:North of Tehran Skyline view.jpg|Tehran – Iran
File:Panorama of Tel Aviv.jpg|Tel Aviv – Israel
* Etiquette in the Middle East
* Hilly Flanks
* ''Maayan'' (magazine)
* Mental health in the Middle East
* Middle Eastern cuisine
* Middle Eastern music
* Middle East Studies Association of North America
* Timeline of Middle Eastern history
* Cleveland, William L., and Martin Bunton. ''A History Of The Modern Middle East'' (6th ed. 2014th ed. online
* Cressey, George B. (1960). ''Crossroads: Land and Life in Southwest Asia''. Chicago, IL: J.B. Lippincott Co. xiv, 593 pp. ill. with maps and b&w photos.
* Fischbach, ed. Michael R. ''Biographical encyclopedia of the modern Middle East and North Africa'' (Gale Group, 2008).
* Freedman, Robert O. (1991). ''The Middle East from the Iran-Contra Affair to the Intifada'', in series, ''Contemporary Issues in the Middle East''. 1st ed. Syracuse, NY: Syracuse University Press. x, 441 pp. pbk.
* Halpern, Manfred. ''Politics of Social Change: In the Middle East and North Africa'' (Princeton University Press, 2015).
* Ismael, Jacqueline S., Tareq Y. Ismael, and Glenn Perry. ''Government and politics of the contemporary Middle East: Continuity and change'' (Routledge, 2015).
* Lynch, Marc, ed. ''The Arab Uprisings Explained: New Contentious Politics in the Middle East (Columbia University Press, 2014). p. 352.
* Reich, Bernard. ''Political leaders of the contemporary Middle East and North Africa: a biographical dictionary'' (Greenwood Publishing Group, 1990).
– Council on Foreign Relations
: "A Resource for Nonpartisan Research and Analysis"
"Middle East – Interactive Crisis Guide"
– Council on Foreign Relations
: "A Resource for Nonpartisan Research and Analysis"
Middle East DepartmentUniversity of Chicago
* Middle East Business Intelligence since 1957
': "The leading information source on business in the Middle East" – MEED.com
– advocacy for sustainability and environmental conservation in the Middle East
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