Middle East

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The traditional Middle East and the G8's Greater Middle East.
The traditional Middle East and the G8's Greater Middle East.

The Middle East (also called Southwestern Asia) is a region comprising the lands that extend from the eastern Mediterranean Sea to the Persian Gulf. The Middle East is a subregion of Africa-Eurasia, or more specifically, Asia, although it sometimes includes North Africa in the west and Afghanistan in the east.

The area encompasses several cultural and ethnic groups, including the Iranians, Arabs, Greeks, Israelis, Berbers, Assyrians, Kurds and Turks. The main language groups include: the Persian language, Arabic, Hebrew, Assyrian, Kurdish and Turkish. People from the Middle East are generally known by those in "the West" as being "Middle Eastern".

Most Western definitions of the "Middle East" -- in both established reference books and common usage -- define the region as 'nations in Southwest Asia, from Iran (Persia) to Egypt'. Consequently, Egypt, with its Sinai Peninsula in Asia, is usually considered part of the 'Middle East', although most of the country lies geographically in North Africa. North African nations without Asian links, such as Libya, Tunisia and Morocco, are increasingly being called North African -- as opposed to Middle Eastern (Iran to Egypt - Asia) -- by international media outlets.



A map showing countries commonly considered to be part of the Middle East
A map showing countries commonly considered to be part of the Middle East

Main article: History of the Middle East

Starting in the middle of the 20th century, the Middle East has been at the centre of world affairs, and has been an extremely strategically, economically, politically, and culturally sensitive area. It possesses huge stocks of crude oil and is the birthplace and spiritual centre of Judaism, Christianity, and Islam.


The term Middle East defines a cultural area, so it does not have precise borders. The most common and highly arbitrary definition includes: Bahrain, Cyprus, Egypt, Turkey, Iran (Persia), Iraq, Israel, Jordan, Kuwait, Lebanon, Oman, Qatar, Saudi Arabia, Syria, the United Arab Emirates, Yemen, and the Palestinian Territories of the West Bank and the Gaza Strip.

Iran is often the eastern border, but Afghanistan and western Pakistan are often included due to their close relationship (ethnically and religiously) to the larger group of Iranian peoples as well as historical connections to the Middle East including being part of the various empires that have spanned the region such as those of the Persians and Arabs among others. Afghanistan, Tajikistan, and western Pakistan (Baluchistan and North West Frontier Province) share close cultural, linguistic, and historical ties with Iran and are also part of the Iranian plateau, whereas Iran's relationship with Arab states is based more upon religion and geographic proximity. Also the Kurds, another Iranian people, are the largest ethnic group in the Middle East without their own state.

North Africa or the Maghrib, although often placed outside the Middle East proper, is in fact culturally and linguistically linked to the region and historically has shared many of the events that have shaped the Middle East including those prompted by Phoenician-colonized Carthage and Greco-Roman civilization as well as Muslim Arab-Berber and Ottoman empires. The Maghrib is often excluded from the Middle East by mass media outlets seeking simplification for its viewers, while most academics continue to identify North Africa as a part of the larger Middle East due to language, culture, history, and genetics.


Some have criticized the term Middle East for its perceived Eurocentrism. The region is only east from the perspective of western Europe. To an Indian, it lies to the west; to a Russian, it lies to the south. 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 Persia, Afghanistan and Central Asia, Turkistan and the Caucasus. In contrast, Far East refers to the countries of East Asia e.g. China, Japan, Koreas, Hong Kong, Taiwan etc.

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 of 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). So in shorter words, the term Middle East came about when the UK/French part of the world used the term. In German the Term Naher Osten (Near East) is still in common use.

The criticism of Eurocentrism is of course related to the fact that 'East' and 'West' are defined in relation to the lines of Longitude relative to the Prime Meridian or Greenwich Meridian and therefore inherently Eurocentric. This was a result of the British cartography standard being widely accepted in 1884 at the International Meridian Conference.

Indirect translations

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. See fr:Proche-Orient, fr:Moyen-Orient, and de:Naher Osten for examples.

Similar terms

In some ways the ambiguity of Middle East is an advantage, since it can be used in changing cultural and political circumstances. The ambiguity of the term annoys some geographers, however, who have tried to popularise Southwest Asia as an alternative, although with little success. Other alternatives include: West Asia, which has become the preferred term of use in India, both by the government and by the media; Arab world, which is used in some contexts, but excludes peoples such as Israelis, Iranians, Assyrians and Kurds who are not Arabs; and Middle East-North Africa (MENA), which is sometimes used to encompass the zone from Morocco to Iran. A similar term the so-called Greater Middle East is sometimes used, although it is so vague that it is not always useful, but corresponds to a common history of empires and civilizations including that of the Mediterreanean Greco-Romans and Persians as well as the vast Arab Caliphates and the regions where early Muslim Turks established their rule. It can encompass North Africa and Turkey in the west to Pakistan and Afghanistan in the east.

Middle Easterner

Strictly speaking, A Middle Easterner is someone who lives in, or is from the area around the eastern Mediterranean, from Turkey to northern Africa and eastward to Pakistan. The site of such ancient civilizations as Phoenicia and Persian and Babylon and Egypt is the birthplace of Judaism, Christianity, Zoroastrianism and Islam. Individuals residing in this area have often faced consternation in the West due to several high profile terrorist attacks attributed to Middle Easterners.


Main article: Geography of Asia

Regions of the Middle East

Main article: Middle Eastern Regions

See also

External links

Countries and territories in the Middle East
Bahrain | Cyprus | Egypt | Iran | Iraq | Israel | Jordan | Kuwait | Lebanon | Oman | Qatar | Saudi Arabia | Syria | Turkey | United Arab Emirates | Yemen

Regions of the World
Africa: Central Africa | East Africa | Great Lakes | Guinea | Horn of Africa | North Africa | Maghreb / Northwest Africa | Sahel | Southern Africa | Sub-Saharan Africa | Sudan | West Africa
Americas: Andean states | Caribbean | Central America | Great Lakes | Great Plains | Guianas | Latin America | North America | Patagonia | South America | Southern Cone
Asia: Central Asia | East Asia | East Indies | Far East | Indian subcontinent | North Asia | Southeast Asia | Southwest Asia (Middle East / Near East, Levant, Anatolia, Arabia)
Europe: Balkans | Baltic region | Benelux | British Isles | Central Europe | Eastern Europe | Northern Europe | Scandinavia | Southern Europe | Western Europe
Eurasia: Caucasus | Mediterranean | Post-Soviet states
Oceania: Australasia | Melanesia | Micronesia | Polynesia | Aleutian Islands | Pacific Rim
Polar: Arctic | Antarctic
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