The Middle East (or, formerly more common, the Near East) is a region that encompasses southwestern Asia and Egypt. In some contexts, the term has recently been expanded in usage to sometimes include Afghanistan and Pakistan, the Caucacus and Central Asia, and North Africa. It's often used as a synonym for Near East, in opposition to Far East. The corresponding adjective is Middle-Eastern and the derived noun is Middle-Easterner.
The history of the Middle East dates back to ancient times, and throughout its history, the Middle East has been a major centre of world affairs. When discussing ancient history, however, the term Near East is more commonly used. The Middle East is also the historical origin of three of the world’s major religions - Judaism, Christianity, and Islam. The Middle East generally has an arid and hot climate, with several major rivers providing for irrigation to support agriculture in limited areas. Many countries located around the Persian Gulf have large quantities of crude oil. In modern times the Middle East remains a strategically, economically, politically, culturally and religiously sensitive region.
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 Empires 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 the 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.
The Middle East, if I may adopt a term which I have not seen, will some day need its Malta, as well as its Gibraltar; it does not follow that either will be in the Persian Gulf. Naval force has the quality of mobility which carries with it the privilege of temporary absences; but it needs to find on every scene of operation established bases of refit, of supply, and in case of disaster, of security. The British Navy should have the facility to concentrate in force if occasion arise, about Aden, India, and the Persian Gulf.
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 the "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 to Burma, 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 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, Afghanistan, and Central Asia, Turkestan, and the Caucasus. In contrast, "Far East" referred to the countries of East Asia (e.g. China, Japan, Korea, Hong Kong, etc.). Some critics usually advise using an alternative term, such as "Western Asia", which is the official designation of the UN.
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).
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 and Iraq on the North and the Arabian peninsula to the south, plus the Sudan and Ethiopia." In 1958, the State Department explained that the terms "Near East" and "Middle East" were interchangeable, and defined the region as including only Egypt, Syria, Israel, Lebanon, Jordan, Iraq, Saudi Arabia, Kuwait, Bahrain, 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.
At the United Nations, the numerous documents and resolutions about the Middle East are in fact concerned with the Arab-Israeli conflict, in particular the Israeli-Palestinian conflict, and, therefore, with the four states of the Levant. The term Near East is occasionally heard at the UN when referring to this region.
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, Polish Bliski Wschód or Croatian Bliski istok (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..
Perhaps due to the influence of the Western press, the Arabic equivalent of “Middle East,” “الشرق الأوسط” (“ash-sharq-l-awsat”), has become standard usage in the mainstream Arabic press, comprehending 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).The Persian equivalent for Middle East is خاورمیانه (Khāvarmiyāneh).
|Country, with flag||Area
|Capital||GDP (Total)||Per capita||Currency||Government||Official languages|
|Turkey1||783,562||73,914,000||91||Ankara||$1.028 trillion (2008)||$13,920 (2008)||Turkish lira||Parliamentary democracy||Turkish|
|Bahrain||665||656,397||987||Manama||$26.970 billion (2008)||$34,605 (2008)||Bahraini Dinar||Constitutional monarchy||Arabic|
|Kuwait||17,820||3,100,000||119||Kuwait City||$137.190 billion (2008)||$39,849 (2008)||Kuwaiti dinar||Constitutional monarchy||Arabic|
|Oman||212,460||3,200,000||13||Muscat||$66.889 billion (2008)||$24,153 (2008)||Omani Rial||Absolute monarchy||Arabic|
|Qatar||11,437||793,341||69||Doha||$94.249 billion (2008)||$85,867 (2008)||Qatari Riyal||Constitutional monarchy||Arabic|
|Saudi Arabia||1,960,582||23,513,330||12||Riyadh||$593.385 billion (2008)||$23,834 (2008)||Riyal||Absolute monarchy||Arabic|
|United Arab Emirates||82,880||5,432,746||30||Abu Dhabi||$184.984 billion (2008)||$38,830 (2008)||UAE dirham||Federal Constitutional monarchy||Arabic|
|Yemen||527,970||18,701,257||35||Sanaá||$55.433 billion (2008)||$2,412 (2008)||Yemeni rial||Semi-presidential republic||Arabic|
|Gaza Strip||360||1,376,289||3,823||Gaza||$770 million (2008)||$2,900 (2008)||Israeli new sheqel||Autonomous republic Palestinian National Authority Hamas||Arabic|
|Iraq||437,072||31,001,816||70.93||Baghdad||$202.3 billion (2008)||$6,500 (2008)||Iraqi dinar||Parliamentary republic||Arabic, Kurdish|
|Israel||20,770||7,465,000||290||Jerusalem2||$200.630 billion (2008)||$28,206 (2008)||Israeli new sheqel||Parliamentary democracy||Hebrew, Arabic|
|Jordan||92,300||5,307,470||58||Amman||$32.112 billion (2008)||$5,314 (2008)||Jordanian dinar||Constitutional monarchy||Arabic|
|Lebanon||10,452||3,677,780||354||Beirut||$49.514 billion (2008)||$13,031 (2008)||Lebanese pound||Republic||Arabic|
|Syria||185,180||17,155,814||93||Damascus||$94.408 billion (2008)||$4,748 (2009)||Syrian pound||Presidential republic||Arabic|
|West Bank||5,8603||2,500,0005||4323,4||Ramallah||Israeli new sheqel||Autonomous republic Palestinian National Authority Fatah||Arabic|
|Iran||1,648,195||71,208,000||42||Tehran||$819.799 billion (2008)||$11,250 (2008)||Iranian rial||Islamic republic||Persian|
|Cyprus||9,250||792,604||90||Nicosia||$22.703 billion (2008)||$29,830 (2008)||Euro||Presidential republic||Greek, Turkish|
|Egypt||1,001,449||77,498,000||74||Cairo||$442.640 billion (2008)||$5,898 (2008)||Egyptian pound||Semi-presidential republic||Arabic|
1 The figures for Turkey includes Eastern Thrace, which is not a part of Anatolia.
2 Under Israeli law. The UN doesn't recognize Jerusalem as Israel's capital.
3 Includes the whole of the West Bank, according to the pre-1967 boundaries.
4 In addition, there are around 400,000 Israeli settlers in the West Bank, of which half are in East-Jerusalem.
|Country, with flag||Area
|Capital||GDP (Total)||Per capita||Currency||Government||Official languages|
|Armenia||29,800||2,968,586||111.7||Yerevan||$18.715 billion (2008)||$5,272 (2008)||Armenian dram||Semi-presidential republic||Armenian|
|Azerbaijan||86,600||8,621,000||97||Baku||$74.734 billion (2008)||$8,620 (2008)||Azerbaijani manat||Semi-presidential republic||Azerbaijani|
|Georgia||20,460||4,630,841||99.3||Tbilisi||$21.812 billion (2008)||$4,957 (2008)||Georgian lari||Semi-presidential republic||Georgian|
|Afghanistan1||647,500||31,889,923||46||Kabul||$21.340 billion (2008)||$758 (2008)||Afghani||Islamic republic||Persian, Pashto|
|Pakistan||880,940||169,300,000||206||Islamabad||$439.558 billion (2008)||$2,738 (2008)||Pakistani Rupee||Islamic republic||Urdu, English, Punjabi Pashto|
|Kazakhstan||2,724,900||15,217,711||5.4||Astana||$177.545 billion (2008)||$11,416 (2008)||Kazakhstani tenge||Semi-presidential republic||Kazakh, Russian|
|Uzbekistan||447,400||27,372,000||59||Tashkent||$71.501 billion (2008)||$2,629 (2008)||Uzbekistani som||Semi-presidential republic||Uzbek|
|Turkmenistan||488,100||5,110,023||9.9||Ashgabat||$30.091 billion (2008)||$5,710 (2008)||Turkmenistani manat||Presidential republic||Turkmen|
|Tajikistan||143,100||7,215,700||45||Dushanbe||$13.041 billion (2008)||$2,019 (2008)||Somoni||Semi-presidential republic||Tajik|
|Kyrgyzstan||199,900||5,356,869||26||Bishkek||$11.580 billion (2008)||$2,180 (2008)||Kyrgyzstani som||Semi-presidential republic||Kyrgyz, Russian|
|Algeria||2,381,740||33,333,216||14||Algiers||$233.098 billion (2008)||$6,698 (2008)||Algerian dinar||Semi-presidential republic||Arabic|
|Mauritania||446,550||33,757,175||70||Nouakchott||$6.221 billion (2008)||$2,052 (2008)||Ouguiya||Military junta||Arabic|
|Western Sahara||163,610||10,102,000||62||El Aaiun||Moroccan dirham||Arabic|
|Libya||1,759,540||6,036,914||3||Tripoli||$90.251 billion (2008)||$14,533 (2008)||Libyan dinar||Jamahiriya||Arabic|
|Morocco||446,550||33,757,175||70||Rabat||$136.728 billion (2008)||$4,349 (2008)||Moroccan dirham||Constitutional monarchy||Arabic|
|Tunisia||163,610||10,102,000||62||Tunis||$82.226 billion (2008)||$7,962 (2008)||Tunisian dinar||Semi-presidential republic||Arabic|
|Djibouti||23,200||496,374||34||Djibouti||$1.877 billion (2008)||$2,392 (2008)||Djiboutian franc||Parliamentary republic||Arabic, French, Somali, Afar|
|Eritrea||117,600||4,401,009||37||Asmara||$3.739 billion (2008)||$747 (2008)||Nakfa||Provisional government||Tigrinya, Arabic|
|Somalia||637,661||9,588,666||13||Mogadishu||$5.524 billion (2008)||$600 (2008)||Somali shilling||Semi-presidential republic||Somali, Arabic|
|Sudan||2,505,813||39,379,358||14||Khartoum||$87.885 billion (2008)||$2,305 (2008)||Sudanese pound||Presidential republic||Arabic|
The Middle East lies at the juncture of Eurasia and Africa and of the Mediterranean Sea and the Indian Ocean. It is the birthplace and spiritual center of the Christianity, Islam, Judaism, Yezidi, and in Iran, Mithraism, Zoroastrianism, Manichaeism and the Bahá'í 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 earliest civilizations, Mesopotamia and ancient Egypt, originated in the Fertile Crescent and Nile Valley regions of the ancient Near East, as well as the civilizations of the Levant, Persia, and Arabian Peninsula. The Near East was first unified under the Achaemenid Empire followed later by the Macedonian Empire and later Iranian empires, namely the Parthian and Sassanid Empires. However, it would be the Arab Caliphates of the Middle Ages, or Islamic Golden Age, that would first unify the entire Middle East as a distinct region and create the dominant ethnic identity that persists today. The Turkic Seljuk, Ottoman and Safavid empires would also later dominate the region.
The modern Middle East began after World War I, when the Ottoman Empire, which was allied with the defeated Central Powers, was partitioned into a number of separate nations. Other defining events in this transformation included the establishment of Israel in 1948 and the departure of European powers, notably Britain and France. They were supplanted in some part by the rising influence of the United States.
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: the United States and the Soviet Union, as they competed to influence regional allies. Of course, 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 into the 21st century, the region has experienced both periods of relative peace and tolerance and periods of conflict and war. Current issues include the US Occupation of Iraq and the Israeli-Palestinian conflict.
The Middle East is very diverse when it comes to religions, most of which originated there. Islam in its many forms is by far the largest religion in the Middle East, but other faiths, such as Judaism and Christianity, are also important. There are also important minority religions like Bahá'í, Yazdânism, Zoroastrianism.
The three top languages, in terms of numbers of speakers, are Arabic, Persian and Turkish, representing Afro-Asiatic, Indo-European, and Turkic language families respectively. Various other languages are also spoken in the Middle East, and they too span many different language families.
Arabic is the most widely spoken language in the Middle East, being official in all the Arab countries. It is 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.
The second-most widely spoken language is Persian. While it is confined to Iran and some border areas in neghbouring countries, the country is one of the region's largest and most populous. It is an Aryan language of the Indo-Aryan branch of the family of Indo-European languages. It is much influenced by Arabic (through Islam) and Aramaic (the pre-Arabic lingua franca of the Middle East).
The third-most widely spoken language, Turkish, is confined to Turkey, which is also one of the region's largest and most populous countries. It is present in areas in neighboring countries. It is a member or the Turkic languages, which have their origins in Central Asia.
Other languages spoken in the region include Syriac (a form of Aramaic), Armenian, Azerbaijani, Berber, Circassian, smaller Iranian languages, Hebrew, Kurdish, smaller Turkic languages, Greek, and several Modern South Arabian languages.
English is commonly spoken as a second language, especially among the middle and upper classes, in countries such as Egypt, Jordan, Israel, Iran, Iraq, Qatar, Bahrain, United Arab Emirates and Kuwait.. It is also a main language in some of the Emirates of the United Arab Emirates. French is spoken in Algeria, Egypt, Israel, Lebanon, Morocco, Syria, and Tunisia. Urdu is spoken in many Middle Eastern countries, such as Arab states the United Arab Emirates, Israel, and Qatar, which have large numbers of Pakistani and some Indian. immigrants. The largest Romanian-speaking community in the Middle East is found in Israel, where as of 1995 Romanian is spoken by 5% of the population. Romanian is spoken mostly as a secondary language by people from Arab-speaking countries that made their studies in Romania. It is estimated that almost half a million Middle Eastern Arabs studied in Romania during the 1980s. Russian is also spoken by a large portion of the Israeli population, due to emigration in the late 1990s.
Middle Eastern economies range from being very poor (such as Gaza and Yemen) to extremely wealthy nations (such as Qatar, UAE and Saudi Arabia). Overall, as of 2007, 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 ($ 794,228,000,000), Saudi Arabia ($ 467,601,000,000) and Iran ($ 385,143,000,000) in terms of Nominal GDP. In regards to nominal GDP per capita, the highest ranking countries are Qatar ($93,204), the UAE ($55,028), Kuwait ($45,920) and Cyprus ($32,745). Turkey ($ 1,028,897,000,000), Iran ($ 839,438,000,000) and Saudi Arabia ($ 589,531,000,000) had the largest economies in terms of GDP-PPP. 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, due in part to 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 number of tourists due to 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 Labor Organization, was 13.2%, and among youth is as high as 25%, up to 37% in Morocco and 73% in Syria.
The Middle East is a world region in Western Asia and North-eastern Africa. The term was created by British military strategists in the 19th century, and definitions of the Middle East vary; it is not simply a geographical term, but also a political one, connoting that it separates Europe ("the West") from the Far East, and the traditional trade route of choice between these two extremes.
As one of the wellsprings of human civilisation in the ancient and medieval worlds, the birthplace of several world religions (Judaism, Christianity, Islam and Bahai) and an area of much modern economic and political importance, the Middle East remains a popular destination for travellers.
Ethnically, the region is extremely mixed. Arabs, Jews, Persians and Turks are the largest groups, but there are several substantial minorities — Kurds, Armenians and others — with their own languages, customs and sometimes their own countries. Every invading army — from Alexander and the Romans through Genghis Khan to the 19th century colonial powers — has left descendants behind. There are also substantial numbers of workers from other countries coming to the region for higher pay — mainly Afghan, Pakistani for jobs like construction labourer, with Egyptians, Philipinos, more Pakistanis, and some westerners in the more skilled jobs.
Almost every country in the Middle East has a Muslim majority (with the notable exception of Israel which has a Jewish majority), with Iran, Iraq and Bahrain mainly Shia, other areas mainly Sunni, and both with minorities of the other — and the legal systems in most of these countries are influenced by Islamic Law; a few are entirely based on it.
North Africa is similar to the Middle East in many ways — language, religion, culture and some ethnic groups. Some writers include Egypt, or even Sudan and Libya, in their use of the term "Middle East".
On the other side, Central Asia also has much in common with the Middle East. Ethnic groups and languages are different, but the religion, much of the food, clothing, and architecture are similar. Iran could be counted as part of either region; at one point most of Central Asia was part of the Persian Empire.
The border between southeastern Europe and the Middle East is also unclear. Many writers include Turkey in their usage of "Middle East" and we include it above, but Turkey is also very much a European country. Large parts of Turkey and all of Lebanon and Israel are also clearly Mediterranean regions. On the other hand, several countries usually considered European — Greece, Cyprus and to some extent the Balkans — also have Middle Eastern aspects to their culture.
|United Arab Emirates
Turkey and to a lesser extent Azerbaijan are also often considered (at least in part) part of the Middle East, as a sort of border region between Europe and Asia. Egypt is as well, but this is more tenuous, as even Sinai is geologically and politically part of Africa. Even the inclusion of Iran is to a degree controversial—it is often considered to be a Central Asian nation.
The largest hub for flights in the region is Dubai, from where you can reach virtually any point in the Middle East. After Dubai, Doha, Abu Dhabi , Tehran and Istanbul are the ones with good intercontinental connections. Tel Aviv is served by flights from most Western countries, though due to the political situation, it is not possible to fly from there to anywhere in the Middle East besides Turkey, Egypt and Jordan. However, there are direct flights from large European hubs to most major cities in the region.
Arabic is the primary language of the region, and the main language in all Middle Eastern countries except Iran (where Persian predominates), Turkey (Turkish) and Israel (Hebrew). Even in those countries, Arabic is fairly common as a second language; in Israel, Arabic is a second official language. Yiddish, Kurdish, Azeri, Armenian and several other languages are also spoken in some regions.
English is moderately common in tourist areas and generally rare elsewhere. In Turkey, some German is spoken because many Turks work in Germany.
Cookery provides obvious evidence of the extent of Middle Eastern influence. Turkish doner kebab, Greek gyros and the shawarma of the Arab countries (everywhere from Oman to Morocco) are all basically the same dish. A traveller going overland from Europe to India will find very similar dishes — notably flat breads and kebabs — in every country from Greece to India. These are also seen in Central Asia and even China. Many Greek dishes are closer to Iranian cooking than to Italian.
Planning a visit to the Middle East can be complicated in various ways: