The Online Encyclopedia and Dictionary






Middle East

The Middle East is a region comprising the lands around the southern and eastern parts of the Mediterranean Sea, a territory that extends from the eastern Mediterranean Sea to the Persian Gulf. The Middle East is a subregion of Africa-Eurasia, or more specifically, Asia, and sometimes North Africa. Three main cultures of the Middle East are Persian, Arabic, and Turkish cultures. These cultural spheres have three genetically different languages and ethnicities i.e. Persian, Turkish, and Arabic.

Most definitions of Middle East in established dictionaries and common usage are 'nations in Southwest Asia from Iran to Egypt'. Hence, Egypt,with her Sinai Peninsula in Asia while mostly in North Africa, is commonly also considered as 'Middle East'. North African nations without Asian links like Libya, Tunisia and Morocco are increasingly being called North Africa instead, in contrast to Middle Eastern (Iran to Egypt - Asia) by international media.



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 is probably the modern world's most strategically, economically, politically and culturally sensitive area. It possesses huge stocks of crude oil, is the birthplace and spiritual centre of Judaism, Christianity and Islam, and is the location of the long-running Arab-Israeli conflict.


The term Middle East defines a cultural area, so does not have precise borders. It is generally taken to include: Bahrain, Egypt, Turkey, Iran, 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.

The countries of the Maghreb (Algeria, Libya, Morocco, and Tunisia) are frequently linked to the Middle East due to their strong historical and cultural associations, as is Sudan. The African countries Mauritania and Somalia also have links to the region. Turkey and Cyprus, although geographically inside or close to the Middle East, consider themselves to be part of Europe (although the 'Middle East Technical University' is located in Ankara, Turkey). Iran is usually taken to be the eastern border, although the middle east is occasionally stretched to Afghanistan and Pakistan.


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 sometimes Central Asia, Turkestan 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, while Middle East came to be applied to the re-emerging countries of the Arab 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).

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 , , and 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 does annoy some geographers, however, some of whom 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; and Middle East-North Africa (MENA), which is sometimes used to encompass the zone from Morocco to Iran. The diplomacy of the G-8 refers to a Greater Middle East which encompasses the Arab League including all of its African member states, as well as Turkey, Iran, Pakistan, Afghanistan and Israel. Terms that reference Asia receive criticism because they omit Egypt and other North African nations commonly regarded as part of the Middle East, and terms such as Arab world receive criticism because they exclude the non-Arab residents of the region.


See: Geography of Southwest Asia and Geography of Asia

Regions of the Middle East

See Middle Eastern Regions for more information

See also Mesopotamia, Orientalism, Cradle of Humanity

External links

  • Ancient Near East .net - provides a comprehensive portal to the archaeology and ancient cultures of the Near / Middle East

Last updated: 10-11-2005 10:17:24
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