Middle East

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

The Middle East is a geographical and cultural area 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 Africa.



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. Some people consider the Middle East to be the most important source of international terrorism.


The term Middle East defines a general area, so does not have precise borders. It is generally taken to include: Bahrain, Egypt, Iran, Turkey, Iraq, Israel, Jordan, Kuwait, Lebanon, Oman, Qatar, Saudi Arabia, Syria, the United Arab Emirates, Yemen and disputed 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). To the east, Afghanistan is sometimes linked to the Middle East.


Some have criticized the term Middle East for its perceived Eurocentrism: The region is only east when considered 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. (Far East referred to countries such as Malaysia and Singapore in East Asia.)

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. (It should be noted, however, that several other European languages, such as German, and several academic disciplines even in the English-speaking world, such as archaeology and ancient history, retain the use of Near East as a common designation, describing an area identical to that described by the more widely-used Middle 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 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 the non-Arab residents of the region; 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. It can encompass North Africa and Turkey in the west to Pakistan and Afghanistan in the east.


See: Geography of Southwest Asia and Geography of Asia

Regions of the Middle East

See Middle Eastern Regions for more information

See also Levant, 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

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