Map of the Middle East between Africa, Europe, Central Asia, and South Asia.
Middle East map of Köppen climate classification.
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 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 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.
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 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
1957 American film about the Middle East
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
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 RussianБлижний Восток
or Blizhniy Vostok
, BulgarianБлизкия Изток
, Polish Bliski Wschód
or CroatianBliski 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
, Spanish Oriente Medio or Medio Oriente
, and the Italian Medio Oriente
Perhaps because of the influence of the Western press, the Arabic equivalent of Middle East (Arabic: الشرق الأوسط
) 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
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.
See also: Neolithic § Western_Asia
, Ancient Near East
, History of the Middle East
, Uruk period
, Kish civilization
, Ancient Egypt
, History of the ancient Levant
, History of Anatolia
, History of Iran
, Middle Eastern Empires
, Pre-Islamic Arabia
, and List of modern conflicts in the Middle East
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 Empires
), 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 IslamicArab
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 Sunnis
Maunsell's map, a Pre-World War I British Ethnographical Map of the Middle East
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-Arabs
"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.
, 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.
Islam is the largest religion in the Middle East. Here, Muslim men are prostrating
during prayer in a mosque.
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 monotheistgnostic
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.
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.
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 as of 1995 Romanian is spoken by 5% of the population.[note 2]
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 Pakistani
This section needs to be updated. Please update this article to reflect recent events or newly available information. (December 2016)
pipelines in the Middle-East
Middle Eastern economies range from being very poor (such as Gaza and Yemen) to extremely wealthy nations (such as Qatar and UAE). 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), Saudi Arabia ($467,601) and Iran ($385,143) in terms of Nominal GDP
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
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
Middle East map of Köppen climate classification
Africa map of Köppen climate classification
Recognised by the United Nations
, The World Bank
and the World Health Organisation
as one of the greatest global challenges in the 21st century, climate change
is currently having an unprecedented effect upon the Earth's natural systems.
Sharp global temperature and sea level changes, shifting precipitation patterns and increased frequency of extreme weather
events are some of the main impacts of climate change as identified by the Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change
The MENA region is especially vulnerable to such impacts due to its arid and semi-arid environment, facing climatic challenges such as low rainfall, high temperatures and dry soil.
The climatic conditions that foster such challenges for MENA are projected by the IPCC
to worsen throughout the 21st century.
If greenhouse gas
emissions are not significantly reduced, part of the MENA region risks becoming uninhabitable before the year 2100.
Climate change is expected to put significant strain on already scarce water and agricultural resources within the MENA region, threatening the national security and political stability of all included countries.
This has prompted some MENA countries to engage with the issue of climate change on an international level through environmental accords such as the Paris Agreement
. Policy is also being established on a national level amongst MENA countries, with a focus on the development of renewable energies.
This video over the Sahara Desert
and the Middle East was taken by the crew of Expedition 29 on board the International Space Station.
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