The Middle East (or, formerly more common, the Near East) is a region that spans southwestern Asia, southeastern Europe, and northeastern Africa. It has no clear boundaries, often used as a synonym to Near East, in opposition to Far East. The term "Middle East" was popularized around 1900 in the United Kingdom. The corresponding adjective to Middle East 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. 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.
- 1 Etymology
- 2 Territories and regions
- 3 History
- 4 Demographics
- 5 Economy
- 6 See also
- 7 Notes
- 8 References
- 9 External links
The term "Middle East" may have originated in the 1850s in the British India Office, and became more widely known when American naval strategist Alfred Thayer Mahan used the term. 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 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.
Criticism and usage
Many have criticized the term Middle East for what they see as Eurocentrism, because it was originally used by Europeans (although Mahan was American) and reflects the geographical position of the region from a European perspective. Today, the term is used by Europeans and non-Europeans alike, unlike the similar term Mashreq, used exclusively in Arabic-language contexts.
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." The official UN designation of the area is "Western 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 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 RussianБлижний Восток or "Blizhniy Vostok", BulgarianБлизкия Изток, PolishBliski 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 FrenchMoyen-Orient, SpanishOriente Medio or Medio Oriente, and the ItalianMedio 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 Persian equivalent for Middle East is خاورمیانه (Khāvarmiyāneh).