The Middle East (1940s- ) was a British military zone during the Second World War set up to defend the Suez Canal and the flow of oil through the Persian Gulf. It was the region “east” of Europe and in the “middle” between Europe and India. By 1943 it was more common than “Near East”, the older term for the region.
Despite its Eurocentrism, even people in the Middle East now use the term “Middle East”.
“Middle East” has no fixed meaning. According to these seven sources:
- AJE – Al Jazeera English, 2013
- BBC – BBC, 2013
- BRI – Encyclopaedia Britannica, 1989
- G8 – G8 nations, 2009
- NYT – New York Times style guide, 1999
- WIK – English-language Wikipedia, 2013
- WNW – Webster’s New World Dictionary, 2002
– here is how often different countries are seen as being part of the Middle East:
- 2 Afghanistan (G8, WNW)
- 2 Algeria (BBC, G8)
- 7 Bahrain (WIK, BBC, G8, AJE, NYT, WNW, BRI)
- 5 Cyprus (WIK, G8, NYT, WNW, BRI)
- 1 Djibouti (G8)
- 7 Egypt (WIK, BBC, G8, AJE, NYT, WNW, BRI)
- 7 Iran (WIK, BBC, G8, AJE, NYT, WNW, BRI)
- 7 Iraq (WIK, BBC, G8, AJE, NYT, WNW, BRI)
- 7 Israel (WIK, BBC, G8, AJE, NYT, WNW, BRI)
- 7 Jordan (WIK, BBC, G8, AJE, NYT, WNW, BRI)
- 7 Kuwait (WIK, BBC, G8, AJE, NYT, WNW, BRI)
- 7 Lebanon (WIK, BBC, G8, AJE, NYT, WNW, BRI)
- 6 Libya (BBC, G8, AJE, NYT, WNW, BRI)
- 2 Mauritania (BBC, G8)
- 2 Morocco (BBC, G8)
- 7 Oman (WIK, BBC, G8, AJE, NYT, WNW, BRI)
- 1 Pakistan (G8)
- 7 Qatar (WIK, BBC, G8, AJE, NYT, WNW, BRI)
- 7 Saudi Arabia (WIK, BBC, G8, AJE, NYT, WNW, BRI)
- 1 Somalia (G8)
- 4 Sudan (BBC, G8, NYT, BRI)
- 7 Syria (WIK, BBC, G8, AJE, NYT, WNW, BRI)
- 2 Tunisia (BBC, G8)
- 4 Turkey (WIK, G8, WNW, BRI)
- 7 United Arab Emirates (WIK, BBC, G8, AJE, NYT, WNW, BRI)
- 7 Yemen (WIK, BBC, G8, AJE, NYT, WNW, BRI)
- 7 Bahrain, Egypt, Iran, Iraq, Israel, Jordan, Kuwait, Lebanon, Oman, Qatar, Saudi Arabia, Syria, United Arab Emirates, Yemen
- 6 Libya
- 5 Cyprus
- 4 Sudan, Turkey
- 2 Afghanistan, Algeria, Mauritania, Morocco, Tunisia
- 1 Djibouti, Pakistan, Somalia
Everyone agrees on Arabic-speaking Asia, Egypt, Israel and Iran – generally the countries next to or between the Suez Canal and the Persian Gulf. There is less agreement on more distant countries.
The Oxford dictionary:
an extensive area of SW Asia and northern Africa, stretching from the Mediterranean to Pakistan and including the Arabian peninsula.
Which fits the G8 meaning.
Like “Nigeria” and “Iraq”, the Middle East was defined by British interests. There is nothing profoundly historical or cultural about it.
The two cultural regions that most closely match it are the Arab world:
and the Muslim world:
The older meaning: Early in the 1900s “Middle East” meant between the Near East and the Far East – the countries from Iran to Burma, particularly the Persian Gulf ones. Back then Iran was not seen as part of the Near East while the Balkans were – the “Near East” pretty much matched the old Ottoman Empire. In the 1920s and 1930s, with that empire gone, the Near East and Middle East started seeming like the same thing. Today there is no difference in meaning.
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