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Middle East
Countries 18
Languages Arabic, Aramaic, Armenian, Azerbaijani, Balochi, Hebrew, Kurdish, Persian, Somali, Turkish
Time Zones UTC+2, UTC+3, 3:30, UTC+4, UTC+4:30
Largest Cities {{Istanbul |Cairo |Tehran |Baghdad |Riyadh}}

The Middle East is a region centered on Western Asia and Egypt. Arabs, Azeris, Kurds, Persians, and Turks constitute the largest ethnic groups in the region by population, while Armenians, Assyrians, Circassians, Copts, Druze, Jews, Maronites, Somalis, and other denominations form significant minorities.

The history of the Middle East dates back to ancient times, and the region has generally been a major center of world affairs. However, in the context of its ancient history, the term Near East was used in reference to the Eastern Mediterranean/Ottoman Empire regions, while the term Middle East was restricted to the area between the aforementioned Near— and Far east (Mesopotamia to India). Several major religions have their origins in the Middle East, including Judaism, Christianity, and Islam; the Baha'i faith, Mandaeism, Unitarian Druze, and numerous other belief systems were also established within the region. The Middle East generally has a hot, arid climate, with several major rivers providing irrigation to support agriculture in limited areas such as the Nile Delta in Egypt, the Tigris and Euphrates watersheds of Mesopotamia, and most of what is known as the Fertile Crescent. Most of the countries that border the Persian Gulf have vast reserves of crude oil, with the sovereign nations of the Arabian Peninsula in particular benefiting from petroleum exports. In modern times the Middle East remains a strategically, economically, politically, culturally and religiously sensitive region.

TerminologyEdit

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 Myanmar, 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.

Territories and regionsEdit

Traditional definition of the Middle EastEdit

In terms of modern-day countries, these are:

  • Bahrain
  • Egypt
  • Iran
  • Iraq
  • Israel
  • Jordan
  • Kuwait
  • Lebanon
  • Oman
  • Qatar
  • Saudi Arabia
  • Syria
  • Turkey
  • United Arab Emirates
  • Yemen

Other definitions of the Middle EastEdit

The countries of the South CaucasusArmenia, Azerbaijan, and Georgia—are occasionally included in definitions of the Middle East.

HistoryEdit

The Middle East lies at the juncture of Asia and Africa and of the Mediterranean Sea and the Indian Ocean. It is the birthplace and spiritual center of religions such as Christianity, Islam, Judaism, Manichaeism, Yezidi, Druze, Yarsan and Mandeanism, and in Iran, Mithraism, Zoroastrianism, Manicheanism, and the Bahá'í 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 world's earliest civilizations, Mesopotamia (Sumer, Akkad, Assyria and Babylonia) and ancient Egypt, originated in the Fertile Crescent and Nile Valley regions of the ancient Middle East. These were followed by the Hittite, and Urartian civilisations of Asia Minor, Elam in pre-Iranian Persia, as well as the civilizations of the Levant (such as Ebla, Ugarit, Canaan, Aramea, Phoenicia and Israel), Persian and Median civilizations in Iran, North Africa (Carthage/Phoenicia) and the Arabian Peninsula (Magan, Sheba, Ubar). The Middle East was first largely unified under the Neo Assyrian Empire, then the Achaemenid Empire followed later by the and after this to some degree by the Iranian empires (namely the Parthian and Sassanid Empires) and Byzantine Empire. However, it would be the later Arab Caliphates of the Middle Ages which began with the Arab 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 ethnic identity that largely (but not exclusively) persists today. The Mongols, the Turkish Seljuk and Ottoman Empires and the Safavids would also later dominate the region.

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. Other defining events in this transformation included the establishment of Israel in 1948. 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: the United States on one side, and the Soviet Union on the other, as they competed to influence regional allies. Of course, besides the political reasons there was also the "ideological conflict" between the two systems. 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 and Shiites.

ReligionsEdit

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 and Christianity, are also well represented. Christians represent 41% of Lebanon, where the President, Army General and Central Bank Governor are required to be Christian. There are also important minority religions like the Bahá'í Faith, Yazdânism, Zoroastrianism, Mandeanism, Druze, Yarsan, Yazidism and Shabakism.

LanguagesEdit

The five top languages, in terms of numbers of speakers, are Arabic, Persian, Turkish, Berber, and Kurdish. Arabic and Berber represent the Afro-Asiatic language family. Persian and Kurdish belong to the Indo-European language family. Turkish belongs to Turkic language family. About 20 minority languages are also spoken in the Middle East.

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.

Persian is the second most spoken language. While it is primarily spoken in Iran and some border areas in neighbouring countries, the country is one of the region's largest and most populous. It belongs to the Indo-Iranian branch of the family of Indo-European languages.

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.

Other languages spoken in the region include Semitic languages such as Hebrew and Aramaic dialects spoken mainly by Assyrians and Mandeans. Also to be found are Armenian, Azerbaijani, Somali, Berber which is spoken across North Africa, Circassian, smaller Iranian languages, Kurdish languages, smaller Turkic languages (such as Gagauz), Shabaki, Yazidi, Roma, Georgian and several Modern South Arabian languages such as Geez.

Hindustani (Urdu and Hindi) is 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 and Indian immigrants.

Amharic and other Ethiopian languages are spoken by Ethiopian minorities.

EconomyEdit

Middle Eastern economies range from being very poor (such as Gaza and Yemen) to extremely wealthy nations (such as Qatar and UAE). Overall, 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 ($794,228,000,000), Saudi Arabia ($467,601,000,000) and Iran ($385,143,000,000) in terms of Nominal GDP. In regards to nominal GDP per capita, the highest ranking countries are Qatar ($93,204), the UAE ($55,028) and Kuwait ($45,920). Turkey ($1,028,897,000,000), Iran ($839,438,000,000) and Saudi Arabia ($589,531,000,000) 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) and Bahrain ($34,662).

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 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 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 number of tourists because of improving tourist facilities and the relaxing of tourism-related restrictive policies.