The Middle East (Arabic الشرق الأوسط, Hebrew המזרח התיכון), as a geographic entity, comprises 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. Also called southwestern Asia.

The Middle East includes the Asian section of Turkey, Cyprus, Syria, Lebanon, Iraq, Iran, Israel, Jordan, the Sinai Peninsula of Egypt, Saudi Arabia, Kuwait, Yemen, Oman, Bahrain, Qatar, the United Arab Emirates, the West Bank, Gaza Strip, and the Golan Heights.

"Middle East" is still not a completely settled term and in some documents this area can also be referred to as the Near East. In some references, "Near East" also includes northeastern Africa. Moreover, the list of countries discussed in the context of Middle East is occasionally extended due to strong cultural, economic and political relationships to include such countries as Egypt (the rest of it), Turkey (European part), Morocco, Sudan, Libya, Tunisia, Algeria, Afghanistan, Pakistan and even Greece.

The region is well known for its huge stock of crude oil and for being the birthplace and spritual centre of Judaism, Christianity and Islam.

The Middle East is a subregion of Africa-Eurasia.

See also Levant, History of Levant, Mesopotamia, Orientalism


One of the very earliest civilizations on Earth was founded in Mesopotamia around 2400 BC. The Sumerians, Babylonians, Assyrians and others built important states. Not long afterwards an even more advanced civilization developed in Egypt.

From about 500 BC onward, several empires dominated the region, beginning with the Persian Empire that ruled much of Mesopotamia, the Levant, and Persia itself, until it was defeated by Alexander the Great who swept through most of the Middle East. Later, the Roman Empire gained a large presence in the eastern areas of the Middle East, which would later become the Byzantine Empire. In the more eastern areas, the Persian Empire was ruled by the Parthians and later the Sassanids.

The rise of Islam beginning in the year 610 was one of the most important turning points in the history of the Middle East. The Arabs came to dominate almost the entire region, supplanting many of the original cultures. The great Umayyad and Abbasid Caliphates ruled almost all the Middle East.

After Arabian rule centred in Baghdad was ended by a combination if internal decline and external invasion by the Mongols in 1258. The Mongols did not last long in the region and by the 16th century the area was under control of the Ottoman Empire and the Safavid Empire in Persia. The empires lasted for many centuries.

The rise of the economies of western Europe began to transform the region in the 19th century and the region began to fall prey to European colonialism. Egypt was seized by the British in 1882. When the Ottoman Empire finally collapsed after the First World War the Middle East was divided between Britain and France. After the Second World War most of the Middle East was regranted independence.

Since that time the Middle East has fallen behind the rest of the world economically, and has also been plagued with an ongoing conflict between Arabs and Israel. In 1979 the Safavid Empire finally fell to an Islamic revolution in Iran


Transportation in the Middle East throughout history was cheaper than in most other areas of the world. While the region lacks rivers, the rivers that did exist, such as the Nile and the Tigris and Euphrates, linked large sections of the population. More importantly, however, was the camel. This hardy and efficient pack animal gave the Middle East a comparative advantage in trade for many centuries.

In part because of this, but mostly because of the impoverished nature of the regional governments railways came very late to the Middle East. In 1883 there were still no railways anywhere outside of Egypt. In those areas that were under European control, such as Egypt after 1882, there was no question of European construction and control of the railways. In areas still under the control of the Ottoman Empire Europeans were also selected to build railways. The area lacked skilled engineers and indigenous efforts were often plagued with technical problems. The most egregious example of this is the Mudanya to Bursa line that was built at too steep a grade for it to be usable by locomotives, and the whole project became a complete waste of resources. Perhaps even more important was a lack of investment capital in the empire, and money for the railway projects was thus raised on the financial markets in Paris, London, and Berlin.

The standard pattern of Middle Eastern railway building was to have the government grant a European company a monopoly over a certain route for a certain period of time. Often added to these concessions were financial guarantees promising that the government would make up a certain portion of any financial loses, if the railways succeeded in carrying a certain annual tonnage. The European companies would raise the large amounts of capital needed to fund the railways on the financial markets in the Western European capitals. There were of course many variations to this pattern. Some railways were built almost entirely by Middle Eastern capital. There is also the Hijaz line that was funded by Muslims from around the world. All these lines still relied upon European engineers, however. In Egypt, while the railways were constructed by European groups, they were managed by a central government organization, but Europeans played an important role there as well.

nds:Nohe Ossen