Middle East is a term that has been used to refer to a region that covers South Western Asia although currently it includes some countries like Pakistan, North Africa and Caucasus (Brown, 2004). It is important to note that the term is also used to mean Near East and to exclude the region known as Far East.
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It is a major center for various affairs in the whole world contributing greatly to its popularity. For instance, it is the center for some of the major religions in the world like Islam, Judaism, Baha’i faith and Christianity. Farming is a major economic activity and although some parts are arid, there are some rivers that are used for irrigation and thus why agriculture is practiced even in such areas.
In addition, some regions especially in the Gulf area are rich sources of crude oil and contribute greatly to the economy seeing that oil is an important source of energy in the whole world. There is much about Middle East in relation to political, economic, geographical and cultural perspective. Bent on that, this essay shall focus more on its history as well as the relevance of the term Middle East.
According to Davis (2003), Middle East originated from British office in India, in the mid 19th century. Further studies indicate that the popularity of the term increased in the 20th century. It was used to refer to the area between India and Arabia by Alfred Thayer, a naval strategist from America. Further studies illustrate that he used the term for the first time at the beginning of the 20th century in an article he authored known as Persian Gulf and the International Relations.
The article set pace for other articles which were published latter mainly focusing on the definition of the same concept. Before the Second World War, the term Middle East was used to refer of the region between the Far East and the Near East. Nonetheless, history records that after Middle East Institute was Established during the mid 20th century in Washington DC, the term became popular not only in Europe, but also in the United States.
Although currently the term Middle East has become increasingly popular, there is much criticism that has resulted from the usage of the term. For instance, the fact that the term is of European origin and is used not only by Europeans but also by non Europeans both in academic and media sector raises much criticism.
In addition, the description of Middle East is also as mater of concern especially due to the fact that the definition has been prone to so much change. For example, before the First World War, Middle East was used to refer to the region of Central Asia, Iran and Afghanistan while the Near East used to refer to Ottoman Empire and Balkans and lastly, Far East included all countries which were found in East Asia.
As a result, some advocate that instead of Middle East, it would be far much better to refer to the region as Western Asia as it is referred to by the United Nations. Moreover, different countries refer to Middle East differently. United States unlike Europe includes countries such as Saudi Arabia, Kuwait Jordan, Egypt, Israel Jordan, Iraq, Qatar and Bahrain (Brown, 2004).
It has been difficult to translate Middle East or Near East in other languages apart from European languages due to the fact that the term is a descriptive term. Therefore, terms used to refer to the region in other countries are different although there are similar terms that can be used in English. The term used to refer to the region is highly dependent on the particular country since all the countries have got different languages and different translations.
Having discussed the background information concerning Middle East, it is important at this point to discuss some of the historical events related to the same concept. Apart from being a center for major faiths in the whole world, Middle East is a center for major civilizations that have taken place as highlighted earlier in this essay.
The first civilization occurred in Mesopotamia, Egypt and along the Nile valley regions. Other civilizations that closely followed include the civilizations of Arabian Peninsula, Levant and Persia. In addition, many empires developed latter which are inclusive but not limited to Romans Empire, Egyptians Empire, Assyrians Empire, Greeks and the Persians Empire.
Although as indicated earlier there are many forms of civilization, the Roman Empires is the most notable because it incorporated Eastern Mediterranean and also united parts of Europe and North Africa into one political and economic unit. It was an Empire which was powerful for centuries and went to an extent of influencing other areas that are near the region. The empire was characterized by the Greek culture and language which was first introduced by the Macedonian Empire in spite of the fact that Latin culture was also present.
The main economic activity in the region was agriculture which made the empire very powerful and it also led to development of major cities and urban centers. Roman Empire particularly became the center for the Christian faith since history clearly illustrates that from the fifth century, Christianity was the dominant religion in the region. However, although the empire split, it was characterized by much prosperity and stability for a long duration of time (Davis, 2003).
Islam in Middle East began to take over in the seventh century especially after the Roman and the Persian Empire became weak due to the effects of the Roman and Persian Wars. Arab armies contributed greatly to the victory of Muslims especially due to the fact that the army commanders were skilled and as much as the Roman Empire was powerful, it was not possible to put in enough resistance to prevent the conquest of the Muslims.
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Consequently, the Islam Empire was the first to gain control over Middle East and more than half of the Mediterranean Sea region save the Roman Empire. The civilization is very significant in the history of the Middle East because it unified the region in to a distinctive region with a peculiar ethnic identity that is present even to date (Davis, 2003).
The region was separated into various regions which included Israel in the mid 20th century. Some of the European powers like Britain and France also left and the same contributed greatly to the establishment of the modern Middle East. Oil production by countries like United Arab Emirates, Kuwait, Iraq, Iran and Saudi Arabia became the defining factor economically due to mass production of oil not to mention that some countries like Saudi Arabia became very important producers of oil in the whole world.
As a result, the region became the main cause of conflict between Soviet Union and the United States during the cold war. There may have been other causes of conflicts between the two superpowers but the fact that the region produced large quantities of oil contributed greatly to same since gaining control was accompanied by economic benefits.
Middle East has been characterized by periods of peace as well as by periods of wars and conflict (Chaurasia, 2005). For instance, there is a major conflict between Israel and Palestine. In addition, the current occupation of Iraq by United States needs no further explanation.
Apart from conflicts, Middle East has also been characterized by lack of development. During 1990s, it was only a few counties in the region which include Palestine, Turkey and Lebanon that were democratic while a lot of regions in the whole world were characterized by democracy and development of market economies. In addition, although many states in the region had legislative bodies, it was not possible for most people in the population to vote due to lack of citizenship.
Factors like increased dependence on oil, corruption, spending too much money on arms as well as political restrictions were the major contributory factors that hindered the development of market economies. Depending too much on revenues from oil was also a major hindrance as well as high population since countries which had low populations like United Arab Emirates did not share the same problem. Such states were even politically and socially liberalized and that is why they were more developed (Chaurasia, 2005).
There is no much difference between the 20th and the 21st century since major conflicts of the 20th century are also present like the conflict between Israel and Palestine. The region has also been linked with world terrorism especially towards United States and its allies. Although United States believed that some countries in the region like Afghanistan were involved in production of weapons of mass destruction, oil may have been a major contributory factor to the conflict other than the manufacturing of alms.
More conflicts are present in majority of the Middle East countries contributing greatly to poverty and other social problems that are closely associated with wars and conflicts. There is much about the history of Middle East bearing in mind that it is a large region with different countries. Therefore, very explicit details may be beyond the scope of this paper although the main historical issues and events have been covered (Shah, 2009).
There are many ethnic groups that are found in the region of Middle East like Jews, Arabs, Greeks, Armenians, Turks, and d Assyrians, to state just a few. Islam is the major religion in the region although there are other forms of religion like Christianity, Judaism, Zoroastrianism as well as Baha’i. Three major languages that are spoken in the region include Turkish, Arabic and Persian and they make three groups of language families.
Majority of people in the Middle East speak in Arabic which happens to be an official language in Arab countries. Persian language is second after Arabic and is spoken mainly in Iran which is among the highest populated countries in the region. The Persian language which hails from the family of Indo European languages is largely influenced by Arabic due to Islam religion and is also spoken by some boarder countries apart from Iran. Turkish language is number three in the category of the most spoken languages.
It is spoken mostly in Turkey which happens to have the highest population in the whole region. The language which originated from Asia belongs to the Turkish languages group category. However, it is important to point out that there are some minor languages that are spoken by some of the groups in the population which include Hebrew, smaller Iranian languages, Greek and Kurdish to mention just a few.
In some countries like Iran, Egypt and Israel, English is also spoken though mostly as a second language and mostly by the higher socio economic groups in the society. French is also spoken as a second language in countries like Lebanon and Tunisia as well as Morocco. Lastly, Roman is spoken by a quite a large portion of population in the Middle East especially in Israel (Davis, 2003).
Although statistics illustrate that the economies of all countries in Middle East are maintaining a steady growth rate, some countries in the region are poor while others are extremely rich. Iran, Turkey and Saudi Arabia have the largest economies in the whole of Middle East.
Some countries like Saudi Arabia and Kuwait are highly dependent on oil and oil products while others like Israel and Egypt as well as Turkey have a diversified economy. Apart from oil and oil products, there are other industries in the agricultural sector and others are involved in manufacturing war equipments like missiles, fighter jets, sub marines and tanks. In some countries like Bahrain, banking is an important component of economy though there are still other economic activities.
Some industries like the tourism are not well developed in the region especially due to the conflicts that have been persistent in most countries expect for some few countries like Israel, Lebanon and Turkey. Nevertheless, some countries are committed to improving tourist attraction facilities and as a result, the industry is beginning to peak in such areas. As in other places in the world, unemployment is major problem in the region and mainly affects young people contributing greatly to poverty (Issawi, 1995).
At this point, it is important to discuss the development of the concept Middle East since it was first invented by the US Naval Strategist as highlighted earlier. To begin with, the term was used to define the region between Arabia and India or the Persian Gulf.
Initially, there were no boundaries to designate the area labeled as Middle East as the term was only used to illustrate the importance of the region. The term was used for the security purposes of the region but after the First World Wa, the importance changed from security to include the resources that were found in the region like oil.
This happened after Palestine, Iraq, Lebanon, Syria and Tran Jordan were conquered by the France and included in the region. The entire Asia and some regions of North Africa were referred to as Middle East by the Great Britain during the mid 20th century. Since United States was also interested in the region, it started using the definition of the Great Britain. At this point, the person who formed the region was not an important factor but the main concern was the rich resources of oil.
Therefore, Middle East was significant to other people other than the dwellers of the region. The main reason why Britain and United States were concerned with the security of the region was basically for the sole purpose of preventing any external power from gaining access in to the region since that would have threatened their economic interests (UNU/CRIS and Allied Consultants , 2002).
In the 19th century, people who lived in the Middle East started to scrutinize the concept of the same. Arab regional order was used to replace the term Middle East since Arab nationalists argued that the term was supposed to include all the Arab speaking countries.
Nevertheless, although the concept was advantageous since the interests of the people were put in to consideration, it was disadvantageous because some of the non Arabic countries like Israel which had contributed so much to the welfare of the region were excluded from the region.
On the same note, it is important to mention as highlighted earlier that Mediterranean concept has also been proposed instead of the Middle East concept. However, although Mediterranean concept is becoming increasingly popular, it is mostly used to refer to the cooperation that exists between the Arab states and the European countries which ranges from multilateral to bilateral agreements and the major issues of concern are security, Arab and Israel peace progress, energy and stability of the region.
Unlike the Middle East concept, Mediterranean concept is not contested and does not cause any hostility in the Arab countries. However, the concept is not supported by the majority (Shah, 2009).
In conclusion, Middle East can be described as a historical and a geographical region although there is no clear definition of the same. Initially, the region covered regions of North Africa as well as the regions of South west Asia. As much as the concept Middle East is popular, history records that United Nations does not use the term officially and instead the region is referred to as South West Asia. The region which is characterized by many ethnic groups and languages was a center for major civilizations that have taken place in the world.
The meaning of the concept has been prone to so much change since some countries have been included while others have been excluded from time to time. The main cause of criticism is due to the fact that it was defined using a European perspective. Nonetheless, the term is used by Europeans and non-Europeans and other countries translate it in their languages to either mean Middle East or Near East (Middle East, 2008).
Brown, L. C. 2004. Diplomacy in the Middle East: the international relations of regional and outside powers. London: I.B.Tauris.
Chaurasia, R. 2005. History of Middle East. New Delhi: Atlantic Publishers & Distributors .
Davis, C. S. 2003. The Middle East for dummies. Hoboken: Wiley .
Issawi, C. P. 1995. The Middle East economy: decline and recovery : selected essays. Princeton: Markus Wiener Publishers.
Middle East. 2008. Retrieved from http://www.solarnavigator.net/geography/mddle_east.htm
Shah, A. 2009. Middle East. Retrieved from http://www.globalissues.org/issue/103/middle-east
UNU/CRIS and Allied Consultants. 2002. The Middle East. Web.