Middle East, term traditionally applied by western Europeans to the countries of SW Asia and NE Africa lying W of Afghanistan, Pakistan, and India. Thus defined it includes Cyprus, the Asian part of Turkey, Syria, Lebanon, Israel, the West Bank and Gaza, Jordan, Iraq, Iran, the countries of the Arabian peninsula (Saudi Arabia, Yemen, Oman, United Arab Emirates, Qatar, Bahrain, Kuwait), and Egypt and Libya. The area was viewed as midway between Europe and East Asia (traditionally called the Far East). The term is sometimes used in a cultural sense to mean the group of lands in that part of the world predominantly Islamic in culture, thus including the remaining states of N Africa as well as Afghanistan and Pakistan. In the 20th cent. the Middle East has been the scene of political turmoil and major warfare, including World War I, World War II, the Arab-Israeli Wars, the Iran-Iraq War and the Persian Gulf Wars.
The Columbia Electronic Encyclopedia, 6th ed. Copyright © 2012, Columbia University Press. All rights reserved.