WHAT COUNTRIES ARE SAID TO BELONG TO THE ‘MIDDLE EAST’?
There is some disagreement about which countries belong to the Middle East. Naming countries and regions is a political act, subject to controversy and dispute. So for example, the Scottish people don’t in general, adhere to the concept of the “United Kingdom”, because that infers the non-independence of Scotland. Persia is deemed to be a colonial term, and therefore this country was named Iran after the 1979 Iranian revolution. Most of the Middle East was carved into countries in the European style, after the World War I conquest of the Ottoman Empire by England, France and Russia.
For the purposes of my classes, the Middle East is composed of the following countries:
• Iran (named as such since the Islamic revolution of 1979. It used to be called Persia)
• Palestinian Territories (there has never been a state called Palestine)
• Saudi Arabia
• United Arab Emirates
• The Arabian Gulf. This stretch of sea used to be called the Persian Gulf, which is deemed now to be a colonial term used by Europeans.
(Of ten, Egypt and Yemen are said to be part of Africa, but it is quite common to refer to Egypt for example, as a country in the Middle East.)
The Middle East is home to numerous ethnic groups, including Arabs, Turks, Persians, Jews, Kurds, Assyrian/Chaldean/Syriacs, Armenians, Azeris, Circassians, Greeks and Georgians.
The two principle Islamic denominations in the Middle East are the Shia and the Sunni. The split arose after Muhammed’s death over the issue of his descendants and therefore, who should properly lead the Islamic faith. The Sunni are more secular, and believe in the split between faith and politics. The Shia (principle country, Iran) believe that the state and religious leadership should be intertwined.
HOW DID THE ‘MIDDLE EAST’ GET NAMED?
It's a relatively modern term, popularized by Alfred Mahan in early 1900s, an American imperialist.
“Writing for London's National Review [in 1902], Mahan used the new term in calling for the British to strengthen their naval power in the Persian Gulf.
'As scholar Roderic Davison explains, Mahan’s Middle East "was an indeterminate area guarding a part of the sea route from Suez to Singapore.’ The new coinage played off the terms Near East and Far East,"already in use. “
Carolina Center for the Study of the Middle East and Muslim Civilizations, http://www.unc.edu/mideast/where/mahan-1902.shtml