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The concept of a region called the “Middle East” is a relatively recent and unstable construction. Since the term was first coined at the beginning of the 20th century, it has been applied to different sets of countries and territories. To complicate matters further, territories which have at times been categorized as “Middle East” have also attracted other designations: Near East, western Asia, eastern Mediterranean, the Arab world, and so on. These designations all represent different ways of conceptualizing what these territories have in common and how they relate to other parts of the world.

For practical purposes, CMEIS uses an admittedly arbitrary designation of contemporary nations into “core areas” and “extended regions” of the Middle East as follows:

Core Areas: Algeria, Azerbaijan, Bahrain, Cyprus (northern), Egypt, Iran, Iraq, Israel, Jordan, Kuwait, Lebanon, Libya, Morocco, Oman, Qatar, Saudi Arabia, Somalia, Sudan, Syria, Tunisia, Turkey, United Arab Emirates, West Bank and Gaza (Palestine) and Yemen

Extended Regions of Muslim Civilizations: Afghanistan, Albania, Bangladesh, Bosnia-Herzegovina, Brunei, Burkina Faso, Chad, Djibouti, Eritrea, Gambia, Guinea, Guinea-Bissau, India, Indonesia, Kazakhstan, Kyrgyzstan, Malaysia, Mali, Mauretania, Niger, Nigeria, Pakistan, Sahara, Senegal, Sierra Leone, Tajikistan, Turkmenistan and Uzbekistan

The following presentation uses maps to illustrate the lack of consensus among governments, international organizations, and scholars regarding how to define the Middle East or even whether to use that term. The instability of the concept “Middle East” points to the need to break down traditional area studies barriers.

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American Usage
Alfred T. Mahan, 1902
U.S. Department of State, 1944
U.S. Department of State, 1948
U.S. Department of State, 1992
CENTCOM, 1983-2005
CIA, Directorate of Intelligence, 2002
CIA, Directorate of Operations, 1955-1975

British Usage
Valentine Chirol, 1903
Royal Geographical Society, 1920
Royal Air Force, 1939
Middle East Command, 1942
Official British Usage, 1952

The UN and Other International Organizations
Proposed Economic Commission for the Middle East, 1947
Economic Commission for Western Asia, 1977
International Labour Organisation, 1947
International Labour Organisation, 2005
Food and Agriculture Organization, 1948
Food and Agriculture Organization, 2005
Proposed Nuclear-Weapon-Free Zone in the Middle East, 1990
UNESCO, 2005
World Health Organization, 1948
World Health Organization, 2005
World Bank, 1953
World Bank, 2005

Scholarly Usage
Middle East Institute, 1947
Middle East Institute, 2005
Middle East Studies Association, 1970
Middle East Studies Association, 2000


For a scholarly treatment of changing definitions of the Middle East, please see Osamah F. Khalil, “The Crossroads of the World: U.S. and British Foreign Policy Doctrines and the Construct of the Middle East, 1902-2007,” Diplomatic History, Vol. 38, No. 2, pp. 299-344, February 2014.