Also called Mideast. (loosely) the area from Libya E to Afghanistan, usually including Egypt, Sudan, Israel, Jordan, Lebanon, Syria, Turkey, Iraq, Iran, Saudi Arabia, and the other countries of the Arabian peninsula.
(formerly) the area including Iran, Afghanistan, India, Tibet, and Burma.
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(loosely) the area around the E Mediterranean, esp Israel and the Arab countries from Turkey to North Africa and eastwards to Iran
(formerly) the area extending from the Tigris and Euphrates to Myanmar
Collins English Dictionary - Complete & Unabridged 2012 Digital Edition © William Collins Sons & Co. Ltd. 1979, 1986 © HarperCollins Publishers 1998, 2000, 2003, 2005, 2006, 2007, 2009, 2012
1899; never defined in a generally accepted way. Early use with reference to British India. Hence Middle-Eastern (1903).
Online Etymology Dictionary, © 2010 Douglas Harper
As the site of such ancient civilizations as Phoenicia, Babylon (see also Babylon), and Egypt, and the birthplace of Judaism, Christianity, and Islam, the Middle East is known as the cradle of Western civilization. The Greek Empire, Roman Empire, Persian Empire, and Ottoman Empire are among the great civilizations that developed and prospered in the Middle East.
A hotbed of religious and political strife (see Arab-Israeli conflict and Persian Gulf War), the Middle East attracted the attention of such powerful nations as Great Britain, the United States, and the Soviet Union eager to protect their strategic interests at the crossroads of Europe, Asia, and Africa, and their access to precious oil reserves.
The New Dictionary of Cultural Literacy, Third Edition Copyright © 2005 by Houghton Mifflin Harcourt Publishing Company. Published by Houghton Mifflin Harcourt Publishing Company. All rights reserved.