The concept of the Middle East region broadly refers to the countries situated in Western Asia and North Africa and in between.
Major religions have their origins in the Middle East, including Judaism, Christianity, and Islam; and numerous other belief systems were also established within the region. The Middle East generally is known for its hot and arid climate, with several major rivers providing irrigation to support agriculture in limited areas such as the Nile Delta in Egypt, the Tigris and Euphrates watersheds of Mesopotamia, and most of what is known as the Fertile Crescent.
Most of the countries that border the Persian Gulf have vast reserves of crude oil, with the sovereign nations of the Arabian Peninsula, in particular, benefiting from petroleum exports. In modern times, the Middle East remains a strategically, economically, politically, culturally and religiously sensitive region and has made many of the countries very rich.
The first official use of the term “Middle East” by the United States government was in the 1957 Eisenhower Doctrine, which pertained to the Suez Crisis. Secretary of State John Foster Dulles defined the Middle East as “the area lying between and including Libya on the west and Pakistan on the east, Syria and Iraq on the North and the Arabian Peninsula to the south, plus the Sudan and Ethiopia.” In 1958, the State Department explained that the terms “Near East” and “Middle East” were interchangeable, and defined the region as including only Egypt, Syria, Israel, Lebanon, Jordan, Iraq, Saudi Arabia, Kuwait, Bahrain, and Qatar.
The Middle East is an additional Eurocentric concept, introduced in the West in the 1990s, and referring to the mostly-Islamic regions of North Africa, Western Asia, and Central Asia. The Middle East lies at the juncture of Eurasia and Africa and of the Mediterranean Sea and the Indian Ocean. It is the birthplace and spiritual center of religions.
The Middle East began after World War I, when the Ottoman Empire, which was allied with the Central Powers, was defeated by the British Empire and their allies and partitioned into a number of separate nations, initially under British and French Mandates.
Oil reserves, especially in Saudi Arabia and Iran, are some of the highest in the world, and the international oil cartel OPEC is dominated by Middle Eastern countries.
The five top languages, in terms of numbers of speakers, are Arabic, Persian, Turkish, Berber, and Kurdish. Urdu and Hindi is widely spoken by migrant communities in many Middle Eastern countries, such as Saudi Arabia. English is commonly taught and used as a second language, especially among the middle and upper classes.
Unemployment is notably high in the Middle East and North Africa region, particularly among young people aged 15–29.
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