The Middle East is a world region that is skirted by South-Eastern Europe, across south-western Asia and North Africa. The term was created by US military strategists in the 1920-1930s, and definitions of the Middle East vary; it is not simply a geographical term, but also a political one.
As one of the wellsprings of human civilisation in the ancient and medieval worlds, the birthplace of at least three world religions (Judaism, Christianity, and Islam), and the focus of much modern economic and political importance, the Middle East remains a popular destination for travellers.
Arabic is the primary language of the region, and the main language in all Middle Eastern countries except Iran (where Persian predominates), Turkey (Turkish) and Israel (Hebrew). Even in those countries, Arabic is the first language for some people and fairly common as a second language.
Ethnically, the region is extremely mixed. Arabs, Persians and Turks are the largest groups, but there are several substantial minorities — Kurds, Armenians and others — with their own languages, customs and sometimes their own countries. Every invading army — from Alexander and the Romans through Genghis Khan to the 19th century colonial powers — has left descendants behind. Probably the American troops there now will too. There are also substantial numbers of workers from other countries coming to the region for higher pay — mainly Afghan, Korean, Pakistani for jobs like construction labourer, with Egyptians, Philipinos, more Pakistanis, and some westerners in the more skilled jobs.
A great majority of people throughout the region are Muslim — with Iran mainly Shia, other areas mainly Sunni, and both with minorities of the other — and the legal systems in most of these countries are influenced by Islamic Law; a few are entirely based on it.
North Africa is similar to the Middle East in many ways — language, religion, culture and some ethnic groups. Some writers include Egypt, or even Sudan and Libya, in their use of the term "Middle East".
On the other side, Central Asia also has much in common with the Middle East. Ethnic groups and languages are different, but the religion is the same and much of the food, clothing and architecture is similar. Iran could be counted as part of either region; at one point most of Central Asia was part of the Persian Empire.
The border between Mediterranean Europe and the Middle East is also somewhat unclear. We have counted Turkey in the Middle East, but parts of the country are much more Mediterranean. The same could be said of parts of Lebanon and Israel. On the other hand, various European countries, notably Greece, show considerable influence from the Middle East.
Planning a visit to the Middle East can be complicated in various ways:
See the individual country articles as well.