“Near East” vs “Middle East”

By Maeve Maddox

Readers often encounter the term Near East and wonder how the term differs from Middle East.

Near East is the earlier term and, like Far East, was coined from the “western” perspective of European writers. The earliest example of the use of Near East in the OED is dated 1856. The earliest use of “middle East” to refer to the countries of Mesopotamia is dated 1876. The first example in which middle is capitalized is dated 1900.

According to the AP Style Guide, the countries of the Middle East are

Iran, Iraq, Israel, Kuwait, Jordan, Lebanon, Oman, Bahrain, Qatar, Saudi Arabia, Syria, United Arab Emirates, Yemen, Egypt, Sudan, and “the eastern part of Turkey.”

Noting that popular usage once distinguished between the “Near East” and the “Middle East,” AP recommends using Middle East unless a story source uses the term “Near East. ”

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6 Responses to ““Near East” vs “Middle East””

  • Tony Hearn

    Style manuals are interesting (in a nerdy kind of way!), in that they reflect one point of view, rather than the Law, or even a usage more widely accepted; though they are indisputably useful.

    Wikipedia is far from being an indisputable authority, but does have an interesting article on The middle East, in which is this:

    ‘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 1958 list is closer to what I understand as ‘The Middle East’.

    For us Europeans, Turkey is a problem (witness the trouble being caused by its attempts to join the EU). This may be partly due to Turkey’s imperial role as an invader in the past, but partly due I fear to the continuing cultural Christian/Muslim divide. Partly it is a matter of simple (or complex) geography. It is noticeable that both US definitions sidestep the issue (though it is partly included in the Style Manual you quote: I assume it means ‘Asiatic Turkey’, or Asia Minor as we used to call it). I very much doubt that it was omitted because the US government thought of it as an integral part of Europe. It may have more to do with turkey being a member of Nato!

  • Maeve

    @Tony,
    Thanks for the addendum. This post was much longer to begin with, but I finally decided that the terms were so slippery that I’d just leave it at the AP entry.

    Your comment says it all.

  • David Sowd

    The AP Style Guide neglected to include the occupied Palestinian territories in its list — a glaring omission. . . .

  • njuod

    thank u David .. I was going to say the same thing .. instead of listing the occupation forces they had better to mention the REAL owners .. it’s the destiny’s irony .. but someday the truth will appears .. like sun beams.. clear and burning!!!

  • njuod

    ”It may have more to do with turkey being a member of Nato!” AND WHAT IS THE PROBLEM??? Turkey is a considerable country all over the world and the agreement of Nato states that all countries must be equal !!

  • TL Miller

    As an editor I rely on a specific collection of style guides and having a collective sense of which land masses fall into the “Middle East” or Near East” helps me. Whether Turkey is included depends on general usage, not politics or religion. I can’t do much to influence how the majority of people define the term but I do want them to understand that when I use the term I mean the generally accepted definition and not a political definition.

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