The “Middle East” is one of the most confusing terms in geography. The definition is constantly changing and might even be used to describe entirely different regions depending on who you ask.

Traditionally, the Middle East was used to describe the region between Africa, Europe, and Asia between Egypt and the Persian Gulf, but it’s also often used to describe the Arab World, which consists of all the countries that speak Arabic. Other times, the Middle East is used to describe the entire Muslim faith including countries in western Asia. Here are all of the countries that are considered part of the Middle East.

Northern Middle East

Waterfront in Antalya, Turkey
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Most countries in the traditionally defined region of the Middle East have the same climate — hot and dry. These areas are filled with desert landscapes. On the coast of the Mediterranean Sea, however, you can find a bit more vegetation.

Due to its cultural and geographical differences, Turkey is often considered to be a part of Europe rather than the Middle East. Other times, however, it's considered a part of the Middle East due to its predominantly Muslim population.

The countries that make up the northern region of the Middle East include:

  • Syria
  • Lebanon
  • Turkey

Central Middle East

Amman, Jordan at sunset
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The central region of the Middle East is unfortunately the most well-known for the centuries of conflict that it has endured. The Israeli-Palestinian conflict has been raging for hundreds of years and has been a source of controversy throughout the world. Although it’s technically located in northern Africa, Egypt (at least northwestern Egypt including Cairo) is considered to be a Middle Eastern country by most standards.

This region is also known as the Fertile Crescent or the Cradle of Civilization for its rich, fertile soil that has sustained life from the very beginning of human history. Some of the oldest human archeological sites have been found in this region.

The countries that make up the central region of the Middle East include:

  • Israel
  • Jordan
  • Iraq
  • Palestine
  • Egypt

Southern Middle East

Road winding along waterfront in Muscat, Oman
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Although the entire Middle East is famous for its oil reserves, the southern region has the most. Countries such as Saudi Arabia, Kuwait, and the United Arab Emirates (U.A.E.) are some of the world’s leading producers of oil despite their small size. Dubai is considered one of the fastest-growing and wealthiest cities in the world. It’s also a popular destination for tourists and expats all over the world.

The countries that make up the southern region of the Middle East include:

  • Saudi Arabia
  • Yemen
  • Oman
  • United Arab Emirates
  • Kuwait
  • Qatar
  • Bahrain

Western Asia

Sand towers of Kaluts in the Dasht-e-Lut desert
Credit: Yury Birukov/ Shutterstock

Many countries in western and central Asia are considered to be a part of the Middle East due to their predominantly Islamic culture. If your definition of the Middle East includes only Arab countries or countries located between continental borders, these nations wouldn’t make the cut. Unfortunately, these Asian countries regularly rank as some of the poorest countries in the region. Unlike countries in the central region of the Middle East, these countries tend to have colder, steppe-like climates.

The countries in western Asia that are often considered to be a part of the Middle East include:

  • Iran
  • Afghanistan
  • Pakistan
  • Turkmenistan
  • Uzbekistan
  • Tajikistan
  • Kyrgyzstan
  • Kazakhstan

Northern Africa

Nile river in Egypt
Credit: Marcelo Alex/ Shutterstock

Like some countries in western Asia, most north African countries are considered to be a part of the Middle East because of their culture. Surprisingly, Arabic is a primary language spoken along the northwestern coast of Africa. Along with sharing a common language with eastern countries, northern Africa also shares many cultural traditions.

A popular definition for the Middle East is all Arab nations, which includes north African countries such as:

  • Egypt
  • Libya
  • Tunisia
  • Algeria
  • Morocco