Defining the Arab World and the Middle East

Rawalpindi near Islamabad, Pakistan, Asia
Alex Treadway / Getty Images

The Middle East and the Arab world are often confused as one and the same thing. They're not. The Middle East is a geographical concept and a rather fluid one. By some definitions, the Middle East stretches only as far West as the western border of Egypt, and as far east as the eastern border of Iran, or even Iraq. By other definitions, the Middle East takes in all of North Africa and stretches to the western mountains of Pakistan. The Arab world is somewhere in there. But what is it precisely?

The Arab World

The simplest way to figure out what nations make up the Arab world is to look at the 22 members of the Arab League. The 22 include Palestine which, although not an official state, is considered as such by the Arab League.

The heart of the Arab world is made up of the six founding members of the Arab League: Egypt, Iraq, Jordan, Lebanon, Saudi Arabia, and Syria. The six forked the Arab league in 1945. Other Arab nations in the Middle joined the League as they won their independence or were voluntarily drafted into the non-binding alliance. These include, in that order, Yemen, Libya, the Sudan, Morocco and Tunisia, Kuwait, Algeria, the United Arab Emirates, Bahrain, Qatar, Oman, Mauritania, Somalia, Palestine, Djibouti, and Comoros.

It's arguable whether all people in those nations consider themselves Arab. In North Africa, for example, many Tunisians and Moroccans consider themselves distinctly Berber, not Arab, although the two are often considered identical. Other such distinctions abound within various regions of the Arab world.

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Tristam, Pierre. "Defining the Arab World and the Middle East." ThoughtCo, Aug. 27, 2020, Tristam, Pierre. (2020, August 27). Defining the Arab World and the Middle East. Retrieved from Tristam, Pierre. "Defining the Arab World and the Middle East." ThoughtCo. (accessed June 10, 2023).