There is no definitive roster of Middle Eastern countries. Most sources include a "core group" of 15 or 16 countries, depending upon whether the region's lone transcontinental country, Egypt, whose northeast corner extends from Africa into Asia, makes the cut. However, the list of Middle Eastern countries needn't stop there.
Many lists of Middle Eastern countries also include the mercurial Cyprus, which is frequently considered European politically but Asian geographically. A few sources expand the area westward to include Sudan and Libya in Africa, or eastward to include central Asia (Afghanistan, Pakistan, Kyrgyzstan, Tajikstan, Uzbekistan, and Turkmenistan). At least one source also lists Akrotiri and Dhekelia, two tiny British territories on Cyprus, as a single separate entry.
List of Countries in the Middle East
- Saudi Arabia
- United Arab Emirates
- Akrotiri and Dhekelia
The largest Middle Eastern country in terms of physical size is Saudi Arabia. In contrast, Bahrain is the Middle Eastern country with the smallest total area.
The countries that make up the Middle East vary greatly in size, culture, and language. Arabs, Kurds, Turks, Azeris, and Persians make up the majority, and minority ethnic groups include Zazas, Assyrians, Jews, Lurs, Shabaks, Balochs, Druze, Berbers, Samaritans, Copts, and Mandeans.
The most prominent religions practiced in the Middle East are Islam, Judaism, Christianity, Mandaeism, Baha'i, and Unitarian Druidism, along with many other smaller belief systems and practices.
In general, the Middle Eastern climate leans towards being hot and relatively dry, especially once one moves inland from the coast. This is arguably unsurprising given the region's proximity to the equator. Fortunately for the agricultural industry in the Middle East, numerous rivers flow, twist, and wind through the region, including the Nile, the Tigris, and the Euphrates. Moreover, every country in the Middle East (at least, of the 16 most often-included countries) touches a large body of water, be it the Mediterranean Sea, Red Sea, Arabian Sea, or Persian Gulf, which is helpful for commerce.
In the next section, we will take a closer look at a few specific Middle Eastern countries. For a statistical look at the Middle East as a whole, see the table further down this page.
Profiles of Middle Eastern Countries
Also known as the Kingdom of Bahrain, this diminutive country is actually a chain of small islands, 50 natural and 33 man-made, in the Persian Gulf, just off the eastern coast of Saudi Arabia. In fact, Bahrain is connected to Saudi Arabia by the King Fahd Causeway, a massive series of bridges and highway that stretches 25 km (15.5 mi) across the sea, from one shore to the other. Easily the smallest nation in the Middle East, Bahrain squeezes 1.7 million people onto a scant 294 square miles of land, which results in a population density of about 4,690 people per square mile.
Lebanon lies on the eastern coast of the Mediterranean sea, just north of Israel, south of the Syrian Desert, and west of Syria. A mountainous country, the region that would come to be known as Lebanon has been inhabited for more than 7000 years, and its recorded history goes back to 3,000 BC. Lebanon was the home of the Phoenicians, a group of seagoing traders famous at the time for trading in Tyrean purple dye and known today for creating the earliest confirmed alphabet, which evolved into/inspired the alphabets of many European alphabets still in use today (Italian, Spanish, English, French).
Lebanon was part of the Roman Empire in the time of Christ and was later ruled first by the Ottoman Empire (until the end of World War I) and then by France until the end of World War II. Lebanon endured a civil war from 1975-1990. At the same time, parts of the country were occupied by Syria from 1976-2005 and by Israel from 1985-2000. Despite this turbulence, Lebanon remains a well-respected member of the United Nations and has a high Human Development Index (HDI), indicating that the country as a whole is on the upswing.
Currently, more than 6.8 million people live in Lebanon, giving it a population density of roughly 1,536 people per square mile.
The United Arab Emirates
The United Arab Emirates, often shortened to the Emirates, is located on the Arabian Peninsula near the Gulf of Persia, west of Oman and just south of Saudi Arabia. A unique and defining factor of the United Arab Emirates is that the UAE comprises seven different emirates or political territories, each ruled by a Sheikh, one of whom operates as president.
The Seven Emirates in the United Arab Emirates:
Emirates is also known for the city of Dubai, the capital of the emirate Dubai and the country's most populous city. Dubai is a growing hub for trade and business in the region. It is further renowned for its ambitious architecture and lavish tourist attractions, which include the world's largest shopping mall (Dubai Mall), ample beaches, the world's tallest building (the 828 meter/2,717 ft high Burj Khalifa), and the Palm Jumeirah, a man-made island chain shaped like a palm tree.
The population of the UAE is approximately 9.9 million people. The total area across all seven emirates is a sum of 32,278 square miles. The ratio of people to land area is about three hundred residents per square mile.