Near East / Middle East
It is the cradle of civilization and for the past five thousand years it has been the cockpit of history. Yet no one seems sure where it is, and no on can be sure that to call it. Sometimes the US State Department calls it the Near East, and at other times State calls it the Middle East. Frequently the term "North Africa" is appended for good measure. Some of these territories have at times also been categorized as Western Asia, South-West Asia, Western Mediterranean, the Arab world, and so on.
- Saudi Arabia
- W. Sahara
Some major regions of the world are readily defined by simple geography, such as Antarctica, Australia, South America, or Sub-Saharan Africa, while others are readily defined by reference to common culture, such as Latin America [or Sub-Saharan Africa]. Others take a bit more work, such as teasing out the distinction between Indo-China and South East Asia [the later includes the former, plus islands]. Europe is conventionally defined by the Urals, but East Europe and Central Europe are a bit more elusive. Nordic and Baltic are straight-forward, and Central Asia is not too hard to find. Some are nearly self evident, such as South Asia or North Asia, while others are in the eye of the Eurocentric beholder, such as the Far East. But the Near East, or the Middle East, is ellusive.
The Carolina Center for the Study of the Middle East [which ought to know], credits the coinage of the term "Middle East" in 1902 by American naval officer Alfred T. Mahan, and it cites no prior usage of the term. Indeed, Alfred Thayer Mahan himself claimed to have coined the term "Middile East". Mahan wrote in 1902 [Retrospect and prospect: studies in international relations] that "As towards the farther East, South Persia is in fact the logical next step beyond Egypt; though it does not follow that the connection therewith is to be the same. Correlative to this commercial and political progress, goes the necessity of local provision for naval activity when required. The middle East, if I may adopt a term which I have not seen, will some day need its Malta, as well as its Gibraltar; it does not follow that either will be in the Gulf. Naval force has the quality of mobility which carries with it the privilege of temporary absences; but it needs to find on every scene of operation established bases of refit, of supply, and, in case of disaster, of security. The British Navy should have the facility to concentrate in force, if occasion arise, about Aden, India, and the Gulf."
But writing in the year 1900, Sir Thomas Gordon wrote ["The Problem Of The Middle East", The Nineteenth century, Vol. XLV1I—No. 277, page 413] "It may be assumed that the most sensitive part of our external policy in the Middle East is the preservation of the independence and integrity of Persia and Afghanistan. Our active interest in Persia began with the present century, and was due to the belief that the invasion of India by a European Power was a probable event. The politics of Persia and Afghanistan have always been connected with British India..."
This first definition of the Middle East is far more restrictive than later usages, and is peculiar to the Great Game played out between the Russian and British empires in the later part of the 19th Century. Mapmakers of that era understood the bounds of the area quite clearly, even if they did not put a name to it. The gameboard of the final stages of the Great Game was Persia, Afganistan and Beluchistan, and maps of this triad come readily to hand from that period.
As political geography changed in the wake of the Balkan Wars and the Great War, "Middle East" came to refer to territories previously spoken of as Near East, notably Arab lands formerly part of the Ottoman Empire. In 1920, the Royal Geographical Society’s Permanent Commission on Geographical Names decided that "Middle East" should refer to the territories from the Bosphorus to the eastern frontiers of India, while "Near East" should apply to the Balkans. In popular usage, this term never really caught on for the Balkans Egypt and the Levant were commonly referred to as Near East through World War II. Subsequently the term Near East fell out of common usage, and Middle East was left in opposition to the Far East, and in the middle of nothing in particular.
Although home to some of the world's oldest civilizations, with deep reserves of talent and wealth, the Greater Middle East region has become a land apart from the modern world. That is the conclusion of Arab intellectuals and scholars themselves in two reports for the United Nations on Arab human development. They said the region suffers from widespread illiteracy, economic stagnation, and isolation from other cultures. These experts concluded that this backwardness results from three important deficits: the lack of freedom, the lack of women's empowerment, and the lack of knowledge, particularly with regard to science, technology, computers, and the Internet.
The Bush administration has proposed its own Greater Middle East initiative. The Greater Middle East covers a large number of countries who obviously do not plan to participate. Hon. Alan P. Larson, Under Secretary Of State For Economic, Business And Agricultural Affairs, U.S. Department of State, said 02 June 2004 that "We have believed that it is important to have an open architecture on a concept like this because we found in other regional organizations when it is successful, others want to join. So we have not wanted to draw very sharp lines excluding some and including others. But we certainly imagine the countries of north Africa, the Levant and the gulf and some adjacent countries. We think that the geography will vary somewhat depending on the topics under discussion. On economic topics, these regional interconnections are very important and you need to reach out to all of the necessary players. If there are security-related conversations, we would naturally exclude countries that are state sponsors of terrorism."
In November 2003, President Bush announced a "forward strategy of freedom" to advance freedom and democracy in the greater Middle East. Since then, the world has witnessed a gathering momentum for reform in the region: business and civil society leaders issued reform declarations at Aqaba, Sanaa, and Alexandria, where they declared that "reform is necessary and urgently needed." At the May 22-23, 2004 Arab League Summit, Arab leaders declared their determination to "firmly establish the basis for democracy."
From a Bush Administration idea of partnership, the Broader Middle East and North Africa (BMENA) Initiative was intended to represent genuine co-operation between the G8 and European nations and the governments, business and civil society of the region, in order to strengthen freedom, democracy and prosperity for all. The leaders of the G8 industrialized nations and countries of the BMENA launched the Partnership for Progress and a Common Future - a blueprint for how G8 and Middle Eastern countries could best work together to support indigenous calls for reform - at the G8 Sea Island, Georgia, summit in June 2004. Since then, a number of supportive nations and international financial institutions have offered to support and lead various initiatives elaborated at Sea Island, and the role of civil society has become increasingly significant. Governments and people of the region have expressed their wish to see democracy and freedoms expanded. The inaugural Forum for the Future in Rabat in December 2004 established a process of dialogue among G8 and regional governments in pursuit of these aims and underwrote seven ambitious initiatives formulated at the Sea Island summit. Since the first Forum, civil society groups and lead partner countries have made significant advances in this agenda and focused on transparency of governance, women in the workplace, legal reform and human rights.
At the Brookings Institution on March 29, 2004, Senator Richard Lugar proposed the creation of a Greater Middle East 21st Century Trust to combat terrorism and build peace in the region. The Trust would unite the G-8 countries with other donors and countries of the Greater Middle East regions to promote common interests in political, economic and social reform and modernization, particularly governance, sound education and health policies and programs, entrepreneurial success, and the full participation of men and women.
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