The Middle East: A Geographical Study

The Middle East: A Geographical Study

The Middle East: A Geographical Study

The Middle East: A Geographical Study

Excerpt

The term 'Middle East' appears to have originated in the British India Office during the 1850s, in the early days of expansionist rivalry between Russia and Britain. It became current in the English-speaking world around 1900 when the American naval historian, A.T. Mahan, employed it in a discussion of British naval strategy in relation to Russian activity in Iran and a German project for a Berlin to Baghdād railway. He was referring to a region centred on the Persian Gulf, for which the current terms 'Near East' and 'Far East' seemed inadequate. The term was also taken up by The Times correspondent in Tehrān V. Chirol, for a series of articles on the lands forming the western and northern approaches to India, the defence of which had been a sensitive issue for more than a century and became more and more crucial as the strategic centre of the British Empire, no less than British trade, became centred upon the subcontinent (Figure 0.1). 'Middle East' was given respectability when it was used in the House of Lords on 22 March, 1911 by Lord Curzon in opening a discussion of 'the state of affairs in Persia, the Persian Gulf, and Turkey in Asia, in relation. . . to the construction of railways . . . ' (Figure 0.1).

Clearly, the term 'Middle East' was one of strategic reference, developed in a Eurocentred world, just as the older terms 'The East', 'Far East' and 'Near East' had been. It was developed further during the First World War when the operational theatre of the Mesopotamia Expeditionary Force came to be distinguished as 'Middle East' from the 'Near East' of Palestine and Syria in which the Egyptian Expeditionary Force operated. Although Curzon had already given the term a wider application than the lands centred about the Gulf, this only became permanent by a series of accidents in military organization. In 1932 the existing Royal Air Force Middle Eastern Command, in Iraq, was amalgamated with Near Eastern Command, in Egypt, but the new command retained the title 'Middle East'. When the Italian threat to the Suez Canal at the beginning of the Second World War led to the establishment of a military headquarters in Cairo, the army followed the RAF in calling this 'GHQ Middle East'. Between 1940 and 1943, the Cairo headquarters controlled British and Allied operations over a very wide region (Figure 0.1). The constant use of 'Middle East' to describe this region in communiqués and amongst military personnel made the term familiar to a large public. Continued political ferment in the region and its basic strategic importance have maintained the term in use, though not without some pleas for the retention of the old term 'Near East'. Indeed, the term 'Middle East' has . . .

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