Did you know that the term “Middle East” is a misnomer? What came to designate, in the popular press and the mass media, the region spanning from the Eastern coast of the Mediterranean on the West, to Iran on the West, was not originally intended as such.
From a European centric perspective, there are 3 main parts to the “Orient”: The Near East, the Middle East, and the Far East. With Russia on the North, the Indian Sub-Continent and South-East Asia to the South, this leaves a clear definition of the Far East. The Near East, sometimes called the Levant, is really the areas of Asia closest to Europe and used to designate also most of the Ottoman Empire. But over time the term Near East has gradually been replaced by the notion of “Middle East”.
Enough about geography … let’s talk business and economics …
In the business world, we use the term MENA, which is Middle East and North Africa. Although geographically this usually includes Iran, Israel and sometimes Pakistan, I want to talk in this blog and the following series about Arabia, which is the Arabic speaking world, often referred to as Middle East.
Arabia stretches from Morrocco on the West to Iraq on the East, and from Syria to the North to Yemen and Sudan on the South. I on purpose started this discussion with the geographical overview and linguistic history and then decided to use a new term, Arabia, to designate something CNN refers to as the Middle East, because I am keen on demonstrating the diversity of this region, which can be very surprising at times.
Arabia comprises countries which are at a wide range of extremes from every perspective you could think of:
- Wealth: Some of the richest countries in the world on a GDP/Capita basis are part of Arabia (Qatar: USD 99,731; UAE: USD 64,840 ). On the other hand, some great poverty can be found in places such as Egypt and Yemen with GDP/Capita of USD 3,112 and USD 1,377, respectively.
- Population: The overall population of Arabia is 342.9 million (2012) , but this is very unequally spread, with Egypt being the largest at 82.5 million, followed by Algeria with 36.5 million. On the other hand, some very small countries by population such as UAE (5.5 million), Qatar (1.8 million) and Kuwait (3.8 million) have a very important economic and political role in the region thanks to their great hydrocarbon reserves.
- Geography: Not all Arabia is deserts and sand dunes: From the snow capped mountains of Lebanon, to the fertile valleys of the Nile and Euphrates, to the rocky plateaux of Morocco, the region also offers a great variety of landscapes.
- The GCC (Gulf Cooperation Council) itself has great internal variety, with Saudi Arabia being much larger than all the other 6 countries combined (population 29.0 million out of 44.4 million, surface 2.1 million Km2 out of 2.6 million Km2). And also a significant cultural variety and population mix. With UAE and Qatar having a majority of expatriate population relative to the local citizens, these are some of the most open and welcoming countries in the world to expatriates.
- Religion is not a unifying factor for the region either, with large Christian minorities in many countries including Egypt, Iraq, Jordan, Lebanon, Palestine and Syria. The dominant religion is Islam, which itself has two major denominations: Sunni and Shia.
- If anything the Arabic language is the one common trait for the region, but even the language exhibits a rich variety between the Western regions (Maghred), Egypt and the Near East / GCC. If you ever attempted to learn Arabic, you would also know that there are subtle but tricky differences between the day-to-day spoken language in every country, the TV and media language and finally the official written language.
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Ziad Awad is the Founder and CEO of Awad Advisory, an independent corporate advisory firm based in Dubai, UAE, specializing in Mergers and Acquisitions, Business Valuations, MENA Market Entry and Capital Markets Advisory. He is a seasoned investment banker, with 20 years of experience working for Goldman Sachs, Merrill Lynch and Bank of America. Connect with him at www.awadadvisory.com or ae.linkedin.com/in/ziadawad/ .
Note: The views, services and experiences expressed in this Featured Post are solely those of the contributor.