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Why is Egypt not in the Middle East?

This is a common question for those learning about the geography of the Middle East and North Africa. At first glance, Egypt seems like it should be considered part of the Middle East given its location in North Africa and connection to Middle Eastern culture and history. However, most geographers and academics do not include Egypt as part of the Middle East region. Below we will explore the reasoning behind this categorization.

Definition of the Middle East

The Middle East is typically defined as the region encompassing Western Asia and parts of North Africa. However, there is no universally agreed upon geographic definition of the Middle East. Some common definitions include:

  • The region between Egypt and Iran, Turkey and Yemen, or some variation of countries in between.
  • The region encompassing the Levant, Mesopotamia, the Arabian Peninsula, Anatolia, and Persia.
  • The countries belonging to the Arab League.

These definitions were influenced by factors like proximity to the Mediterranean Sea, connection to ancient civilizations, and predominance of Arabic culture. According to these geographic definitions, Egypt is not considered part of the Middle East.

Egypt as part of North Africa

Most geographers and academics consider Egypt part of North Africa along with countries like Morocco, Algeria, Tunisia, and Libya. There are several reasons for this categorization:

  • Geographically, Egypt is located on the African continent and sharesborders with Libya and Sudan.
  • Ancient Egypt was closely tied to other ancient North African civilizations along the Nile River Valley.
  • Egypt is a member of the African Union and identifies culturally and politically with North Africa.
  • Egypt’s climate is more similar to North Africa than the Middle East with an arid desert climate.

Based on these geographic, historical, cultural, and climatic similarities, Egypt is considered part of the North African region rather than the Middle East.

Egypt’s ties to the Middle East

Though Egypt is not technically part of the Middle East region, it does have significant cultural and historical ties to the Middle East:

  • Egypt shares historical connections to ancient Middle Eastern civilizations, being influenced by powers like the Babylonians, Hittites, Assyrians, and Persians.
  • Egypt is a member of the Arab League along with many Middle Eastern countries.
  • Arabic is the official language of Egypt.
  • Islam is the predominant religion in both Egypt and the Middle East with a majority Muslim population.
  • Egypt has been involved in many modern Middle Eastern conflicts, like the Arab-Israeli conflict, Gulf War, and War on Terror.

So while Egypt is not officially considered part of the Middle East, its shared culture, language, religion, and history give it strong bonds to Middle Eastern countries.

The geographic spectrum from North Africa to Middle East

Rather than a black and white distinction, the division between North Africa and the Middle East represents more of a geographic spectrum. Here is an overview of how the countries progress from North Africa into the Middle East:

Northwest Africa North Africa Transition Zone Middle East
Morocco Egypt Jordan
Algeria Sudan Iraq
Tunisia Libya Syria
Lebanon
Israel

As seen above, Egypt and Sudan represent a transition zone sharing elements of both North Africa and the Middle East. But Egypt is still considered by most to align more closely with its North African neighbors than the core Middle Eastern countries to the east.

Recent debate over Egypt’s regional classification

In recent years, Egypt’s affiliation with North Africa versus the Middle East has been called into question. Some argue Egypt should be considered part of the Middle East because:

  • Egypt’s culture, language, and religion are more similar to the Middle East than Africa.
  • Egypt has played a leadership role in mediating conflicts in the Middle East.
  • Grouping North African Muslim countries together under the “Middle East” label makes sense for analytical purposes.
  • Egypt’s economy and infrastructure are more developed compared to sub-Saharan African nations.

However, most experts still maintain Egypt is more appropriately classified as North African for historical, geographic, and political reasons. The debate illustrates just how much overlap there is between the two regions.

Arguments for classifying Egypt as North African

The main arguments for keeping Egypt grouped with North Africa include:

  • Geographically, it is located on the African continent.
  • Ancient Egyptian civilization developed within North Africa.
  • Egypt leaders identify politically with North Africa in forums like the African Union.
  • Egypt’s climate and environmental landscape are similar to the Sahara and North African deserts.
  • Egypt has closer economic and infrastructure ties with North African neighbors than the Middle East.
  • Grouping Egypt with North Africa emphasizes a shared African identity.

Based on these factors, most classification systems keep Egypt outside of the Middle East as part of North Africa.

Arguments for classifying Egypt as part of the Middle East

Reasons some argue Egypt should be considered part of the Middle East include:

  • Egypt shares cultural aspects like religion, language, and cuisine with the Middle East.
  • Like the Middle East, Islam has historically dominated Egypt’s religious identity.
  • Egypt has been more involved in Middle Eastern political affairs than other North African countries.
  • Egypt’s key economic partners include Middle Eastern countries.
  • Located in northeast Africa, Egypt represents a transition between Africa and the Middle East.

Classification is ultimately subjective, with valid reasoning on both sides of this debate. But Egypt remains widely considered North African rather than Middle Eastern by most geographic standards.

Conclusion

In summary, while Egypt shares many cultural and historical connections with the Middle East, most geographers classify it as part of North Africa, not the Middle East. This categorization is based on Egypt’s African geographic location, ancient civilization ties to North Africa, membership in African political organizations, climate similarities, and other shared identities with its North African neighbors. The line between North Africa and the Middle East is fluid, but Egypt falls just west of the dividing line according to most accepted definitions. This reflects both Egypt’s distinctive North African heritage as well as its blending of African and Middle Eastern influences throughout history.