Turkey, Iran and Sudan are on the edges. Sometimes they are lumped in with the “Middle East” but not always.  Turkey is quite different from the Arab countries. They are Turks and speak Turkish for starters.  Iran is also not Arab. They are Persian and speak Farsi.  Sudan is Arab in the north and tribal non-Arabic speaking in the South (the country is in the process of becoming two as we speak).

North Africa is Arab, but not typically considered part of the geo-political Middle East. Sometimes Libya is.  But usually the countries from Libya West across Tunisia, Algeria and Morocco are considered “North Africa” and are not part of the Middle East.

Egypt is in between. It’s in Africa. But all Arab.  Between Sudan to the South and Libya to the West.

The Levant is: Lebanon, Israel/Palestine, Syria and Jordan.

Iraq is in between the Levant, the Gulf and Iran.

The Gulf is:  Saudi, Kuwait, Bahrain, Qatar, the Emirates (seven of them), Oman and Yemen.

The key countries to understand are (in order of importance): Israel/Palestine, Saudi, Iraq and Egypt. That’s because these are the “inbetween” countries. They are in the middle or connected to other strategic places. They have influence because of their geographical positioning, and/or their oil, and/or their Islamic influence, and/or their Holy Sites and history.

Of the rest, Jordan, Lebanon and Syria are crucial because they border Israel and/or other key areas (Jordan is next to Iraq and Saudi).  Lebanon is a microcosm of the whole Middle East conflict.  Syria is very Old School and their growing pains could have a significant impact on the countries around them. Jordan always plays a key role because they have been known as peacemakers in the region.  (Syria and Lebanon the opposite).

With the available knowledge we have today, there is no reason to be ignorant of these things.  Knowledge breaks down stereotypes and misunderstandings ­ which will lead to fear (and worse) if not corrected.