Useful Notes / The Middle East
The traditional definition of the Middle East extends from Egypt to Iran, stretching north to Turkey and south to Yemen. More casual uses throw in North Africa as far west as Morocco and (more rarely) even Afghanistan and Pakistan. Some definitions don't include Iran in Middle East and some don't include Turkey. Also known as the Near East, mainly in texts originating in Europe (both English and foreign texts), the Middle East is the area around Iran, Afghanistan, Turkmenistan and all those other -stans. And Iraq. This can cause a mess for translators as well. So you always better make sure what the author's definition of the term is and preferably attach your own definition if writing about it yourself.
The Middle East is generally considered the "cradle of civilization"; the earliest civilizations in the world (in the modern sense of the word) - Sumerian, Akkadian, Assyrian, Babylonian - developed in Mesopotamia (modern-day Iraq) and the surrounding areas about 5000 years ago; Ancient Egypt
showed up at about the same time as Sumer, and Mesopotamian and Egyptian empires would later trade territory in the Levant (Lebanon/Syria/Israel/Jordan). The whole area served as an important trade and cultural center in ancient times.
One should note that not all the Middle East is Saudi Arabia. Some states are more liberal (and desert-covered) than others. Additionally, not everyone in the Middle East is even Muslim as Egyptian Coptic Christians, Israeli Jews, Lebanese Maronite Christians, amongst others, would point out. Likewise, even leaving aside Turkey and Iran (Turks and Persians, respectively), not everyone in the Middle East is Arab, as Berbers, Jews, Kurds, amongst others, would point out.
Also note that the Middle East is not a big desert, as countries like Lebanon, Turkey and Iran are covered with forests and mountains.
Traditional Middle East: