If you’ve been learning the Arabic language for a while, you’ve likely learned how to say “country” in Arabic. (And for those of you who haven’t learned it yet, the Arabic word for country is ﺑَﻠَﺪ /balad/) Still, you might be asking yourself which countries you can speak Arabic in once you’ve mastered the language.
Well, there are actually 23 countries that claim Arabic as their official language. Most of those countries can be found in the Middle East.
Yet, that’s where things start getting a bit tricky.
You see, most people believe that the Middle East includes 16 countries. They are Cyprus, Egypt, Iran, Iraq, Jordan, Lebanon, Palestine, Syria, and Turkey. It also includes the Arabian Peninsula countries of Bahrain, Kuwait, Oman, Qatar, Saudi Arabia, the UAE, and Yemen.
However, there are a handful of people that include other countries in what they call “The Greater Middle East”. These countries are Afghanistan, Comoros, Djibouti, Morocco, Pakistan, Sudan, and Somalia. What’s more, others may include countries in Central Asia in the group of “Middle East” countries.
Still, in this blog post, we will highlight the 16 countries that are clearly part of the Middle East. We’ll even write the names of this list of countries in Arabic under their English equals.
Located in the Arabian Gulf between Saudi Arabia and Qatar, Bahrain is a kingdom of 33 islands. It has an area that covers only 303 mi² (785 km²) making it the smallest of all Middle Eastern countries. The “Pearl of the Gulf” also has a population of just over 1.64 million, most of whom are foreign persons. That is because Bahrain is a booming diverse financial hub that welcomes people from all over the globe. They do not only come for the jobs. They also come for the country’s open-minded thinking, low cost of living and its wealth of school and health services.
Another island country in the Middle East is Cyprus. (And you thought the Middle East was mostly desert, didn’t you?) Located in the Mediterranean Sea off the coast of Turkey, Cyprus is a bit of a dichotomy. Though geographically speaking it’s in Western Asia, its culture is truly Southwest European. About 1.19 million people live in the country whose main income relies mostly on tourism, shipping services, and banking.
Located in northeast Africa, Egypt is bordered by three bodies of water. They are the Mediterranean Sea, the Red Sea, and the Gulf of Aqaba. What’s more, Egypt also includes the Sinai Peninsula. It is this area, in fact, that makes Egypt part of two continents – Asia and Africa. Over 100 million people live in the country that’s about 386,000 mi² in area. Besides tourism, the country’s economy relies on agriculture, oil, and natural gas.
Iran also has three coastlines along its borders: the Arabian Gulf, the Caspian Sea, and the Gulf of Oman. Iran has an area of 636,371 mi² with close to 83 million people living in the country. Though it holds the fourth-largest supply of the world’s oil, it’s the world’s largest supplier of natural gas. However, rather than relying on the gas and oil industry, Iran’s economy and GDP rely on the services sector.
Mostly landlocked except for a 36-mile-long shoreline along the Arabian Gulf, Iraq covers about 17,000 mi2. About 39 million people live in Iraq which has a jobless rate that’s typically between 18% and 30%. It’s GDP per capita is around $4,000 with around 60% of jobs in the country being in the public sector. About 95% of its foreign exchange returns come from the oil sector.
Like its neighbor Iraq, Jordan is mostly landlocked except for 16 miles of coastline on the Gulf of Aqaba. It has an area of 35600 mi2 with a population of around 10 million, 92% of whom are Sunni Muslims. Jordan is one of the most politically stable countries in the Middle East. In fact, the kingdom is known as a safe haven for refugees fleeing their countries’ terrorism and political instability.
Located in the northern part of the Arabian Gulf, Kuwait covers an area of 6,880 mi2. Just over 4.2 million people live in Kuwait. Around 70% of these people are foreign nationals, many of whom work in Kuwait's petroleum industry. Naturally, the oil and gas sector makes up around 50% of Kuwait's GDP and accounts for 87% of its exports.
What Lebanon lacks in the area (4,015 mi2), makes up for the diversity of its 6.8 million people. Though the rest of the world may have been going through an economic crisis in 2008, “Cedar City” wasn’t. In fact, its economy grew at a rate of 8.5% in 2008 and 9% in 2009. The country’s services sector makes up the largest part of the country's economy and employs roughly 65% of the people.
Oman is another one of the Middle Eastern countries in the Arabian Gulf region and has a coastline of 1,967 miles. Oman’s area is about 119,500 mi2 and has around 4.97 million people living within its borders. Oman depends on the oil and gas sector as the country’s largest export. Still, tourism in Oman is growing at a rapid pace.
Palestine, which includes the Gaza Strip, has an area of 2,400 mi2. Over 4.68 million live within its borders that it shares with Jordan. Sadly, Palestine has been occupied for years and thus engaged in a decades-long conflict with its oppressors. Still, the services industry makes up 82% of the country's $10 billion GDP.
Qatar covers an area of 4473 mi2. What’s more, Qatar has a population size of over 2.83 million people, 2.3 million of whom are foreign persons. Like Bahrain, this large number of foreign-born workers is due to the natural gas and oil sector.
At 830,000 mi2, Saudi Arabia is the largest country in the Middle East and around 34 million people live there. Close to 90% of those people living there call themselves Arabs. Because of an ever-rising birth rate, the number of people living there has grown ten-fold since 1950. Also, there are three dialects of Arabic spoken in Saudi: Najdi, Hejazi, and Gulf.
Syria is located in the western region of the Middle East and has an area of around 72,369 mi2. As of 2021, the number of people living there is somewhere around 21 million. Still, that number may not be that exact as a proper census hasn’t been carried out in years. This is because, due to war in the country, quite a number of people have left. In fact, at least 5 million have fled the country and 7.6 million have been displaced inside it.
Turkey is a part of both Europe and Asia. It has around 83.4 million people living in its area of 302,500 mi2. Still, a large number of them (between 70% and 80%) call themselves Turks. Turkey has a GDP of $2.199 trillion, more than half of which is brought in by the service sector.
Have you ever asked yourself, “How many countries in Arab Emirates are there?” Well, there are, in fact, seven emirates: Abu Dhabi, Dubai, Sharjah, Ajman, Umm Al Quwain, Ras Al Khaimah and Fujairah. All told, there are about 9.7 million people living there in a 32,300 mi2 area. The UAE also has one of the GDPs in the Middle East that equals around $377 billion. Like most countries in the Arab world, the UAE depends a lot on the oil and gas sector.
Located along the southwestern coast of the Arabian Peninsula, Yemen has an area of 204,000 mi2. What’s more, about 29 million people live in Yemen with half of those being 15 years old or younger. Still, this number may not be exact as, like Syria, Yemen is in the middle of a civil war, too. Other than that, like many other Arab countries, Yemen’s main industry is gas and oil which also is 73% of its exports.
So there you have a few basic facts about each Arabic country. As you’ve likely noticed, each country is a little unique and even has its own local Arabic dialect as well. Which country sounds most appealing to you?
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