So, the idea here is to collect some frequently used but maybe not widely understood words that are encountered in media coverage of foreign affairs, particularly with respect to the MENA region, and offer some simple definitions, useful links, etc. Also, I’m including little historical tidbits here and there, because I feel like it. I need your help on this, though, because I need you to suggest terms. Please comment below or send suggestions to attwiw at gmail dot com.



Abdullah Azzam Brigades

The Lebanese branch of al-Qaeda (founded by Saleh al-Qaraawi in 2009), which itself has branches in the Arabian Peninsula and Gaza. Attacks attributed to the group have taken place in Lebanon, Egypt, Jordan, Pakistan, some predating the known formation of the group, but many of these claims are disputed. Named for Abdullah Azzam, a Palestinian leader in the Afghan jihad who later helped found al-Qaeda. Currently led by a Saudi fighter named Majid al-Majid.

Azzam, Abdullah

Palestinian preacher (1941-1989), jihadi leader in Afghanistan, and one of al-Qaeda’s founders. Also co-founded the Kashmiri jihadi group Lashkar-e-Taiba and likely played a role in the creation of Hamas.



Archipelago nation in the Persian Gulf with a population of just under 1.4 million people. Ruled by the Khalifa house, who are arguably the most repressive of the Gulf royal families in large part because they are a Sunni dynasty trying to suppress their country’s ~70% Shiʿa majority, and Bahrain lacks the natural resources to enable them to buy peace and quiet like other Gulf ruling families are able to do. Headquarters for the U.S. Fifth Fleet. Not to be confused with the historical region of “Bahrayn” (see below), although they are the same Arabic word; general practice around here is to transliterate the word with an “i” when referring to the modern country and a “y” when referring to the historical region.


Historical region consisting of much of the eastern part of the Arabian Peninsula–usually conceived to stretch from Basra, in southern Iraq, all the way south to the edge of the peninsula. The word bahrayn is Arabic for “the two seas” (the Arabic language has a dual case in addition to singular and plural cases), and though this term is used several times in the Quran, of all things, it’s never really been clear which two seas are being referenced. Not to be confused with the modern nation of “Bahrain” (see above), which historically was called Awal, although they are the same Arabic word; general practice around here is to transliterate the word with an “i” when referring to the modern country and a “y” when referring to the historical region.



Turkish acronym for the Republican People’s Party (Cumhuriyet Halk Partisi), currently the main opposition party in Turkey. CHP was founded as the “People’s Party” in 1919 to resist the Allied plan for partitioning even the Anatolian heartland of the Ottoman Empire after World War I. After the formation of the Republic of Turkey in 1923, the organization rebranded as a political party led by the founder of modern Turkey, Mustafa Kemal Atatürk. For the most part, Turkey was a one-party state until the mid-1940s, when the Democratic Party was established as the country’s first real opposition party, and it is the only political party that has survived from the founding of the republic and through all of Turkey’s periods of military government (though it had to operate as the “Democratic Left Party” from 1984-1992 to appease the military). CHP espouses social-democracy (though it is increasingly a center-left party) and secularism, and is strongest among Turkish intellectuals, city-dwellers, and the college educated. It currently holds 134 seats in Turkey’s 550-seat parliament and is at present not much more than a political afterthought.



Sunni fundamentalist movement founded in 1867 by several Indian Islamic scholars who were reacting against what they perceived to be the British Empire’s corrupting influence on the faith. Named after the Indian town of Deoband and the Darul Uloom Deoband Islamic university there, where the movement had its origins. Mainly known today as the theology underpinning both the Afghan and Pakistani Taliban, as well as Lashkar-e-Jhangvi. Strongest today in Afghanistan, Pakistan, India, and Bangladesh. Has melded to some degree with Wahhabism, particularly as far as the Taliban is concerned, because the two movements share an ultra-fundamentalist interpretation of Islam. However, where Wahhabism comes out of the Hanbali school of Sunni jurisprudence, Deobandis are predominantly Hanafi.


Capital and largest/only city of Qatar.