A vast region with an interesting mosaic of nations, ethnic groups and religions, the Middle East is, unsurprisingly, home to many countries with a broad array of unique flag designs, symbols and colors. Before looking over those flags individually, let’s have a look at their recurring themes in order to gain a better understanding of what those banners represent.
With the majority of the area’s nations being Arab, it comes as no surprise that most flags incorporate the so called “Pan-Arab colors” (red, black, green and white), which personify the common idea of Pan-Arabism. More specifically, red symbolizes the struggle for independence and the blood shed by a country’s people for it, black pays tributes to those perished in battle, green stands for the land and white denotes peace, purity and a sense of optimism for the future.
Crescent and stars are yet another familiar symbol found in many Middle Eastern countries. They are a well-known symbol of Islam and the Muslim community.
Finally, the Star of David (found on the Israeli flag) is recognized as a symbol of Judaism and the Jewish people. Two equilateral triangles are intertwined in such a way that a hexagram is formed. One triangle embodies the ruling tribe of Judah and the other the former ruling tribe of Benjamin.
Now, let’s have a look at the Middle Eastern flags!
With its original appearance going all the way back to the 1920s (albeit with three horizontal bands), the current flag of Afghanistan was officially adopted in 2013. Still abiding by the tricolor pattern, it now features vertical bands of black on the hoist side and green on the fly side, split by a red one in the middle. Inside the red band lies a rather complex assemblage, the country’s national emblem: a mosque with two flags to its sides, along with a mihrab and a minbar in it, with an inscription reading the nation’s name running below the ensemble.
A relatively simple, yet idiosyncratic configuration, the flag of Bahrain features a big red area on the fly side (occupying two thirds of the flag’s overall width), separated from a white band on the hoist side by a serrated line consisting of five triangles strung together. Its latest form is fairly recent (February 2002).
Incorporating the typical green, white and red bands in a horizontal configuration and officially adopted in July 1980, the Iranian flag also features its national emblem in the middle consisting of four crescents and a sword which resemble a tulip, a tribute to the martyrs of the nation, in red. The stylized inscription of “Allahu akbar” is also featured (11 times) at the bottom of the green and the top of the red band.
Another flag incorporating the same phrase (“Allahu akbar”), the Iraqi banner (which owes its latest incarnation to some changes brought upon in 2008), features three horizontal bands bearing the Pan-Arab colors: red, white and black. The inscription in the middle in green also alludes to the Pan-Arab colors.
The Israeli flag features a broad white band surrounded by two significantly narrower light blue bands. In the middle of the white band, in a conspicuous position, lies the Star of David, the distinctive six-pointed star, a much revered symbol for the Jewish people. The flag was officially adopted in October 1948.
All four Pan-Arab colors are represented on the tricolor, horizontal-layout flag of Jordan (adopted in 1928): a black band at the top, a white one in the middle and a green one at the bottom, joined by a red chevron (encasing a white star) growing from the hoist side.
Officially adopted in September 1961 and featuring the Pan-Arab colors, the flag of Kuwait consists of three bands of green (top), white and red with a black trapezium-shaped pattern stretching from the hoist side and gradually diminishing until it meets the white band.
Another country that declared its independence after the dissolution of the Soviet Union, Kyrgyzstan officially unveiled its flag in March 1992. Dominated by red color, the flag features a golden sun at the center with forty radiating sun rays and a couple of crisscrossing triple strips passing over this solar sphere.
Firstly introduced in December 1943, this current configuration of Lebanon’s flag features two horizontal red stripes on top and bottom and a broader white band in the middle. The latter displays a green cedar, the symbol of Lebanon, in the center. The size of the cedar is such that both its top and its trunk seem to be coming into contact with the edges of both red stripes.
When you glance at it for the very first time, the flag of Oman gives the impression of a basic design, comprising of a white (top), a red and green stripe, horizontally arranged in a way that the red one extends vertically to the hoist side. However, in the red band, on the top corner, one can notice a rather elaborately contrived emblem: a dagger and its sheath laid over two crossed swords in their scabbards. The flag was adopted in April 1995.
Officially adopted in August 1947, the current flag of Pakistan is basically a dark green field with a slightly inclined white crescent and five-point star, plus a somewhat narrow white stripe running vertically on the hoist side.
Virtually identical to the flag of Jordan (a similarity explained by the inspiration these nations drew from the Arab Revolt against the Ottoman rule back in the late 1910’s), the Palestinian flag is practically differentiated by the lack of the white star positioned in the red chevron on the host side. The flag was originally adopted in May 1964 by the PLO (Palestinian Liberation Organization).
Bearing striking layout similarities to the flag of Bahrain, the flag of Qatar features a big maroon band on the fly side with a white band (occupying one third of the overall width of the flag) on the hoist side. The bands are separated by a characteristic nine-diamond serrated band. The flag of Qatar was officially adopted in July 1971. Why is Bahrain flag the same as the Qatar flag?
Bathed in the traditional color of Islam (green), the flag of this nation features a white sword in the middle with the Muslim creed in white Thuluth script (translating as “There is no god but Allah; Muhammad is the Messenger of Allah”) placed above it. The flag of Saudi Arabia was officially adopted in March 1973.
A fairly typical tricolor flag in a horizontal layout, the flag of Syria features three bands with three of the four Pan-Arab colors: red, white and black. What actually sets this particular flag apart is the two five-point green stars (the fourth Pan-Arab color) representing Egypt and Syria. The flag was officially adopted in May 1980.
Officially adopted in November 1992 after the nation claimed it independence following the dissolution of the USSR, the tricolor flag of Tajikistan makes use of three horizontal bands of red (top), white and green. What makes this particular flag stand out is a gold-colored crown (representing the Tajik people, as “taj” in Tajikistan actually means “crown”), capped by seven gold stars, with this specific number alluding – according to the country’s traditions – to perfection and happiness.
One of few national flags to date back to the late 18th century (it was actually adopted in 1844 and underwent only minor updates as for the shade of red in May 1936), the Turkish flag exhibits an easily recognizable pattern of a white crescent and a star on a plain red field.
A truly unique design, the flag of Turkmenistan consists of a green field with a red stripe running vertically on the hoist side. Although there isn’t really all that much to say about the former (a white crescent along with five white five-pointed stars in the upper corner to the right of the stripe), it’s that particular stripe that really makes this flag one of a kind: five skillfully made carpet guls (something like medallion-shaped patches of traditional carpets) on top of two crossed olive branches give form to a very elaborate motif. The flag of Turkmenistan was officially adopted in January 2001.
United Arab Emirates
Featuring all four of the Pan-Arab colors, the flag of United Arab Emirates has adopted a slightly peculiar layout: it is comprised of a green (top), a white and a black horizontal band that are held together by a vertical red band on the hoist side. The nation’s turbulent historical background meant that the Arab Emirates were not unified until 1971, which ultimately signaled the adoption of this particular flag.
The flag of Uzbekistan was the first flag to be unveiled after the fall of the Soviet Union, in November 1991. A rather multicolored conception, it features three horizontal stripes of light blue (top), white and green, separated by two thin red strings. The top right corner (inside the blue band) is adorned with a white crescent facing twelve stars, neatly arranged in three groups of three, four and five stars.
As uncluttered as the layout of the modern Yemen flag may seem, it is actually an amalgamation of previous Yemen flags, since in the past, the nation was divided into North and South Yemen, with each section having adopted their own flag. But in 1990, the two Yemens were united, and that historic development brought a new flag with it. Officially debuting in May 1990, that particular layout consists of three simple horizontal stripes of red (top), white and black, colors typically associated with Arab nations.